Elsewhere on this blog I have told the story of Rollen Stewart. But, it is hard, when John 3:16 rolls around again in the lectionary, not to be reminded of this strange story. It is a timely tale that has the power to encourage us to walk the way of honesty, transparency, and authenticity.

Christian faith is not intended to remove us from our humanness, but to cause us to live more deeply in tune with our true nature. Raimon Panikkar articulated this deep vision of a truly human life when he wrote about “eternal life” as,

An invitation to a full human life,
a life that is not exhausted by merely doing or even by being in a two-dimensional spatio-temporal way,
but that is fulfilled only by a total become of all that one can be.
(Raimon Panikkar)

So here is Rollen Stewart’s alternate version of “eternal life” from a sermon I preached in 2006:


John 3:16 may be the single best known Scripture verse in the Bible, at least among sports fans. I don’t know if it still happens; but there was a time when you could not watch a major sporting event without seeing a placard held up in the crowd announcing John 3:16.

It began at a Portland Trailblazer Basketball game in 1977. A man named Rollen Stewart, wearing a huge rainbow colored wig was caught by the television camera as he jumped around in the crowd.  His image was broadcast across America and Rollen was immediately bitten by the fame bug and dedicated himself to becoming a celebratory.

Rollen travelled to televised sporting events, and positioned himself to be seen by TV cameras and eventually became quite famous.

But fame did not satisfy Rollen. In a 1982 interview, he said: “I was living on my ranch…and my life revolved around sex and drugs. I wasn’t happy, though, and one night I had a religious experience and was born again as a Christian.” His conversion occurred after the 1980 Super Bowl in Pasadena while watching a television show called “Today In Bible Prophecy.” Rollen says, “I fell to my knees there in that room and allowed Jesus to take control of my life…”

After his conversion Stewart began appearing at sporting events for the Lord, flashing his JOHN 3:16 message.

In 1984, Rollen met and married Margaret Hockridge. They bought a Toyota van and hit the road, driving over 50,000 miles a year, and traveling to over a hundred sporting events.

The story becomes a little strange at this point.

According to his now ex-wife, at the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium, Stewart tried to strangle her when she stood in the wrong spot with her JOHN 3:16 placard.

In 1990, he was arrested for disturbing the public at The American Music Awards in L.A. after trying to toss stink bombs into the audience. Rollen  is reported to have said he wanted to show the public that “God thinks this stinks.”

His strange behavior came to a head in September ’92, when Rollen was arrested after holding a maid hostage in the Hyatt Hotel next to Los Angeles International Airport. On July 13, 1993, Rockin’ Rollen Stewart was found guilty of a variety of crimes and sentenced to three life prison terms.

Clearly falling on your knees, allowing Jesus to take control of your life, and dedicating yourself to a life of service to God, is not a guarantee of sanity.  In fact, it is possible to commit your life to Jesus, memorize the entire Bible, and still completely miss the point.

So what is the point?

The point of John 3:16 is that the nature of God is love. “God so loved.”  There is a force at the centre of the universe that is fundamentally oriented towards our well-being. There is a power that knows Rollen Stewart and, weird as he is, cherishes him.  The universe is not a dark, uncaring, arbitrary hole characterized by chaos and tragedy.  The heartbeat of the universe is love.

This is the thing Rollen Stewart seems not to have known before he gave his life to Jesus. And, let’s be fair, it does not always seem that there is a force of compassion, love and care at the heart of all Creation. In fact, if we concentrate on the circumstances of life, we might be forgiven for thinking that the heart of reality is chaos, darkness, uncertainty, and confusion. Sometimes life looks a lot like Rollen Stewart’s declining years, as he careened insanely around the US trying to do something for the Lord.

So, in the midst of chaos, how can we know that the truth about life is love and light, not darkness and confusion?