Well I am really excited about the next 3 weeks, today and the next 2 weeks where we'll be doing a series called 'On Religion'. We'll be exploring religions Birth, Evolution, and ultimate Death. And in a sense this series is going to be kind of simple, this week in particular, but if I'm able to communicate it right, I think it's really going to help you understand the appeal of religious systems, and how they usually end up hurting more than helping, and how Jesus shows us a better way. We'll talk about how blessed we are as humanity and how far we've fallen. And how, I believe, we can return back to what was.
Any study on world religions will show you something very obvious: Religion has brought some good, but as a whole it has been a very destructive force in the world. Christianity is responsible for so much death and torture in the name of Jesus. I read recently that we as Christians have killed an estimated 113.8 million people. That's a lot of people.
People like many of us who are advocates for Christianity, we always want to point out the good.
Yes there's good but if you were to bite into an apple with a worm in it. Worse than a worm, half a warm. Spoils the whole experience. Trying to bring you back to the good "Yeah but look how juicy it is!" doesn't help. That's what Christians try to do. "Yes yes yes, we have some dark spots, but really look how great Christianity is as a whole."
I was reading that Christians are the ones's who invented hospitals. Beautiful thing. But in talking to someone who's freaked out about how hostile we've been. They don't care about the hospital thing, because they also know that we've put more people INTO hospitals than any other faith system.
It's actually a pretty recent development that in the last couple hundred years that we've stopped killing people in the name of the love of Jesus. Kinda new at the whole 'not killing people' thing.
How did we get so far off track?
Different people use the word religion differently. I can be used in a positive way of spiritually connecting. 'I had a religious experience' 'I'm a very religious person.' They mean - genuine faith. I want to hear peoples heart. Not their words. I don't want to argue about words. "Don't you know I'm doing a series on the death of religion?!?!"
But it's worth noting that in the bible, the word religion is not super positive. It's used very rarely. Jesus uses 'faith'. Trust. It's a relational term. Religion not relational word, so Jesus doesn't really use it.
Only clearly 'positive' use, James (brother of Jesus) - tongue in cheek. "Only religion that God actually cares about is caring for the poor and not copying the way of the world.'
For the sake of this series, when we refer to 'religion' we mean: A system through which we achieve access to the ultimate.
It's that ultimate is usually God, but that's not true for all religions. It may be nirvana like our Buddhist friends, where there's not a concept of a personal God, or maybe paradise. Whatever that is, religion is what we do to try and achieve that.
I'd like to take these few weeks to show you that religion is actually something that competes with faith. Takes something relational and makes it institutional. It takes something beautiful like marriage, and turns it into just a legal contract. It takes something beautiful like friendship and makes it into just business associates.
(Thought experiment - Close Eyes)
All the way back to when there was nothing but God.
Erase in our minds: People you know, Places you know, This country, All the history of mankind, The earth, The universe, All people, all matter, all concepts and ideas. All angels, The solar system, Heaven. To where everything is empty. Darkness. Now think away the darkness. All there is is God and you had one word to say what he IS, you would say the word 'Love'.
It's an interesting idea isn't it. The concept that God himself, before there were any other beings to be in relationship with, is defined by the word : Love. Which is a relational term. Relationality is built into the DNA of God. And now you, created in the image of God, are the same way, relationality is built into your DNA.
You are created for loving relationship with the divine.
Not me! I'm a rolling stone! I'm a Lone Wolf! Live alone, die alone! - No you're not. You need relationship. It's like air. Try hating air.
Earliest graves. Neanderthal graves. - Buried their dead in fetal positions. Signifying that their loved one was being born into an afterlife.
Also, buried them with tools, weapons, food as a way of saying "We know there's something more here." We don't know how to define it, defined in different cultures.
Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. (C.S. Lewis)
Even people who reject existence of God, still feel this strange fascination with connecting to something more than us.
In some awful, strange, paradoxical way, atheists tend to take religion more seriously than the religious. (Jonathan Miller (opera director/author))
Even if they reject it, it still consumes them.
I'd argue that that's put there by God, b/c we're made in His image. We have a calling inside of us to reconnect with something bigger than ourselves. That instinct can be manipulated and abused - Institutions, systems. Taps into something real. It can pull us into allegiance to something that can be very dark and very dirty. So we want to not reject it entirely, but find the pure version of it.
True Christianity is not a religion, not an allegiance to an institution, it's a relationship with the person at the center. Might look similar to people on the outside, but on the inside it's completely different.
Everything we do in the Christian life, we do for CELEBRATION not SALVATION.
Pressures off. There's nothing for us to 'achieve'. Reach the divine, the divine is here, with you. You don't have to reach God, because he came to you. That's why the cross means so much to us. The cross is not just a necklace, the cross for us is constant reminder that we can do our worst to God and he will still return loving us.
It's called Grace. Now not worried about judgement day, where I'll be judged and maybe pass the test, that's religion. But us, judgement has already been passed and we've been declared righteous. Now. Beautiful idea of rebirth. We've abused this idea. But it's a fresh start. A chance to start again. Not bound by who you were.
Paradox, we as Christians get together every week to celebrate the fact that we don't have to get together every week. That's not our religion. That's not our stairway to heaven.We do it as an expression of celebration, not salvation.
Come together and study the bible and find out that we don't HAVE to study the bible, that's not our religion. Instead we read the bible to remember and to learn both who we are and who Jesus is. We sing songs of worship to the God who says 'you don't have to sing songs of worship and praise to achieve something.' This is an expression of our love and devotion. Very different than the way of religion. This system of rules, rituals, routines, that we become addicted to.
God has created all of creation, and this is his pinnacle of creation - humankind.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” (Genesis 1:26a)
First oddity - "Let US make man in OUR image" - God speaks to himself in the plural.
… so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26b)
This word 'rule' has really been twisted. We think 'rule' just means - "I'm in charge so I can do whatever I want." But the bible defines rulership as a form of 'serving'. - Eugene Peterson translates this as "Be responsible for".
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
At first God refers to himself as a "we". And then the next verse he changes it to "He". Which is very interesting grammatically, but it's beautiful theology. That God is a "he" that is also an "us". God has community within himself. In the New Testament we learn that God's DNA, what he's made of, is love. "God Is Love." 1 John 4:8 & 16
Love is a relational concept. Means nothing outside of relationship. If you were by yourself on desert island, and you had to survive. Love wouldn't be high on your list. You'd probably value: Hope, Creativity, Wisdom/Intelligence. But love? If you had love but no one to share it with - drive you crazy. You might start to make up people to love. Draw a face on a volleyball. Wilson.
We're created for relationship.
That's why church, if done right, is so beautiful. Extended family. Christian spirituality is completely relational. Not: Spirituality that says go to a deserted island and meet with Jesus. It's about coming into community and finding Jesus together.
Matthew 22, someone comes to Jesus and asks: "What's the greatest commandment?" Jesus responded: "Love the lord your god with everything you've got and love your neighbor as yourself."
"Uhhh… That's not exactly what we asked Jesus. We asked for the single greatest commandment." Jesus knew that if he just said "Love the Lord with everything you've got." - He knew that if we did that, that we'd become these weird super-spiritual hermits that just say "The only thing that matters is loving God."
The greatest commandment splits into two directions. Bi-directional spirituality. We love up & out. In fact: we see later, when we treat others well, he receives that as honor himself.
Our spirituality is worked out in relationship.
Some of us come from great hurt and pain. Maybe you were abused or mistreated. And so it's hard for you to trust God and even harder to trust others. The irony is that the antidote for a hurtful relationship isn't NO relationship. It's a HEALING relationship. Thank you guys for taking the risk of being a part of this community.
Story goes on:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)
Male and Female - Masculine and Feminine - both somehow reflect God's beauty. In this community - appreciate that which is like us and that which is different than us. People who reflect God in a way that I might not. When I enter into new relationship - I don't want to judge and stereotype, I want to learn. To see the image of God in new and beautiful places.
We are made in God's image and one thing that means is that we're deeply relational.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
Our essence is breathed by God. We're the only ones. We're not divine, but our origin is divine.
We're also dirt! - This is humanity. We are a beautiful combination of the DIRT and the DIVINE. We're very earthy - make a lot mistakes, mess up in huge ways. "I'm never gonna do that again!" Next day, we do it again. Who's the real you? The dirt or the divine? BOTH. To be human is to have this beautiful wisdom, and this brokenness that struggles to follow through.
Keep in mind: We're the only part of creation that comes to life because of the breath of God. Paul says in Acts (Acts 17:28) ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
God is the 'atmosphere' that our spirits were designed to live in.
Relationship w/Him is what made us come alive. This is a beautiful strength, but it also has a potential weakness, if someone wanted to exploit it.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. (Genesis 3:1a)
Crafty. Interesting word. Could have said 'pure evil' 'wicked' 'lying'.
Craftiness - ability to nudge you in the right direction to get what I want. Some of you are very good at this. Getting other people to do what you want. If your heart is good, this is just called leadership, but if your heart is evil, then you begin to manipulate. But notice the subtlety. The serpent doesn't come with a loud phone and say "Attention all humans! God doesn't really love you. He's out to get you." - No, he's subtle.
He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? ” (Genesis 3:1b)
Isn't that interesting? He asks a question ABOUT God. Eve answers:
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, (Genesis 3:2)
but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” (Genesis 3:3)
Goes a little further than God did. - added the last part about touching it. The beginning of Religious tradition. Adding a little bit. And you can imagine: generation and generation of good hearted people just wanting to add a little bit. Before you know it, mountain of rules to keep in your head in order to fit in to a religious community.
But see Satan is crafty. It's not just what he's saying, it's how he's saying it. That the suggestion comes in a form of a question.
This is the first time in recorded human history where we have a conversation about God as if God's not there. Where previously we've seen conversations that include God because he's always there. Even in asking a question about God and implying that he's not here, the serpent is adding some space between God and Eve.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. (Genesis 3:4)
“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” - Ironic. (Genesis 3:5)
"You'll be like God" - so ironic. Because they were already made like God.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6)
What?! Adam was there the whole time? What, picking his nose?!
So here we have not only the first sin, but the first environment that produces sin. The feeling that God is far away. We need to relationship, that's beautiful, but it also makes us vulnerable.
If we could be made to believe that God was far away, we'd begin to experience separation anxiety.
My wife and I are working to get our daughter Grace used to the daycare at the gym. And Grace sometimes experiences a bit of separation anxiety. Where she's happy in there as long as we're in there with her, but as soon as she senses we're going to leave, the panic sets in.
We'd start to act out of fear and not love. We're designed to live in His environment. When we feel like that's not true, we freak out. And we start trying to bridge the gap. To build a stairway to heaven. "I need to get closer to God. - God, you feel so far away!" To build a stairway to heaven.
This is the beginning of religion: The feeling that God is far away and you have to "do" something to get close to him.
If you have a coworker who doesn't know God, starts to become interested the first thing they're going to start doing is trying to change their behavior to get close to him. And it's our job as followers of Christ to remind people that God's here.
Amazing scene in the bible. Sort of a religious scene. See people standing around, talking about God. 'Why did he do this?' 'Why did he do that??' It's like seminary.
I love studying scripture. And discussing. And debating. But after awhile, God becomes a topic. When you study something living in a scientific way, you usually have to kill it. When we just sit around talking 'about' God, and we never pause to talk TO Him. We gone into religion. Hurts our relationship with him.
Solution is not: "DON'T STUDY! Just be stupid and love God." The solution is: "As I study and learn and grow, I'm inviting God into that process to lead me in the right direction."
Scene ends with them eating from the wrong tree. Not of life but of judgement. Religion is born. We believe the lie that God is far from us. We experience separation anxiety. We've got to do something to make it right. That anxiety in us, get manipulated by Satan. Throughout history we've been setting up systems, institutions, and rules to bridge that gap that can only be crossed by relationship.
In closing, that's one thing that Jesus does for us. He comes to earth to remind us that God is here. "Emmanuel." Which means "God with us"". One of the first things the angel says "you need to call Jesus Emmanuel." - God with us. Jesus becomes the human form of the always true reality: God is here with us. Always.
Closing Statement: God is here with us. Intimately involved in our reality. Trouble comes when we lose sight of that. There's a disturbance. We start to feel like God is far away, and panic sets in. - This is religion. The feeling that God is far away, and we need to do something to get close to Him. But Jesus comes and reminds us that God is here. At this very moment, Emmanuel, God with us.
And there's no greater response to a message like this. I want to make it perfectly clear that this practice is open to every single person in the room today. He loves you, he wants to embrace you, so let him.
As pass : Take inventory - own heart. Think about the ways that you can subtly fall into religion.
In either case, it's relating to God based on your own goodness.
I want to do something as we close Maybe you feel like you're close to him, maybe you feel far from Him, but just stopping and saying 'You're here with me.' In fact why don't we try that a couple times together. But don't just say this like it's some 'recite this' thing at church, don't say it to me, say it to God. "You're here with me." Let's say that together. 1,2,3 "You're here with me."
Pray: Chase us down with goodnesses and mercy. And even when we run away, your grace and mercy are faster