The Man Who Introduced Me To John 3:16. A homily preached by Deacon Gerry Mattingly at All Saints Church, Taylorsville, KY on September 13-14, 2014
John 3:16...For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that you and I may be saved. That's a beautiful thing!
I want to introduce you to the person who introduced John 3:16 to me. His name is Rollen Stewart. Rollen was not a teacher, or a priest, or even someone I ever met.
I was working away from home sitting in a hotel room in Columbus, OH watching a football game when the camera panned the crowd in the stadium. All of a sudden the camera, the camera focused on a guy jumping around in the stands with a big rainbow wig on holding a sign reading John 3:16.
Like most Catholics of my generation, I was not well versed on the Bible. I was curious what did John 3:16 say anyway. So. I got the Gideons edition of the Bible out of the nightstand drawer and read it. And, all I could say was WOW!
The guy with the rainbow wig was Rollen Stewart, AKA as the Rainbow Man.
Every time I hear this Gospel passage, I think of Rainbow Man. For more than a decade Rollen Stewart was a fixture on nationally televised sports broadcasts. Dancing in the stands with the big rainbow wig trying to get the camera's attention. If you watched sports back then, you might remember Rainbow Man, but never heard his story.
After the Super Bowl in 1977, Rollen Stewart was sitting up late in his hotel room much like I was in Columbus. Rollen saw a televangelist preaching about the end of the world.
Rollen had a dramatic conversion experience and, in that moment, decided that through his Rainbow Man character he would convince the world to believe in Jesus. The way he would do it was by holding a sign or wearing a shirt that said, 'John 3:16'.
Rollen sold his house and used the money to buy tickets to sporting events.
Living in his car as he traveled from game to game. Rollen learned where to situate himself in the stands, and the exact moment the camera would be on him.
The pitcher winds up and there's rainbow man, holding a sign that says ‘John 3:16' right behind home plate. The kicker goes to attempt the game-winning field goal - yep, there's Rainbow man, behind the goal posts, ‘John 3:16.'
Earlier in John's gospel in this discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus questions Jesus, what do I need to do to see the kingdom of God?
This question resonates with all of us too. We want to know. It's more than the overly simplistic, an ‘Am I IN or am I OUT?' question. It goes much deeper.
In a way Nicodemus stands in for all of us, looking at Jesus, wondering.
What is this life FOR?...What is this all ABOUT?
Our days seem so busy and full, pulled in countless directions, not doing anything as well as we want to. And, we can't do it all. Money always seems tight. The regular stresses are enough.
Then, someone gets sick...It's cancer. Someone decides the marriage is over. With the violence we see on TV everyday, our country at war for almost almost 14 years. Nicodemus stands in for us looking at Jesus in the middle of the night, waiting...WHAT IS ALL THIS FOR?
Jesus points Nicodemus back to a passage we heard in our first reading
from the Book of Numbers. The people are charged to look up high and see a reminder of their suffering and of God's redemption.
In this same way, Jesus says in a scene thick with irony, since we know the rest of the story, I too, he says, must be lifted up.WHEN THAT HAPPENS YOU WILL SEE.
Then comes the punch line that ends up on all the bumper stickers,
which Rainbow Man stuck on a sign for all to see...John 3:16. John 3:16 deserves all the attention it gets...BECAUSE WE NEED IT.
We need it more than ever in this age. When folks have other things to do,
The church doesn't seem like it matters ANYMORE, or is important enough to warrant their time.
One article that I read recently made the point that this will not change until all Christian churches answer the question..."What's so special about Christianity, anyway?"
WELL, THIS IS IT. THESE WORDS, RIGHT FROM JESUS' MOUTH IN JOHN'S GOSPEL. That God loves us so much that he gave his Son so that you and I could be saved, and that's a beautiful thing!
Jesus has good news of redemption, of salvation, for communities in fear,
for those who are hungry, and lonely.
Christ didn't come to draw lines, to tell us who's in and who's out,
but to meet us with a gift of freedom from fear and violence and suffering and pain. A gift of liberation from the systems that enslave us these days, and the evil that exists in this world, and the evil that we perform in the world.
Christ came NOT TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, but that through him, leaning into Him, trusting in His grace, letting His will shape our lives, the world might be transformed, and healed.
EACH OF US. EACH OF YOU. FOR ETERNITY. AMEN