The passage we heard this morning from the Gospel of John is probably one of the most familiar to both religious and non-religious persons alike. The only other passage likely to rival this level of familiarity might be Psalm 23…”The Lord is my shepherd….” We’ve seen the words “For God so loved the world…” in some rather unlikely places, places like sporting events or perhaps painted on windows and walls on city and town streets. The familiar may breed contempt but more often it leads to a kind of minimalist understanding of an underlying truth. In other words, we may not appreciate the meaning or completely understand what its impact on us could be. We’ve become too comfortable.
So I started thinking about ways in which the truth of God’s love lives out its message in my life suspecting, with a bit of thought on your parts, you each could tell your own stories. Where, when and how have you witnessed evidence of God’s love through examples of the love, compassion, fairness and concern you may have seen by someone in your own experiences?
So here’s my story. For the last 2 and half years my oldest grandson Parker has been studying Tai Kwan Do with a 6th degree black belt master. Periodically he has tested for his various belts in the presence of an 11th degree black belt Korean master. Now Parker is 11 years old so we are really quite proud of his efforts.
Last Saturday, he with two other students, tested for his black belt. The test was rigorous. Each of the three students had to follow a series of patterns, recite memorized bits of Tai Kwan Do history and explain; also by memory, the movements and patterns they were being asked to exhibit. They were then tested individually by following a proscribed pattern, by sparring with another black belt student, and, finally, by breaking two boards with their feet. Parker did well through it all though at one point he became a bit frustrated when he broke pattern and couldn’t get back into it. His Master simply stopped him, told him to take a deep brief and relax, which seemed to do the trick. He completed the pattern without flaw.
The second time Parker experienced frustration was the one most notable to me and the one I saw a flash of God’s grace in the way the Master worked out the problem. Parker had had no difficulty breaking the first board with his foot so we all knew he could do it. But on the second board, the two men holding it, one holding the board, the second providing resistance from behind, were slipping a bit on impact. They weren’t receiving the impact of Parker’s foot in such a way that the board would be steady and firm. As a result, the board gave way causing Parker to catch more air than board. After the second attempt, the Master saw the problem. He stopped the action and came down on the floor, positioned himself directly behind the two men who were holding the board in place and added his own weight to create the necessary resistance. Now, with the added strength of the Master supporting the lifted board and keeping it in place, the board broke easily on Parker’s very next try. It was a triumphant moment and one, which could not have happened had the Master not willingly offered himself to the moment.
“For God so loved the world…” They are such familiar words we often forget how necessary our acceptance of God’s grace, love, light and strength provide us with the means to accomplish anything we’re called to do. I saw an example of how this lives itself out in us. When someone sees a need and steps in to fill it – like Parker’s Tai Kwan Do master – the playing field is leveled. There is needed help and a life test is both fairer and doable. Without his sharp eye, his loving concern for Parker and his intentional effort to make sure Parker had been given a fair chance to excel and accomplish the task of breaking the board, one little boy would have gone home defeated. But, like our God, who gave us love and self in Jesus this became a grace-filled moment of triumph. Light broke through the darkness of frustration, love shone in the caring act of self-giving and there was a ray of truth, which made an impression of students and parents alike. What we can not do on our own, God gives us added weight and strength by standing with us. I dare say none of us who were present will forget the many acts of kindness we saw that day. These young people are learning a skill and a craft but more importantly, they are learning what happens when someone cares enough to give fully. That is a God message. Like our loving God, we are all called to give of ourselves for the sake of another. “For God so loved the world he gave his only son…his own beloved son.” And, we are the beloved children for whom God gave life, redeemed life and continues to sustain life. God’s Word lives in us and for us and because of God’s Word in our lives, we can also become living example of light, love, and truth. Amen.