Our treat at church Sunday was a fill in sermon by Boyd Lacy. If you've never heard this man, look him up.(Unless, apparently, you are a deer.) Anyhow, He was preaching on the story of Nicodemus in John 3, how this was a very religious man- Knew the Law, Attended synagogue. He was a Pharisee, a teacher of the Jews. But when it came to a relationship with God, he was clueless. He didn't understand truly the difference between faith and religion (much like our friend Joshua, although he came to Jesus because he was willing to learn). OK, this doesn't sound like anything new, does it? That's what I was thinking to myself- In a church that was 99% regulars, what meaning does a sermon like this have? He came to a point where he was trying to explain why religion does not equal faith. He said, "There isn't one thing that we do on any Sunday morning that we couldn't do if God wasn't even there" - and then repeated for emphasis. At this point a lady behind me commented to a friend, "But God is everywhere!"
And I said, that's why we need this sermon- she missed the point! God is indeed everywhere at a "I am in all things" level. But worship occurs when we invite him- each one, personally- into the worship. God was in our church, in the synagogue Nicodemus attended, and in the mosque that would go up on its slab 650 years later. But if we want God to participate, we need to invite Him to the festivities.
Pastor Lacy then, towards the end, touched on vv. 14-15-"14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.[e] " This is one of those verses that I've always struggled with, but I see the point now. Christ, like the bronze serpent in Exodus, was lifted up- put on display- to bring to mind not the suffering that was the obvious, but the reason behind the suffering- which is put so eloquently in the next verse. And I got thinking, didn't the Israelites end up missing the point too, and worshipping the snake? Sure enough, in 2 Kings 18:
1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.... 3 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. 4 He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called [b] Nehushtan. [c] )
And the thing that gets me was the translation for this word "nehushtan". My Bible translates it as "bronze thing." Thing? These guys were burning incense to something that was so far removed from its original purpose, even they called it a "thing"! I grew up in a Catholic church, I get the concept of burning incense to things that represent something that may or may not symbolize God, even if we're paying enough attention to know what it's supposed to mean. So here's why we need sermons like this one: so that we know that no matter what other trappings surround our worship, the key to our worship is that next verse:
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Or to put it in a non-Christian light, this is from Chapter (?) 38 of Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching of Lao-Tzu:
When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.
Just exchange "Tao" for "faith", and then ask yourself everyday, which line am I on?