Today’s audio begins with Rob and Paula’s personal sharing and then continues with Pastor Roger’s message.
Week 2 Everyone Has A Gospel
Thanks to Kathy for reading the prologue of the Fourth Gospel.
It was written sixty or seventy years after Jesus’ ministry when John’s community was being driven out of their home synagogues and the looming threat of violence from Roman authorities hung in the air.
At the same time, the expectation that Jesus would soon return to set things right was fading.
The pressing question was how to make sense of Jesus’ teaching, death and resurrection while living in the midst of such fear, rejection and uncertainty?
How could John’s community understand Jesus while immersed in a conflicted culture and competing religions?
You might look at us today and conclude that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Our stabilizing institutions are crumbling – even our government’s system of checks and balances is being challenged.
We’ve become so polarized that we hardly know who is friend or foe … and there doesn’t seem to be any in-between space.
If you think about it, everyone has a “gospel” – assumptions they invest their life in, beliefs they think will bring them salvation in this life.
These are not likely their professed beliefs, but as you watch how they actually spend their time, money and energy, you’re reading their real gospel.
Maybe you know someone whose gospel is family.
For them, family is the be-all and end-all of their pride and identity.
Maybe you know someone whose gospel is work.
Or maybe achieve, win, dominate.
Each of these and similar gospels have an if-then assumption.
If I will work, work, work and save, save, save, then I will be happy once I get to my leisure years.
If I achieve, win, dominate, then finally I will feel good about myself.
But by their very nature, those worldly gospels actually postpone life.
Life will begin when I’m married, or when I win that promotion, or when the kids leave home, or when I hit the road in my Winnebago.
If we cling to any such gospel, then one day we wake up and realize that we missed life.
Proverbs 11:28 A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.
Sure, it is good to have goals, but the Advent promises of hope, peace, love, and joy are experienced in the midst of working toward those things, not just when we arrive.
Family, money, or achievement will not save us.
The Gospel of John broke from the Gnostics who (in extreme cases) believed that this life was just about acquiring secret divine knowledge – like keys – that would open heaven after death.
It broke from some of the Christian movements that kept life on hold while waiting for Jesus to return.
And, it stands in opposition to anything that would detract us from a life here and now that follows the way of life Jesus modeled.
Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is available within and among us now.
To introduce his narrative, John used a literary device familiar to his audience.
Greek drama often begins with a poetic prologue where the chorus reveals the nature of what will be taking place.
The chorus shares details to the audience that the characters will not know during the play itself.
The Gospel of John’s prologue follows this literary form, telling us something about the nature and purpose of Jesus that will not be obvious to the people he encounters.
The prologue gives us “insider information” so that we know that Jesus is no ordinary rabbi but actually the logos, the Word of God present at the moment of creation Who comes with a clear mission: to intervene in a dark and conflicted world.
John 10:10 “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”
The prologue is actually a story in itself as it tells of the Divine descending to earth in response to the advancing darkness that had begun to consume it.
The Genesis creation poem describes God separating light from darkness, and here in John darkness is a force of evil that is creeping into all corners of life while Jesus is the light of God driving the darkness back.
The darkness has spread so that John 1:10 says, He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
As in Genesis, God speaks His Word into nothingness and creation begins, but it does not burst forth as randomness or chaos.
From the beginning, there is a divine order, and the wisdom tradition teaches how aligning ourselves with that order is essential for a meaningful life.
In the Old Testament, the divine order of things is personified as Lady Wisdom, translated in the early Greek and Latin Bibles as Sophia, and in some early Christian writings Jesus was conflated with Sophia
John teaches that the story of your life began with the dramatic moment of creation and that if it is to be a full and meaningful life, it must follow ways laid out at creation.
I remember back in seminary students would sit around for hours debating philosophical questions that seem to have no answer.
Amy got so tired of overhearing those endless conversations that she wanted to scream – she said none this mattered where real people in real life have real problems.
If faith is just a bunch of abstract “head stuff”, then it’s not going to help anybody.
But Christianity is an incarnational faith – that is, our Creator left heaven to take on human flesh to show how to live the challenges, struggles and joys of real life.
One of the ancient conundrums we debated was, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
Christians have an answer that turns out to be the starting point for a faithful life.
