Saturday, 20 August 2011
Okay, before I leave, here's a snippet from sermon on John 14:1-14 ("I am the way, the truth, and the life") that I've recently been reminded of...
"You and I live in a liberal society. By that I don’t mean a society run by the Democrats and progressives, although some of you may feel like that, for good or bad. By liberal, I mean that we place the individual at the center of life. In a liberal society, the individual is king or queen, the individual is sovereign. Not God, not government, not family, but the individual. That’s why we talk about individual civil rights and individual freedoms. That’s the foundation of the American, and Canadian, way.
But in a liberal society, what happens is that everyone starts to really believe it. We start to believe that we are our own self-made gods. We start to believe that we can say and do whatever we please. We get to make up reality. The only limitation is that we don’t infringe upon other people’s rights to say and do whatever they please. So we make up reality for ourselves, but we are not so sure that our reality can be reality for others in their self-made world of thoughts.
Stanley Hauerwas said it best when he said: “I’ve long argued that cynicism is the primary virtue of liberal social orders. You can find it most clearly determined by parents thinking that they ought to raise their children to make up their own minds.” You see, when a parent says to a child, “Honey, you believe whatever you want to believe,” what the parent really says is, “I’m not so sure that what I’ve built my life upon is all that worthy of passing on to you.”
That’s cynicism. We say stuff like, “that’s just my opinion” or “believe whatever you want,” believing that we are less responsible for others and what they believe and less responsible for what we believe. We hope that we can somehow distance ourselves from our words if they someday prove to be completely wrong. So we become people who are not willing to stand up for much of anything when push comes to shove.
Now, if there’s one area of life you have to be able to hold firm and stand up for what you believe is when it comes to making a bet. Any gamblers in here? (Don't lie.)
When you make a bet you have to be confident in what you say. You have to be willing to put something on the line. You have to count the cost, knowing whether or not you want to pay for dinner if you lose, and then stick to the plan. None of this, “that’s just my opinion” stuff.
In reading our text for today, I wonder if some of us would feel better if Jesus said things a bit differently. What if Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. But that’s just my opinion?”
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it. You see, Jesus made some very strong claims. He claimed that in order to know and be with the Father you have to know him. That when we see Him, we see the very character and will of the Father. But Jesus wasn’t just some idiot spouting off stupid statements to get attention for his self.
Jesus wasn’t a talk show host, just trying to get ratings. He meant what he said. He meant for us to listen closely. And he was willing to place a bet on the things that he said. The wager, the wager would be himself.
Jesus’ words made the religious leaders mad. “Blasphemy!” they screamed. “He claims to be the way to the Father. He claims to be truth. He claims to give life.”
See, if Jesus wasn’t sure of his words, if he was as cynical about his words as you and I can be about ours, then he wouldn’t have walked into Jerusalem knowing that they would kill him. He wouldn’t have suffered through the beatings, carried the cross, and hanged upon it.
Jesus meant what he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And to show you that I know what I’m talking about, I’m going to live as the Father would live (loving, serving, and welcoming the sinners to me). I’m going to die as the Father would die (sacrificially and offering forgiveness). And I’m going to break free the chains of sin and death, by coming back to life, rising to a new powerful life on the third day. You will know that I am from the Father and that I mean what I say.”
This is offensive to our modern ears. How can anyone claim to know truth, let alone be truth? How can anyone claim to know how to know God, let alone be the way to God?
Could you imagine if the early church shared in our cynicism? They’d all be gathered together reciting the Apostle’s Creed:
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
But that’s just our opinion. Amen.”
Church family, it is really easy to be cynical. People have wronged us. Our parents have lied to us. The world is a lot tougher than most people are willing to tell us. We live in a society in which individuals are told that we can’t trust anything. That we are ultimately alone in this life. But we as the people gathered in Jesus’ name cannot fall into the world’s insecurities.
For us to say, “I really believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, but that’s just my personal opinion,” is just as silly as it would have been for Jesus and the early church to have done so. What’s more is that when we make the Christian faith an overly private and personal affair, we do a disservice to the gospel. The gospel is to be preached and heard. It is God’s call to us to recognize that we are not in charge.
You see, Jesus, being sent by the Father came to earth as a man. He preached the good news of salvation. He taught his disciples how to live radical lives in the face of evil. He was charged for crimes against God and the human conscience. He quietly, without fanfare, took upon his self the weight of the whole world as he hanged upon the cross. He died, was buried, and rose to life on the third day. He revisited with the disciples, promising that though he would leave soon, he would sent his Spirit to dwell with them.
