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Hallo again to all.

For much of the liturgical Christian world, today's Gospel reading includes a verse that turns up repeatedly (and sometimes incessantly) in Christian pop culture, John 3:16: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' We have seen it at sporting events, on bumper stickers, wrist bracelets, t-shirts, and on every other iota of swag we are forgetting at the moment. In American sports culture, it has appeared prominently—not always in a good light. In the 1970s and 1980s, Rollen Stewart (the 'Rainbow Man') displayed it at sporting events while wearing a rainbow colored wig. He is now serving several life sentences in prison for kidnapping. More recently and less bloodily, the American football player* Tim Tebow brought the citation to prominence in his football play on several occasions, including printing it on his eye black.An In-N-Out Cup with John 3:16 cited

The verse struck us today in a liturgical context for the first time, which inspired us to think about how it felt different as part of the Gospel reading at the Eucharist. John 3:16 appears during Lent in two of the three annual cycles of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A, Lent 2 and Year B, Lent 4; also during Year B on Trinity Sunday when the entire conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus of which it is a part comes to the fore). So it is somewhat, but not exclusively, Lenten.

We suspect that what made it pop out to us today was the anthem at the liturgy we attended—Stainer's 'For God So Loved the World':

God so loved the world,
God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoso believeth, believeth in Him
should not perish, should not perish
but have everlasting life.

For God sent not His Son into the world
to condemn the world,
God sent not His Son into the world
to condemn the world;
But that the world through Him might be saved.

It is not the most high-flying or spectacular Lenten musical theme. No pange lingua, nor 'Sacred Head Sore Wounded'. But it was apt this Sunday at recapitulating the Gospel reading, and that made all the difference.

John 3:16 in Red PrintWhen John 3:16 appears in pop Christian culture, it shows up as a verse bereft of all its context at best, a mere citation at worst. It ignores the reminder of Moses' serpent in the wilderness—the foreshadowing of Golgotha—and forgoes the reminder that Christ came to save the world, not to condemn it. At the same time, it also forgets the hard teaching that the world preferred darkness when given a chance to choose light.

We respect the evangelical impulse that motivates so much of the popular use of verses in slogans, but we fear that it often becomes instead a shibboleth. We find the obsession with the citation especially puzzling. If the point of these things is to serve witness to God's love, a citation without context seems unhelpful.

Regardless, John 3's narrative is a blessed reminder that this is Laetare Sunday, a time for refreshment and breathing before the triumph of Palm Sunday, the intimacy of the Last Supper, the alienation of Gethsemane, and the pain of the Cross. In that context, John 3:16 is simple reminder that echoes instead Gabriel's first words to Mary that begin the whole narrative of Jesus' coming into the world: Fear not.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

11 March 2018

* To be distinguished, of course, from a proper footballer.

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