God created because God’s essential nature is love.
1 John 4:16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
So, our life purpose is to birth the same way: to create order and to love wherever we encounter darkness.
God loves to create, and God longs to be in relationship with those He created – but God’s heart is broken when we lose our way.
Like a parent who sees their daughter unable to stop dating an abusive man, God wants to save us from our false gospels.
Since our world is largely disconnected from God, we have a flawed internal map.
We keep thinking we’re headed to the land of happiness, but we drive off to destructive self-recrimination, self-indulgence or addiction.
John 1:5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Even the disciples did not grasp God in the flesh.
It was not until after the Resurrection that the Holy Spirit revealed to them a fuller meaning of Jesus.
So, the Gospel of Truth does not begin with your dreams – it begins with God’s dream for you.
Ephesians 1:11 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
So, God pushed aside the silence, creating light, life, and beauty and suspending the world between the darkness and light.
Our world and each of our lives is caught up in the great cosmic struggle between dark and light.
God is “a jealous God” because He doesn’t want you to slip into the shadows.
Here’s an example: Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of losing our way financially: buying a few items on impulse, running up the credit card, buying a bigger car than we need.
Little choices that, at the moment, seemed inconsequential.
Then one day we woke up to discover that we were in a bind and we asked, “How did I get into this mess?”
We did it one small, seemingly inconsequential choice at a time.
We make our choices between good and evil, light and dark, with a thousand different, small choices every day.
What will I do with my money?
How will I treat that obnoxious person at the office?
How will I speak to myself?
Since these choices are so small, we don’t view their cosmic consequence.
But unless we take the Gospel of John seriously, we just do what we think will make us happy at the moment, even if it is at the expense of others.
The darkness imperceptibly inches into the corners of our lives, then into our hearts, and then into society.
First we make our choices; then our choices make us.
Eventually, though, our hearts are so deep in the shadows that we cannot do the good we would like to do, and we may even aggressively defend the darkness against facts, love or hope.
John says that God could no longer stand by and watch His children slip into darkness, especially darkness of their own making.
So, he entered the darkness to hand us a light.
John 12:46 “I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
Philip Yancey is the proud owner of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.
Libraries purchase the twenty-volume version that retails for about $3,000.
But Yancey has the special one-volume edition that is only $39.95.
It contains the full text, but the typesetting is shrunk so small that it requires one of those large magnifying glasses that comes on a swivel arm with a buzzing fluorescent bulb inside to read it.
He says that with that magnifying lens he can pour over the shades of meaning of any word in English.
By training the glass on a word, the tiny print shows up crisp and clear in the center focal point while around the edges it grows progressively distorted.
When you keep your eye upon Jesus, you are following God.
God doesn’t want you lingering in the fuzzy margins, living a distorted life, a vague life.
God does not want your life to be reduced to slaving for a bigger car; emotional contortions to please other people; or endlessly berating yourself for not being good enough, smart enough, strong enough, successful enough … so He came through Christ Jesus to bring light to your darkness.
That’s how much He loves you.
That’s His Christmas gift to you.
Advent is a time for waiting and preparing for the arrival of Christ … not just in a manger 2,000 ago, but here, today.
Perhaps this is why John gives such scant attention to the details of Jesus’ birth – no shepherds, no angels, no Magi appear in John’s gospel.
Ultimately John is more interested in our birth, our new birth as children of God.
What if we saw Christmas not just as the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but of the birth or rebirth of Christ in our personal lives.
What if we give birth to a dedication to justice, to rebuilding the environment we destroyed, and to living with honesty and integrity?
December can be an especially good month to take a frank look at our priorities – our personal gospels – because this is a month that especially reveals our stress points.
For some of us, those stress points emerge because we let ourselves become overwhelmingly busy.
For others because of loneliness that is magnified by all the hype about family and friends.
For others because we feel financial needs exacerbated by expectations of lavish Christmas giving.
And I think for all of us, the growing angst from social and political polarization.
So, this week, take some time to check how you are coping with stress – are there short-term comforts that will cause you more grief in the long run?
Are there attitudes surfacing that are demeaning to you as a child of God?
Might there be one or two simple things you could do to show love or understanding to someone you would be inclined to overlook?
Where can you help bring light into the shadows of this life?