Today’s Author: Scott Tunseth
Do you remember the guy who wore a rainbow wig and danced behind the goal posts at football games, behind home plate at baseball games, and behind the backboard at basketball games? I always wondered how he bought those prime seats so he and his John 3:16 sign could be caught on camera several times a game. His name was Rollen Stewart, and when I researched him, I discovered that he is serving three consecutive life sentences for a bizarre incident in which he locked himself in a Los Angeles hotel room, held a maid hostage, and threatened to shoot down airplanes. Police arrested him after an eight-hour stand-off.
That’s not what I expected to discover when I looked up the guy who almost single-handedly re-introduced John 3:16 to popular culture. Stewart and his sign were a phenomenon. Not that John 3:16 isn’t already one of the most recognizable (if not the most recognizable) passage in all of Scripture. We just heard it read as part of the Gospel lesson this past Sunday, which features the encounter of the Jewish Pharisee Nicodemus with Jesus. Nicodemus is curious (give him credit for that!), and wonders who this Jesus is. Nicodemus identifies Jesus as “Rabbi” and that Jesus has come from God, “for no one can do the those signs that you do apart from the presence of God” (3:2).
As we have heard in a couple of adult learning sessions about John’s Gospel, the first twelve chapters of the book are called the “book of signs.” Karoline Lewis reminded us that signs are intended to point us to something. In John’s Gospel the signs point to Jesus. Those signs are miraculous (water turned to wine; a man born blind made to see; a man dead for four days raised, and more), but primary purpose of the signs is not to wow us, but their purpose is to point to Jesus, who is God incarnate, who came in the flesh to live among us and who invites us into relationship with him.
Is this what Rollen Stewart had in mind when he flashed his John 3:16 sign in public over and over? Who am I to judge? Whatever his motives, the text is itself a powerful witness to God’s expansive grace: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” And hear this promise not as some future hope, but an invitation to life abundant in this very moment. That’s a sign to live by.
We sometimes wonder, O God, where to find you. We grope in the darkness and even create our own dark spaces. Open our eyes and ears to the blowing of your Spirit, so that we might be daily born anew in Jesus. Amen.
Mid-week devotions are authored by members of our community. If you are interested in creating a trio of reflections to be shared on an upcoming Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, contact Pastor Peter.