This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The Rev. Joseph Winston March 20, 2011
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 These might be the six most frightening words in the English language, “Whether you like it or not.” Quite a few children have heard something like this come from the mouth of their parents. “I do not care what happened to you yesterday at school. You cannot stay in your room all day long. In fact, there is no way that you can hide in here for the rest of your life. Whether you like it or not, you will get out of this bed right now, put your clothes on, and go to school.” As we get older, these six words continue to have power over us. It is not hard to imagine a discussion between a husband and a wife that might sound like this. “We have had some good years together and no one would deny that we have had our share of rough patches too. I would be lying to you if I did not say that I will
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
not miss the children. I will. No matter what you might say or do, I am leaving you, whether you like it or not.” Even at work, you cannot escape the force this phrase has on you. Someone you know could be going through this. “The company really appreciates all that you have done over the years you have worked here. But you know that times are tough. Sales are down and whether you like it or not, adjustments must be made. Today is your last day at work.” No matter how the discussion might occur, the phrase, “Whether you like it or not” comes at you with a one-two punch. First, it hits you with a dramatic change that is coming. “You cannot stay at home.” “I cannot love you any more.” “You no longer work here.” Then, and this can really hurt, you ﬁnd out that you are completely powerless from preventing it from happening. “Go to school.” “I am divorcing you.” “You are ﬁred.” Did you hear the phrase, “Whether you like it or not” in today’s Gospel lesson? It is clearly there, not once, not twice, not even three times but all over in the discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus. The most apparent uses are near the end of the lesson. Right there Jesus tells you, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, whether you like it or not. (John 3:16a).” Now, I know that you like I have grown used to seeing John 3:16 all over the place. Crazy looking fans hold it on posters during sporting events. All around this nation, you can ﬁnd it plastered on the walls of stadiums. It might even be on your refrigerator door at home. Where then does it say, “Whether you like it or not?” 2
Listen again to the words of Jesus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (John 3:16a).” Here Jesus is telling you that you have no inﬂuence at all on the decision to send Him to the earth. It is even worse than that for you. You have not been involved even one tiny bit in the discussion to make Jesus the Savior of the world. Also, notice that God gives you no alternatives at all. You are free to ﬁnd someone or something else as the one that attempts to save you but it will not help you at all. In other words, whether you like it or not, God is sending Jesus. You have no power whatsoever over God to force Him to change His mind. Jesus is coming, whether you like it or not, and He will save, no questions asked, everything that makes up this world. What should be absolute Good News that God gave Jesus for the salvation of the universe whether you like it or not is far too often watered down into something that you would never hear the phrase, “whether you like it or not” no matter how hard you tried. Take for instance our never-ending desire to associate cause with effect. This is the way of the world so much that it is encoded into one of the laws found in physics, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We say, “If I do this, then that will happen.” You can see the same thing happening here almost any Sunday of the year. Here is what we said this morning. Gracious God, we confess that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. Forgive us and give us strength to turn from sin and to serve you in newness 3
of life. Amen. The response was, By water and the Holy Spirit, God gives us new birth, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God forgives us all our sins. Almighty God strengthen us in all goodness and keep us in eternal life. And we ended with an “Amen.” What it looks like to the casual observer off the street is this. You say something and then God acts. Someone that knows the vocabulary we use would answer, “You confess and God forgives.” Hear this often enough and you start to believe what the others are saying, God only responds when you ask. Completely erased from this way of thinking is the phrase, “Whether you like it or not” and in its place you ﬁnd simple cause and effect. Every last one of your sins are forgiven, whether you like it or not. This is not a proclamation of grace without cost. Jesus came, whether you like it or not, and it was clear the world’s power did not. That reality of the world’s anger over God’s love for everyone does not erase the fact that your sins are forgiven whether you like it or not. This is not limited to the people inside these four walls. Everyone that ever has or ever will live, your sins are forgiven, whether you like it or not. This is what we believe. You could ﬁnd it in the prayer are the start of our worship service it you tried hard enough. But we have two better was of seeing this reality. 4
We baptize children. No, make that, we baptize infants. They have no power of reason. They cannot be held liable for their actions. They cannot answer for themselves if they want the forgiveness of sins. We give it to them whether they want it or not. There is no way in this world that the sponsors can tell if the child wants to be born again. It is given to the infant whether they want it or not. Then there is the Meal at the Lord’s Table. Everyone is invited to come. There is no test that prepares you to meet Jesus. There is no level of understanding needed to be here. There is no examination of your past life to see if you are qualiﬁed or not. You get Jesus here, whether you like it or not. He enters your life, whether you like it or not. He changes you, whether you like it or not. It would be difﬁcult if not impossible to ﬁnd someone who does not believe that this is frightening stuff. Look at what we do. We forgive everyone no matter what they have done. We do not ask if they are sorry. We do not even inquire if they plan to do it again. We forgive and in doing so we become vulnerable. What happened before could happen again and this time it might hurt us. We wash everyone. It does not matter about their past, we still give people a new life nor does it concern us that we do not know the future; we still welcome people into God’s family. We baptize and it might cause us problems later on. This means we might let into the Kingdom of God thieves, murders, and even worse. At the very least, this damages our reputations and it might even bring pain to someone we love. We feed everyone. No one here needs to meet a minimum set of requirements 5
in order to be given the Lord’s Supper. Come here and Jesus is given to you. We deﬁnitely have in the past fed people who do not believe and it certainly will happen in the future, why it might even be today, that we give Jesus to someone that does not know Him. This cannot look good. We obviously lack the ability to see who is a true believer and who is not. We continue to forgive, to bathe, and to feed the people of the world for one reason only. Jesus told us to do it whether we like it or not. We are not in control and this scares us. That is what makes the words, “whether you like it or not” so terrifying when we hear it. Our parents whether we like it or not force us to go to school, even when that means being humiliated in the halls. A divorce requires a reevaluation whether we like it or not of a marriage. Being terminated tells you whether you like it or not that the relationship at work was not life long. It is only natural then for us to shy away from what frightens us. What comes in its place are terms we are familiar with like cause and effect. You see it when we ask and God responds. This only hides the scandal of the Gospel that God loved the entire world so much that He gave His only Son to everyone, whether you like it or not. For you see, you and I, we are the ones that need to be washed. We are the ones who need to be fed, we are the ones that need to hear your sins are forgiven, whether you like it or not. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”2
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?