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A Growing Domain
March 13, 1988

JOHN 3:16-21

I imagine the Bible verse most often used as a basis for sermons is John 3:16. Certainly John 3:16 is the Bible verse used most often at major league ball games! When the camera pans the audience, someone is usually holding up a sign which reads, "John 3:16." I've often wondered how the guy manages to get to all those games, regardless of where they are played! Over the years, I have often preached on John 3:16, as it expresses the essence of the Christian faith in a few words. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."

Stan Cosby in his article, Come and Worship: the Risen Lord, dissects the verse and finds expressions of God's love:

"For God" -- the source of love

"so loved" -- the degree of love

"the world" -- the extent and object of love

"that he gave" -- the act of love

"his only Son" -- the gift of love

"that whoever" -- the invitation of love

"believes in him" -- the response to love

"should not perish" -- the protection of love

"but have" -- the permission of love (the assurance?)

"eternal life" -- the result of love received.

Say the verse aloud with me. In order to personalize the impact of this statement, insert your name: For God so loved (Douglas Norris) that he gave his only Son that (Douglas Norris) should not perish, but have eternal life. Let the meaning embrace you. Let's say it again, and use the personal pronouns, "me" and "I." For God so loved me that he gave his only Son that I should not perish, but have eternal life. Now, let's emphasize the community of faith. Let's use "us" and "we." For God so loved us that he gave his only Son that we should not perish, but have eternal life. Now let's further expand the meaning and repeat the verse again as it appears in John. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

When we used "me," it was easy for you to picture yourself. Perhaps you had difficulty applying the concept to yourself, but at least you could picture "you." Likewise, when we used "us," it was easy for you to picture those sitting around you. But when "world" was used, what did you picture? Wouldn't it be interesting if we could project on a gigantic screen all the different images that were seen here this morning! What is your picture/image of the "world?"

Is your picture, first of all, accurate? Is your picture of the real world, or some fantasy? An F. B. I. agent visited a small town and immediately became impressed with the marksmanship of someone in the town. Fence posts, trees, and walls were covered with bull's-eyes with the bullet hole in the center of each bull's-eye. Finding the "town character" responsible for this amazing marksmanship, the agent asked him about his incredible accuracy. The man answered, "I jest shoot first and then I draws the target around the bullet hole." We would like to fit the world to our liking. Is your picture of the world accurate?

Is your picture or image or experience of the world too small? A couple were wandering around the Atlanta Airport, obviously lost. The woman, with her husband following a short distance behind, was the spokesperson and approached a stranger to ask for help. The conversation went something like this.

"Where are you going?"

"To the B Concourse."

"No, I mean where are you flying to?"


"Oh," she said in obvious disappointment, "We're going to Denver and I can't remember which gate the agent told us."

"Well, the television monitor will tell us, and your boarding pass also has that information on it."

As the boarding pass was safely put away somewhere, they moved over to the TV monitor, located the Denver flight, and noted it departed from Gate D-5.

"We didn't ride the train because we didn't think we'd know where to get off. And we've been walking on this thing for a long time." She pointed to the moving sidewalk.

The stranger, trying to be helpful, said, "You still have further to go than you've already come. I suggest you take the train. A computerized voice will tell you when you've come to your concourse, and you will have plenty of time to get off. Then you go up the escalator and there will be arrows indicating which way to go to get to your gate." "Computer voice?" the woman asked plaintively, with a touch of bewilderment.

"Oh, it's very clear and easy to understand."

Speaking more to her herself, the poor woman muttered, "What's it coming to? Moving sidewalks, escalators, subway train, computer voices, how many worlds does a person have to live in in order to get along?"

Most of us can sympathize with their plight. Yes, in how many worlds does a person live in order to survive? It's easy to be bewildered when your experience of the world is too small. Some, because of limited experience or perhaps by choice, live in a very narrow, small world. Mary Lee Settle in her novel, The Killing Ground, describes a group of women who live in a very small, narrow world. (p. 8)

They are, in one of the bloodiest centuries of the Christian era, women to whom nothing has happened that is not personal. Aging, dry, and complicated girls, they still call each other girls, weathered by years, unchanged. I hear playing cards snap, the chink of Mah-Jongg tiles...Telephones dial and dial and dial; they reject silences. Now they exist on sufferance and rule kingdoms too small, clubs, gardens...They are the prisoners of the welfare of their parents, their husbands, the habits of their privilege...They do not know how to remember events, only where they were at the time, mistaking this for the events themselves.

