Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

God's Gift of Love

John 3:11-16

My sermon this morning is actually a Christmas sermon.. one I preached in 1993 during the Advent season. It's called God's Gift of Love.

Now before you think I am totally confused... let me hasten to tell you that I do know we are in the season of Lent... that we are preparing to commemorate the death... and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus... not his birth! But I think celebrating God's gift of love to us... is appropriate... no matter what the season. From that perspective... there is really no difference between the messages of Christmas... or Good Friday... or Easter morning.

I've put up the Christmas banner this morning... with it's "Love came down at Christmas" message... and I've put up part of our Valentine bulletin board with it's "God is Love" message... just to remind us that God's gift of love is timeless... or should I say always timely.

You know it is always timely to let someone know that we love them... and I'd like for you to think about how you do that... in your own personal life. How do you let someone know that you love them? Perhaps at Christmas... or on Valentine's Day... or their birthday... you buy them the best gift you can think of... or the most expensive you can afford? Do you spend as much time together as possible? Do you make them their favorite dish or dessert?... do you bring him a snack while he is watching the ball game? you start a fire in the fireplace because she likes the coziness of a fire... even when its too warm for a fire?

How do you let your spouse know that you love them? Maybe you tear the house apart and redo it... because she has gotten tired of wood paneling... or maybe you have stuck by him through thick and thin and are determined to continue to do so no matter what... or maybe after years of good health you are now faithfully nursing him through his last illness. You know who you are!

How do you let your children... or maybe your grandchildren... know that you love them? Do you buy them the latest fashion... so they won't feel left out at school? Do you see to it that they can participate in sports or other school functions... and attend as many of them yourself as you can manage? Are you sacrificing today... so that they can go on to college tomorrow? Have you given up precious time with them in order to provide food... and clothing... and a roof over your heads. You know who you are!

In many ways... the love of a parent for his or her child is a good analogy for God's love for us. Perhaps that's why we find so many references in the Bible to God as Father and to Jesus Christ as Son. We understand that kind of relationship... don't we. It is usually one in which we are selfless... willing to do just about anything for our child... and so it is with God's love for us.

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son...
As beautiful as this verse is... in this Lenten season you and I are mindful of "the rest of the story." We know that the Son was sent to die!

We might ask ourselves... "What kind of a father would sacrifice his only son for others?" Some of us may find that kind of love questionable. And yet this analogy has been used for centuries to indicate to us just how much God loves us.

As I am sure you know... analogies are very useful in helping us understand something that is beyond our comprehension... and certainly God's love for us falls into that category. But there is always a point at which the analogy breaks down... it can never quite meet all the conditions of what we are trying to describe.

God's love is like a parent's love for his or her child... God takes care of us... provides for our needs... is always there for us... guides us... protects us. God does everything for us that parents ideally do for their children... whether they deserve it or not. Just as parents ideally give their love with no strings attached... so God's love is freely given to human beings with no strings attached.

Well, already I think that you can see how our parent/child analogy is beginning to break down. As parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends of the children in our lives... I'm afraid that we do attach strings to our love. Even when I say, "Be a good boy (or girl) this week" I have subtly suggested that I will love them better if they are good!

What if God were really like us... what if God said, "I'll love you... if you are good... if you obey me... if you make me look good this week?" Could we expect any love at all from God under those conditions? Have we been good? Have we obeyed God? Have we made God look good to the world?

Put that way... we have to confess that we are not deserving of God's love in any way... shape... or form! But, like parents... who love their children because they are their children... God loves us because we are his children.

Actually... God's love is far more than that of a parent for his or her child... but we can understand something about why God loves us when we think about why we love the children in our lives. They were created through us... and we are responsible for them. In the same way... God created us and God takes his responsibility for us very seriously.

So seriously, in fact, that God became one of us in order to express his love and concern for us. We may understand something about why God did it from the Father/Son analogy... but we have to go beyond that analogy to understand how great that love is. You see it was not his son who was born that night... it was God himself. And it was not his son who died on the cross... it was God himself. It was God himself who showed us how to live... and die... who revealed to us the resurrection so that we might know that we can never be separated from him... not in life... or in death. This is the good news of the gospel that God himself has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Through the years Christians have been trying to figure out how such a thing could be... how could God become human and still be God? It is still difficult for us to accept our finite wisdom and limitations. We still continue to act as if it were possible for us to understand... and explain God to and for ourselves. Yes, it is fun to speculate about such things... to think about it in different ways... but the fact is that God will always be God... and we will always be simply human. God's ways are so far above us that no matter how much knowledge we acquire... no matter how successful our technology becomes... we will always understand and know only a fraction of God's infinite being. And the fact remains that Jesus Christ is the only human being who was ever also God.

A baby born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago... a baby who reveals to us God's love for the world... a baby who illuminates our lives... who gives us hope... who is God... present with us. Can you imagine giving up all you own in order to identify with the poor... the homeless... the hungry.

It's pretty hard to imagine, isn't it? But that's exactly what God did. God lived... and suffered... and died... and God knows intimately what it is like to be human. He knows our joys and he knows our sorrows... and he cares... and he is there for us if we are willing to let him be there for us. There are no strings attached to God's love. He is there whether we accept his presence in our lives or not. The only thing we have to do is to acknowledge and receive the gift of God's love in our hearts... in our minds... in our lives... freely and willingly.

It is my pray... in this Lenten season... as we continue to celebrate God's great gift of love... that the world will receive the gift and return it willingly and wholeheartedly... and that it will begin here... in our midst... today... and for all the days to come. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on February 28, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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