March 14, 2021
Pastor Scott Landis
The story told in John chapter three is one of those sections of the bible that is unfortunately too often reduced to one important verse. It’s a beloved verse, but many times taken wildly out of context – and often used to support a particular “exclusive” bias.
It would take several weeks to unpack this entire chapter and all of the nuances of the Pharisee named Nicodemus who came to Jesus “by night” to try and get the inside scoop on what he REALLY meant in his teachings. And it would do me little good to debunk the biased attempts deployed by many to guilt folks into believing in Jesus as the only means of salvation by using John 3:16 as a “clobber” passage. So, I won’t travel down that rabbit-hole. Instead, I want to spend some time listening to the incredible “good news” that God offered to everyone in these grace-filled words of Jesus – then and now.
I’d like us to take this particular path for two reasons: First, I think we all need to hear some “good news” these days. The pandemic has sucked the life out of so much that we previously took for granted. And, while the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be getting brighter each day, and there is a distinct energy shift in the air – many of us are still reeling from the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects of the past year. And second, I received a couple of emails this week that really got me thinking about the overwhelming nature of God’s love for ALL of humankind – AND about the way we choose to respond to God’s love. [Pause]
Each of you have your own experiences regarding the seemingly interminable nature of the pandemic, so I’ll leave that for you to ponder on your own. It was the emails I received that I opened my eyes to hope and possibility at a time I really needed it. Maybe it will bless you as well.
The first email actually came in response to a sermon I offered recently. My listener simply responded with some kind words and concluded by saying, “mahalo piha.” I kept the correspondence going by offering my gratitude for reading the sermon and the helpful comments. After which I received another response telling me that there are a few different ways to express gratitude in Hawaiian.
There is the simple “mahalo” or “thank you” a common word we likely say to one another every day. “Mahalo nui loa” adds emphasis if we are particularly grateful – as if to say, “thank you very much.” We might say this when someone has really helped us out in a pinch like the time we had meet a deadline or had to pick someone up at a location that we could not possibly do given our schedule. Mahalo nui loa says, “Thank you so very much. I could NOT have done this without you.
But, mahalo piha is what we might refer to as the “superlative” in English. It is “overflowing gratitude” as in “my cup overflows” reminiscent of the 23rd Psalm – Remember those words? “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” There was so much that it could not be contained by the vessel into which the beverage was being poured. It spilled all over the place. Mahalo piha is gratitude that is so plentiful, it is overwhelming – overflowing – and never ending. [Pause]
I had this thought in mind as I re-read the story of Nicodemus and Jesus.
The meeting began with a rather heady theological discussion about being born from above – or born again. And of the wind blowing where it wills – just like people who are born from above – born of Spirit.
Nicodemus asks, “How can one be born again? You can’t go back into your mother’s womb and do that all over again. That’s impossible.”
“No, no, no,” Jesus says, “don’t you understand. You have to be born from above, born again of God’s Spirit in order to see God’s kingdom.
By this point, Nicodemus’ head was spinning when he asked Jesus, “How can these things be?”
Perhaps you have asked yourself that same question many times in the past year. “How can this be? How can this be happening? Where IS God in all this?”
Without stating so explicitly, Jesus explains that the “THINGS” Nicodemus was wondering about are not possible for men or women – they are only possible with God. Why? Because this is how much God loves the world. “God loves the world so much that God gave his son, his one and only son.” Why? “So that no one need be destroyed; but by believing in him, anyone can have whole and everlasting life.”
Eugene Peterson continues his beautiful translation of this passage by stating, “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help put the world right again.’
In other words, God will not stop loving until all the world is right again. I call that Aloha Piha – unending – overflowing – all-pervading – non-judgmental – non-discriminating – LOVE. That’s how it is with God’s love. We cannot escape it. We cannot hide from it. It is constantly seeking to surround us – like the wind blowing where it wills, God’s love wants nothing more than for us to be born – again.
The problem is – too often our lives become so busy – so crowded – that we miss out on the gift – the desire of God for each one of us. This is especially true when we think we can do all things: ON OUR OWN. And too often it takes a crisis in our lives to remind us that we cannot. Which brings me to the second email I received this week that I cannot get out of my head.
It was actually a journal entry of a dear friend of mine recently diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The diagnosis came completely out of the blue – totally unexpected – and is incurable to boot. My friend is active, fully involved in her church – and a stalwart member of her church choir.
She wrote to tell us about her conversation with her doctor, the medication regimen proscribed, and her desire to no longer put off the things she has always wanted to do, but just never took the time. She closed her writing with three haunting words, “I can’t wait.”
“I can’t wait.” As in, I’m so excited to finally get to do all those things I’ve always wanted to do but kept putting off for one silly reason or another. AND, “I can’t wait.” As in, I don’t have the luxury of time to put off doing all those things I’ve always wanted to do.
I wonder. I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt as he offered his Aloha Piha to those whose lives he touched? “I can’t wait.” I can’t WAIT until they recognize the gift that I am offering them – a gift that comes from my heavenly father – and one that I will live out sacrificially. AND, “I can’t wait.” I don’t have much more time to show them what they are missing in their lives.
Dear friends in Christ, this is what it is all about. This is what the gospel boils down to. God’s Aloha Piha is being poured into our lives each day – so much that we can’t possibly contain it! We are invited to receive it, to rejoice in it and to be exceedingly grateful – to offer our mahalo piha. AND, we’re invited to realize the full blessing of that love by allowing it to spill over and offering it to the world.
“For God loved the world so much. He gave his Son, God’s one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; but by accepting that love, anyone can have whole and lasting love.
I can’t wait!
Mahalo ke Akua. Amene