The Rev'd Robert Warren
John 3:14-21

Do you remember the story of the Retirement Home for Old Comedians? Rather than repeating the whole process of actually telling all their old jokes they simply assigned numbers to them. One old comedian would push himself up out of his wheelchair and say "Number five" and everybody would laugh uproariously.

A nurse who was new to her job said "That's a fantastic system, can I try one?"
"Sure, why not!", the old boys told her, "Give it your best shot"

And so the nurse puts down her tray of pills and shouts out "Number nineteen!" and is greeted with a stunning and ominous silence. Before slinking away in shame, she asks "So what did I do wrong"?

"Don't worry darling", she's told, "Number nineteen is a fabulous joke. You just need to tell it right".

Boiling things down to a single statement or, even better, a single number is a modern preoccupation. Don't tell me a story, give me some bullet points! Make it tweetable in 140 characters. If you go to a hockey game or a football match you might see some fellow in the stands holding up an efficient little sign which reads John 3:16 which, of course, points us to that single verse from John's Gospel which sums up the love of God for the world and his saving action within it: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The number leads to a single line which, it is reported, encapsulates the entire Gospel. Google the reference and you might find images of the words John 3:16 printed on T-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and even rifle stocks (!).

Good to be getting the word out! Do remember, though, that any boiled-down bit can become a slogan which is embedded in our memory as the thing which right-thinking people believe without necessarily being the thing written in our hearts which we have learned. There's a difference.

This single line appears as part of a long conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in the dead of night in which we are treated to difficult dialogue frustration and agony. Nicodemus is being pleaded with by Jesus to leave his bullet points aside, his short cuts and structures, and to marvel at the work of God beyond his own narrow conception of Israel's religion. God has always been learned in the mysterious heart of life. He cannot easily be "summed up".

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