I suggest to you this morning that it is imperative for all of us to expand our worlds, to expand our circles, if we are going to live successfully, and certainly if we are to be servants of the God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Is your domain growing this morning? I use the word "domain" rather than world because your domain is your circle of influence and activity. Is your circle of activity, is your circle of concern, is your circle of influence big enough for God? Can you expand your domain--your circle of activity and influence--beyond yourself, wider than your family, broader than that in which you are personally involved? Can you see a world where people other than yourself, other than those in yourimmediate circle, need your concern and caring? Can you see the wide picture of events, or do you only see your own involvement? Can you see the needs of persons beyond our congregation? How big is your domain--your circle of influence and activity?

Betty Ooms was a Dutch partisan during World War II. Her domain was larger than her family. Her domain was larger than her neighborhood. Her domain was larger than clubs and gardens. Her domain was wider than fellow Dutch Christians. Her domain included Jews. When she saw the Nazis rounding up Jews to send to their deaths, using their hair for blankets and their skin for lamp shades, when she saw children herded like animals to be slaughtered, she cared. Betty Ooms was a gentle, quiet woman, an ordinary woman; but a woman who cared, a woman with an indomitable courage. She made a decision to resist the evil of Nazism with her life, and joined the underground resistance movement. She hid Jews in her home from the Nazis, and she helped them escape. For her "crime against the German army," she was incarcerated, along with Anne Frank and thousands of Jewish girls and women, in a prison outside Amsterdam. She was a woman with a domain larger than herself. Imagine what kind of world we would have if we all had domains of that size.

The youth group of the Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in New Albany, Indiana, have a domain larger than rock music, Coca Cola and designer jeans. In a two-year period they raised $5,000 to build a school in Ngongho, Zaire, Africa. Missionaries shared the need for a school, and the Indiana youths raised the money. The labor was done by the people of Ngongo. The bricks were made from giant ant hills which are found throughout Zaire. The school, which is already completed and accommodating 300 children, is a reality because some United Methodist youth see their domain as global in dimension.

"Santa Claus never looked better," exclaimed Tom Trantham, a North Carolina farmer, when trucks arrived after the drought with gifts of hay from midwestern and northeastern farmers. Disasters can happen anywhere. Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which is supported in part by the One Great Hour of Sharing offering we will receive this morning, we expand our domain of concern and respond to needs wherever they occur. After receiving the hay to feed his animals, the farmer stated, "That haylift created something so good and so important it became larger than any one person." How big is your domain? Is your domain growing?

Does your domain--the circle of your influence and activity--include the universe? Brian Swimme, in a fascinating lecture, accuses us of losing the sacred dimension of the universe. As western humans we have committed ourselves to live in the smallest particle of the universe, cutting ourselves off from the cosmos. We have lost, he says, the sacred dimension. He's talking about wonder and awe. He says what humans do best is gawk and wonder, and we have lost that dimension, the dimension of worship and enjoyment. Picture, he says, a feast with the table loaded with sumptuous food of all kinds, and the male scientists are counting the silverware! They miss the wonder, the gawking, the expression of awe, and the enjoyment of the feast. We need, he says, the feminine dimension of consciousness to teach us how to appreciate. We are missing the wonder of a growing domain, counting silverware instead of openly, expansively, giving ourselves to the enjoyment of the feast, giving ourselves to experiencing the splendor of life in the universe. Our domain needs to grow!

Barbara Metcalf captures the idea of a growing domain in her poem, "Motion."

When I was a puddle

I knew my rules of existence--

my limits and my needs.

When I overflowed into

a small stream - I felt

unbound by past.

Expanded - growing -

I poured myself into becoming.

When joining the river

there was challenge and flow

that was greater than myself

and I gave myself permission to

understand motion and joining

and to give myself back to the earth.

When now feeling comfortable with

being a river, I suddenly feel a change

and a surge which is so abstract and

powerful that I wonder if my very

elements are in change and I might

have now

become ocean.

What is ocean?

What is ocean, she asks. Can you catch a glimpse of the wonder of life? Can you stretch your vision to encompass mystery, wonder, and awe? That is worship. Can you stretch your domain--your circle of influence and activity--to global dimensions, beyond people you know, beyond immediate concerns and problems? Can you risk caring, stretching, growing in an expanding world, a growing domain? Can you catch a glimpse of the scope of God's love? For God so loved the world...

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris