As I was putting this message together I started to get excited because I love researching things that I am currently interested in, rather than just putting together a sermon because I have to preach. So this message slowly came together out of a passion for understanding people and the never ending predicament we all seem to get ourselves in of never actually living up to our potential.
This is our 2nd last message in our series entitled Lives.Dies. Rises. Reigns. We were taken through Lent, to death on the cross to resurrection Sunday at the beach and we are now spending a few weeks on this last work. Reigns. What does it mean for Jesus to reign now? What does it look like for us today? Do our lives change whatsoever whether Jesus rose or not? Does Jesus rising again have anything to do with us now? This is really the crucial question what I think for Christians today, so this is going to be the question we are going to play around with today.
For the most part, it’s agreed on that Jesus as a person existed. It’s a historical fact that he had followers, he eventually was put to death. Having this belief isn’t what makes us Christians. What sets us apart it that we believe these things and then we believe that he rose again and reigns still today. This is the Christian story, and this is the story that we’ve chosen to make our own. The question though still remains is “does Jesus rising and reigning have anything to do with our lives today?” If Jesus actually “reigns,” what does that mean? Is it just something that we believe with our heads or should/does it change everything else.
Obviously the answer to this question is YES, it does have something to do with our lives today. If we didn’t think that we wouldn’t be here. There is something about this story, and this belief that puts us all in the same room together once a week. We believe in this story enough that it wakes us up on a Sunday morning. But do we believe it in enough to change our entire lives so we are as radical as the story calls us to be? Do we actually love our enemies? Why aren’t we giving all of our stuff to the poor? Do we actually have peace? Do we make healthy decisions? We don’t. Our lives are really not that much more different than those that don’t believe Jesus died and rose again. So this morning, my goal is to prove to you that even though Jesus died and rose again, us believing that fact doesn’t actually do anything to change our lives, and that there is something a little bit more important that we have to do so our lives actually begin to change.
Let me explain to you a more obvious predicament to see if we can find ourselves in a similar one.
Wendell Berry in The Hidden Wound brings up the example of the moral predicament of the master who sat in church with his slaves. “This action says that the master has the belief in the immortality of the souls of the people whose bodies he owned and used. Yet here the master sits, with the assumption of owning, the body of a soul he considered as worthy of salvation as his own.” Now think about this for a moment. This master is living a life that is completely contradictory. His actions say one thing, his beliefs say another things. If his actions collided with his beliefs at any given time, it would make tidal waves.
“To keep this question from articulating itself in his thoughts and demanding an answer, he had to perfect an empty space in his mind, a silence, between heavenly concerns and earthly concerns, between body and spirit. If there had ever opened a conscious connection between the two claims, if the two sides of his mind had ever touched, it would have been like building a fire in a house full of gunpowder: somewhere down deep in his mind he always knew of the danger, and his nerves were always alert to it.”
– Wendell Berry
All right, so there is a contradiction here. The master is maybe aware of it slightly, but the radical change of everything he’s ever known would be too drastic to him, so it’s always slightly ignored. It’s just too much to handle. There is also someone else in this story that we need to pay attention too. It is that of the pastor. Think about this awkward situation for him. His livelihood comes from the dependence on the white half of his congregation, the half that are all owning slaves. So you can imagine that this pastor shys away from preaching about some things and would highlight others. You might start to hear sermons about resisting not evil, or turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, bless those that curse you etc. But now you must think, what about these masters? How can they just stand there while their entire lifestyles are conflicting the words from the pulpit? There is a separation in the words coming from the pulpit and what all the people there are hearing. The white slave owners had perfected the act of explaining and hearing things and actually living out what they were talking about. The white people certainly don’t see themselves as the antagonist in these sermons. Well it just wouldn’t happen. If the preachers started to make these connections for them either the preacher would get kicked our or he would have to begin to honour the division in the minds of his congregation. The preacher instead of focusing on how people were living would have to focus on something more heavenly, something more spiritual. So this is what he did, and moral obligation gets cut right out of the equation and the focus of his preaching starts to become more spiritual and obsessed with the question “how do you get to heaven?” No one is offended by this question or this answer? So questions about how to live the best in the world and treat others and be in relationships were allowed to go to waste as everyone obsessed over the question of salvation.
Now if we were to read the bible and write down all the times it talks about salvation, we would see a massive range of ways for this to happen (of course it’s always through Jesus). But we would see verses from getting baptised, loving one another in deed and truth, obeying the scriptures, having faith etc. But in a context like this, all these other ways didn’t really match up with the lives of those with deep pocketbooks so instead all the focus went on faith. If we all asked ourselves this question now even, the answer would be, You got salvation through believing.
This is where this obsession with going to some place that isn’t here and this over emphasis on the mystical side of Christianity came from. It came from churches who refused to be preached at or admit their inconsistencies with their lives and who they were supposed to be. It was way easier to just believe that you only had to believe to get into heaven, and that getting into heaven was really all this is about.
“And to this day that continues to be the emphasis of such denominations as the Southern Baptist: to be saved, believe! The mystical aspects of Christianity completely overshadow the moral. But it is a bogus mysticism, mysticism as wishful magic, a recipe by which to secure the benefits of eternal bliss without having to give up the benefits of temporal vice: corrupt your soul and save it too…..detached from real issues and real evils, the language of religion became abstract, intensely (desperately?) pious, rhetorical, inflated with phony mysticism and joyless passion. The religious institutions became comfort stations for scribes and publicans and pharisees. Far from curing the wound of racism, the white man’s Christianity has been its soothing bandage-a bandage masquerading as Sunday clothes, for the wearing of which one expects a certain moral credit.”
– Wendell Berry
The reason I bring up this story is not to try and give a perfect historical account how we got to where we got to, I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions to these rules and of course was happening well before racism in the 1900’s. I bring up this story to show how deeply confused and mislead Christians can be. So we don’t have to change the way we live, we completely justify and change what we believe and think we have to believe in order that we are right. We are master justifiers. I don’t think we do this consciously, but we do it. I shouldn’t even say it’s just Christians that do this, all people do it.
My goal today is difficult because by the end of it I want to expose ourselves to this same hypocrisy. By the end of this morning I think we all might feel a bit awkward because we will all be faced with the fact that we’ve chosen to live a certain way because it is more beneficial to the world we live in. This causes our beliefs to be inconsistent with our actions, but these are inconsistencies that we have chosen to make have been made because it’s more beneficial for us in the world that we live in.
For example, my goal is to give you examples from my life so I do not offend, but please take these examples and use them to be introspective about your own life.
I have a deep belief about food. I believe that it is right and good to eat healthy, organic, local food. There is a million reasons why I believe these things, and I could go on for a while explaining all the intricacies about why my beliefs have lead me this way. Whether it has to do with supporting those that are closest to you or treating our bodies healthily I’m convinced that eating food that is made close to you and in a sustainable way is the best decision for me. That is my belief. Now my actions will show you different. The food that I eat comes from all over the world. Sometimes you might catch me downing a bag of chips at night. How can this be so? How can my actions be in such drastic contrast to what I believe?
Q: In what way do your beliefs not line up with your actions? Give some examples.
The examples are endless in my own life. I am opposed to the oil industry and the havoc it is reaking on the environment, and yet I drive a car. I am opposed to slavery and the mistreating of people and yet I don’t even think twice before putting on a t-shirt that was made in a sweat shop. I think my money should be used to help those in need but I constantly buy things with it for my own pleasure and enjoyment.
Subjects were asked in a bargain store to judge which one of four nylon stocking pantyhose was the best quality. The subjects were not told that the stockings were in fact identical. Wilson and Nisbett presented the stockings to the subjects hanging on racks spaced equal distances apart. As situation would have it, the position of the stockings had a significant effect on the subjects’ quality judgments. In particular, moving from left to right, 12% of the subjects judged the first stockings as being the best quality, 17% of the subjects chose the second pair of stockings, 31% of the subjects chose the third pair of stockings, and 40% of the subjects chose the fourth-the most recently viewed pair of stockings. When asked about their respective judgments, most of the subjects attributed their decision to the knit, weave, sheerness, elasticity, or workmanship of the stockings that they chose to be of the best quality. Dispositional qualities of the stocking, if you will. Subjects provided a total of eighty different reasons for their choices.
In an experiment where women were asked to make a choice between 4 identical pairs of nylons. They all made a choice and then explained that choice to them, even though they were identical. Which tells them that these two parts of their brain do not talk to each other. So if you compare this to me and what I eat. There is part of what I do and the decisions that I make are completely separate from the things that I actually say/believe about those things. It’s a bit terrifying that this has been proven through science. I find this a little bit relieving because it reminds me that I’m like everyone else, but it is scary because it tells me that everyone else is a hypocrite.
There is a brilliant guy out there named Robert Kurzban and he has a book entitled “Why Everyone (else) Is A Hypocrite.” Building off this experiment by Nisbett and Wilson, he goes on to explain how our brain works with all these inconsistencies. One of the ways we work is that we are constantly trying to get ahead, to win. Sometimes being consistent with our actions and our beliefs does not do this for us. It actually is more true that in certain situations, being inconsistent is better. So when being inconsistent is better and we can still kind of get away with it, we choose to just be inconsistent. So in the example with my belief that eating healthy is better and wiser, and my action of eating a bag of chips, I’m living inconsistently but that’s because I believe that being inconsistent is actually better for me in that situation than being consistent (ie. being alone where no one can see me mowing down on a bag of Ruffles.) But if you put me at the Treehouse with a group of vegans, I’m going to eat healthy and then live consistent with my belief because in that situation it is more beneficial for me to be consistent because I’m looking to preserve myself socially and come across as moral. It is interesting because in both situations, whether I’m at home by myself or out with my vegan friends, at no point am I actually living out my belief simply because I believe it, there is always something else going on. It’s either I want to satisfy my longings and feel good, or I want to uphold some sort of moral facade. At no point am I doing what I believe because I believe it. So do you see how this makes sense? My beliefs are now completely separate things than my actions, I could believe anything about food really, but by the sounds of it, it wouldn’t matter because my beliefs really have no relevance to my actions.
I want to read you a story written by Peter Rollins.
“There was once a fiery preacher who possessed a powerful but unusual gift. He found that, from an early age, when he prayed for individuals, they would supernaturally lose all of their religious convictions. They would invariably loose all of their beliefs about the prophets, the sacred Scriptures, and even God. So he learned not to pray for people but instead limited himself to preaching inspiring sermons and doing good works.
However, one day while travelling across the country, the preacher found himself in conversation with a businessman who happened to be going in the same direction. This businessman was a very powerful and ruthless merchant banker, one who was honoured by his colleagues and respected by his adversaries.
Their conversation began because the businessman, possessing a deep, abiding faith, had noticed the preacher reading from the Bible. He introduced himself to the preacher and they began to talk. As they chatted together this powerful man told the preacher all about his faith in God and his love of Christ. He spoke of how his work did not really define who he was but was simply what he had to do.
“The world of business is a cold one,” he confided to the preacher, “and in my line of work I find myself in situations that challenge my Christian convictions. But I try, as much as possible, to remain true to my faith. Indeed, I attend a local church every Sunday, participate in a prayer circle, engage in some youth work, and contribute to a weekly Bible study. These activities help to remind me of who I really am.”
After listening carefully to the businessman’s story, the preacher began to realize the purpose of his unseemly gift. So he turned to the businessman and said, “Would you allow me to pray a blessing into your life?”
The businessman readily agreed, unaware of what would happen. Sure enough, after the preacher had muttered a simple prayer the man opened his eyes in astonishment.
“What a fool I have been for all these years!” he proclaimed. “It is clear to me now that there is no God above who is looking out for me, and that there are no sacred texts to guide me, and there is no Spirit to inspire and and protect me.”
As they parted company the businessman, still confused by what had taken place, returned home. But now that he no longer had any religious beliefs, he began to find it increasingly difficult to continue in his line of work. Faced with the fact that he was now just a hard-nosed businessman working in a corrupt system, rather than a man of God, he began to despise his activity. Within months he had a breakdwon, and soon afterward gave up his line of work completely. Feeling better about himself, he then wnet on to give to the poor all the riches he had accumulated and began to use his considerable managerial expertise to challenge the very system he once participated in, and to help those who had been oppressed by it.
One day, many years later, he happened upon the preacher again while walking thorugh town. He ran over, fell at the preacher’s feet, and began to weep with joy. Eventually he looked up at the preacher and smiled, “Thank you, my dear friend, for helping me discover my faith.”
Q: What does this story tell us about the connection between belief and action?
“In this story we begin to gain insight into how religious belief can itself be a barrier to living the life of faith. It is all too easy for us to think that our religious beliefs express the deep truth of our inner life while what we do on a daily basis in work is only a mask, a necessary evil that must be endured in order to get by in today’s frenetic, consumerist world.”
– Peter Rollins
I want to be honest here this morning. I can prove through my life, your life, and all these experiments over and over again that just because we believe something does not mean that we live a certain way. We very rarely live what we believe. Now this leaves all of us in a very awkward position because we all believe that what we believe is crucial to how we live and to the state of the world. We believe that because Jesus rose again that we are now included into a new kingdom and this kingdom values and lives a very different way. So what do we do if our beliefs don’t change our lives? If our beliefs don’t change our actions then what does? Let me tell you another quick story to help illustrate what I’m talking about.
We can see this through the never ending repetition of creeds from mainline denominations. I believe this, I believe that. It serves it’s place to be constantly reminded of what you believe, but just because you believe these things doesn’t means that it follows that you live that way.
There was a man who had worked at a factory for twenty years. Every night when he left the plant, he would push a wheelbarrow full of straw to the guard at the gate.
The guard would look through the straw, and find nothing and pass the man through.
On the day of his retirement the man came to the guard as usual but without the wheelbarrow.
Having become friends over the years, the guard asked him, “Charlie, I’ve seen you walk out of here every night for twenty years. I know you’ve been stealing something. Now that you’re retired, tell me what it is. It’s driving me crazy.”
Charlie simply smiled and replied, “Okay, wheelbarrows!”
The guards were so focused on the insides of what was in the wheel barrel that they missed the fact that all along what they were looking for is the wheel barrel. We have done the same thing in the church. We have focused so much on changing people’s beliefs and trying to help our kids believe the right things that we’ve completely skipped over the fact that people do not do things because they believe things. So even if your kids believe all the right things when they grow up, this is no guarantee that they will live a certain way. Oops. We’ve been looking in all the wrong places to help people discover and experience the kingdom.
When it becomes even more messy is when we consider “faith” as just another kind of belief. Faith becomes is just holding a certain preposition that you believe firmly in something that lacks sufficient evidence to know for certain. In Christianity faith now expresses itself as a firm assertion in a certain list of dogmas and statement’s of belief. This idea of faith though is different. Remember the brain is split up into two different categories. We have the side of the brain that makes decisions and choices, and then we have the other side of the brain that explains away and gives reason for things that happen. When we talk about belief we are just talking about that side of the brain that gives reason for things. I believe I picked this pair of nylons because I like the colour of them (even though they are identical.) Belief is only making use of one part of the brain. Faith however does not work this way. Faith like Paul explains it is a way of participating in a different kind of reality, one that doesn’t have to do just with beliefs, but the whole person. For Paul faith is a way of participating in the kingdom of God, or a life with Christ. He is talking about a different kind of existence not just a different way of thinking.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see
Here, the writer of Hebrews describes faith as a way of living. It is an invisible reality that we do not see but one that we live inside of. It’s a reality that allows our beliefs and our actions actually go hand in hand. Faith can’t just be believing a certain proposition. Faith also can’t just be giving food to the poor. You can’t see it, yet we are sure of it. Faith is this entrance into a way of life that bridges those two worlds and creates a different way of living in this world. If you have faith in Christ it means you now see the world through Christ. If you see the world through Christ, belief and action go together, there is no separating them. If you just believe Christ died and rose, then you just hold a proposition in your head, but that isn’t faith, that isn’t anything but a belief. Beliefs by themselves are worthless. We are called to be people of faith. People of faith are radically transformed because they see the world through a different set of eyes, they aren’t just a group of people who believe different things.
“The result of such thinking is the affirmation of a faith that permeates all our actions rather than being exhibited only when faced with something we cannot understand, or at some prayer meeting, or in some weekly service to the poor. Such an expression thus strikes against the very roots of inauthentic resistance and demands a truly radical reconfiguring of our social existence.”
– Peter Rollins
This is why over the last few years I have switched my way of being a pastor. I no longer desire to change what you believe about anything. I don’t think beliefs are relevant to how you live. I do however want to help you change how you see the world. I want to help people change who they are putting their faith in. I think that is done through faith in Jesus. The more I can help you and myself see the world through the eyes of Christ, the more I think we will become a community of people whose beliefs line up with our actions. If we as a community, support each other, can realign our vision to actually see through Christ and not through our own selfish desires then I think we will be on the right track. Faith in Jesus is not belief in Jesus, faith in Jesus is a complete reordering of our lives so it looks like Jesus and smells like him.
Faith is a lifelong process. It takes time and it slowly transforms us into the kind of people that we have faith in. Slowly I am eating better than I used to. Slowly I’m becoming more peaceful. Slowly I’m depending on oil less. Slowly I learn not to oppress slaves around the world. This change isn’t happening inside of me because I believe that those things are wrong. This change is happening because I have faith in Jesus and faith changes people. It aligns those two sections of our brain and makes them more consistent over time. Only by laying down it all will we actually change, we can’t just change our beliefs. Paul speaks to this in Romans.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
What Paul is talking about here is faith. Understanding ourselves by what God is and what he did for us is faith. Jesus rose from the grave to give us something to have faith in. The question that I asked at the beginning of this message, Does Jesus rising again have anything to do with us now? gives us an entirely new way to look at what Jesus’ Resurrection means for us. It means everything for us. It changes our beliefs and our actions. It means that in the places of our lives that our beliefs don’t match our actions, those are the places that we have yet to actually have faith in Jesus for. It doesn’t mean we don’t believe it, it just means we don’t have trust Jesus is still working on it. We’d rather see the world in those categories through our own selfish eyes than through Jesus.
Hopefully all of us are seeing the dichotomy between our faith and our actions. This is a good place to be in. Being aware of our own contradictions rather than trying to live a false self to uphold some sort of moral trophy to the world. Maybe we can start to put less stock into our beliefs and more stock into what we are willing to give to Jesus in faith.
Lord forgive us, for we are hypocrites
We believe one thing and do another
We say one thing and never back it up
Our lives are a mess
One contradiction after another
We believe that you died
We believe that you rose
We believe that you will save us
We believe that you reign
We don’t live like you did any of those things
We don’t live like you are doing anything now
We believe we should care for the earth
But we destroy it as soon as we wake up
We believe that we should care for each other
But we hurt each other all day long
We believe that we should be selfless
But we are selfish
We believe that we should help the poor
But we only help ourselves
Our faith is dead
Because our deeds our dead
So God we sit humbly at your feet
Recognizing our inability to live out our beliefs
So we have faith that you are transforming us
We have faith that you have made a way
We enter into your story and let you do the transforming
We place everything before you as an offering
We don’t just want to change what we believe
We want to change how we see
Some references of where I pulled from.