Then he ascended into Heaven, returning to the Father who had sent him. He went, as our text says, to prepare a place for those who also take up their cross and follow him, trusting in his promises.
Church, this is what we believe. There is no equivocation. These are not just our opinions, but the very revelation of God.
Jesus placed a bet. He lay his life on the line for us, that we may join him with Father. The early church martyrs placed bets with their lives, leaving a rich history of testimony to the sacrifice of Christ himself. You and I are next in line. We are asked to place a wager. And truth is it’s not a small wager. We are asked to place everything, even our ideas and dreams and wishes and ways of living on the line. You and I are asked whether we believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Say it with your mouth, but more importantly, say it with your life.
So if you believe, or even if you want to believe but seem to be having a hard time getting there, I invite you to sing loudly. Sing from the very core of who you are. Don’t worry about your neighbor, don’t worry about whether you can stay in tune or carry a melody. Just stand up and sign.
Thursday, 18 August 2011
Hey old Xanga crew.
I've been absent from here since I got married last summer. Moving forward I'll be absent for the unforeseeable future, because as of July 31, 2011, I stepped down from my pastoral role. My wife and I are moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina for an extended adventure. I'm working as a web developer and she'll teach English.
I've kept my identity on here hidden, so I could have a place to write my thoughts about church life without worrying if someone from my congregation would see it. My wife and I have set up a travel blog which, of course, reveals who we are. I don't want to make the connection between the two sites. However, if you would like to follow us, just send me a private message and I'll send you the link. But no mentioning this site. I might use it again one day when I return to a church in 2-4 years.
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
I disagree with this statement: "As a Christian, above all you are called to defend the truth." We are called to witness to the truth, to speak the truth, but God will defend Himself.
Sunday, 31 October 2010
This week a very kind, patient, and inquisitive woman stopped by the church to offer me Sun Myung Moon’s autobiographical book as a gift. If you are not familiar with Moon there is a lot I could say, but for now it’s enough to say he believes he is the Messiah fulfilling the Second Coming of Christ.
I was hesitant in receiving the book because I already knew I do not believe that Moon is who he says he is. But after engaging her in a lengthy conversation about Moon, the Bible, and the church I pastor, I decided I would take the book and one day make my way through it. I took the book not because she was effective in wearing down my resistance, but because as we talked I realized that my knowledge of Moon and his Unification Church were minimal. I knew enough to reject his claims, but not enough to articulate what he and his followers really believe.
More to the point, I took the book because I believe it is important that as Christians we seek to speak truthfully, even about those with whom we disagree. The ninth commandment says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Ex 20:16). In other words, don’t make stuff up. There is enough good reason to reject Moon’s claims about himself that we do not need to manufacture lies about him.
The same goes for all other areas of life. There may be good reason to think that So-and-So should not date him, but we don’t need to make stuff up about the guy. There may be good reason to vote this way or that, but we don’t need to exaggerate opposing views to convince people. There may good reason to reject that group’s claims, but we don’t need to misidentify their motives.
What’s more, too often we speak in vague generalities about those people, using a broad stroke to speak about a variety of persons. For example, growing up in Texas I frequently heard some variant of, “Californians are loony!” We hear things on TV such as, “Republicans are racists,” or “Democrats are socialists.” Especially during this heightened political season, the false testimonies are endless. Vote this way or that and you’re allowing doom to come tomorrow! These words are not only intellectually lazy, but dishonest. Both of which are not virtues of Christianity.
As Christians, we must take seriously the task of speaking honestly. We must speak honestly of our God, of ourselves, of our family members, of our neighbors, and of our enemies. Go ahead and name the areas of contention and disagreement, but make sure you do it as accurately as possible. Present opposing views accurately and argue from there. Basically, know your stuff, don’t make it up. The alternative is not to speak at all.
Monday, 10 May 2010
I set out to read a children's book this afternoon: The Magician's Nephew C. S. Lewis. It is the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia series. I've never read them.
Novels are not typically engaging for me. I enjoy them. Yes, I do enjoy them. Yet, somehow they always make me fall asleep. Without fail. It only takes ten to twenty minutes before my head starts to nod. My fiance thought I was nodding in enjoyment. Nope. I was entering into my own world of stories.
This makes me curious. Is there anything that makes you fall asleep quickly. A baseball game? A certain movie? Does anything or anyone just send your body into a comatose?