Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hunting for the Gospel

As an addendum to my post "Apostasy - Do you see it or are you in it?" - I bring you this this message from Shane Hipps. As you read it please understand that Pastor Hipps has preached at Rob Bell's home church and he has been a guest speaker at one of Bell's conferences. See if you can find the gospel.


We have a ton of fun stuff to get through today. We are today starting a sermon series on the Gospel of John. And my sermon series, as you know, are kind of…I let the Spirit lead; I never know how long they’re going to be and that basically depends on when the Spirit decides to shut off my interest in the subject. So, uh, no…I’m kidding. I will probably go through till about Advent and then we’ll suspend for Advent. We’ll follow the church calendar through Advent and then we’ll pick it up again after that.

Um…let me say a few preparatory comments about the Gospel of John; it’s a very unique gospel. Um…so the people who spend…first of all, there are four gospels, if you don’t know, there are four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They’re in the New Testament of the bible. Gospels are called gospels because they tell the story of the life of Jesus – the “Good News” of the life of Jesus; gospel means, “Good News.”

So, four gospels…three of them (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written earlier than John. And those three…scholars — the people who study this stuff for a living — call those three gospels “The Synoptic Gospels.” Synoptic…a delightful word…I encourage you to work that word into casual conversation in the coming week. (Audience laughter) I’m going to show you how – don’t worry. I know it’s intimidating. So, synoptic…syn, the prefix means “together”. Optic means “view” — “view together”. So, the synoptic gospels can be viewed together. And the reason is because they have this incredible commonality. Those three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) draw heavily from the same sources, and so you can literally lay out all three gospels in three columns and you can see how they drew from the same sources, and in some cases not just the same stories, but the same words are used…very, very similar.

So, the way you work this into a casual conversation is you can say something like, “Hey, did you guys see the Presidential debates this last week or so?” The answer would be, “Yes.” “They had kind of a synoptic quality to them, wouldn’t you agree?” (Audience laughter) Sounds very sophisticated, does it not? All it means is you get to see two candidates together, but that’s not nearly as cool sounding…so synoptic…so use that. Again, my challenge to you…I have no spiritual challenge, only that challenge; (Audience laughter) find a way to integrate “synoptic” into your daily vocabulary.

Here’s the deal: so, for the non-synoptic gospel (the Gospel of John) John is a totally different kind of gospel. There are huge portions of John that are found nowhere in the synoptic gospels; and there are all kinds of stories and parables found in the synoptic gospels that are found nowhere in John. John has no parables at all. John is mostly a bunch of long conversations and debates between Jesus and Pharisees and Jesus and disciples, and so it’s…it has this sort of debate quality to it. It’s also…John does something else weird; he talks about really abstract things. Um…so one way to think about the difference between the synoptic gospels (your favorite new word) and John, is uh…one of the things that’s going on (this is a little bit of over simplification, but I think it’s helpful) the synoptic gospels are interested primarily in the exterior (or outer) dimension of the gospel…the exterior or outer dimension; that is those things that you can see, taste, touch, and feel. That’s the outer dimension of the gospel – something visible. John, on the other hand, is concerned mostly with the inner…interior dimension of the gospel; those things you cannot see or taste or touch – the inner dimension of the gospel.

So as a consequence they…they read very differently. For some people (depending on what you prefer in life and how you tend to relate to God), one of those sets of gospels is gonna’ resonate with you more than the other. Umm…so, for example …the interior and the exterior.

Today we’re going to celebrate communion. Communion is an exterior ritual. You’re going to hear some words, you’re going to see some movements, you’re going to move your body, you’re going to taste (in our case) grape juice, you’re going to eat bread; they’re physical, tangible qualities to this external aspect of that ritual. At the same time, when you do this act you will have an internal experience that is hidden from all of us. It is unique to you. So you may experience ….when you taste the bread and the wine you may experience transcendent joy, or nostalgia, or boredom or confusion (laughs). You may wonder why you’re doing it. But the point is that regardless of whatever that internal experience is, none of us can see it; that is what the Gospel of John is chiefly concerned with…exploring this inner dimension of the gospel. You with me so far? Good, great…thank you – I got a little bit of feedback. Uh, so here’s what we’re gonna’ do; we’re gonna’ jump in…I preface all this because what John does right off the bat (the very first set of verses) he does something very, very strange. Uh, so let’s read together John 1:1.

“In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” He (the Word that is) was with God in the beginning, in case you missed that first part (a little repetitive there). “Through Him all things were made, without Him nothing was made that has been made.” (Again, a little repetitive.) “In Him was life and that life was the light of all people.” (All people – not just Christians – all people.) “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” Light shines in the darkness…the darkness has not overcome it.

So here’s what’s going on (this is how John is very different from the other gospels), if you read Matthew or Luke, umm…they’re really interested (like John) in the origins of Jesus. Oh, I should say one other thing if you’re not familiar…that “Word” that John is talking about here in verse fourteen he goes on to say, “That ‘Word’ became flesh and dwelt among us.” So that “Word” that he is referring to is the “Word” and that “Word” becomes Jesus. So, John is talking about the origin of Jesus. Now, Matthew and Luke do the same thing; Matthew traces though the origin of Jesus’ human lineage – the external aspect of Jesus’ origin – his father, his father, his father, his father, his grandfather…all that. So, Matthew traces Jesus back to Abraham (the father of the faith). Luke traces Jesus back to Adam (the father of well, everything…all humanity, right?). But John doesn’t have any interest in that…he skips right over that…he talks about the inner origin of Jesus. So right off the bat you’re setting the tone of the gospel you’re gonna’ be reading.

Another thing that is really, really striking, this is one of the most innovative (that first verse) is one of the most innovative things I’ve ever seen. It’s an extraordinary theological innovation, “In the beginning was the Word.” Word…okay…this is so frustrating to people like me…the Greek word for word (you see, that’s hard to say…how am I supposed to…the word for word) that word, in Greek is “logos.” So anytime you see word it’s actually logos. So, in the beginning was the logos and the logos was with God and the logos was God. Logos! Here’s why this is problematic, uh…like in any language a word can be translated many different ways; and one of the ways you can translate logos into English is the word…”word.” But the problem with that is in our minds when we say the word “word,” you’re just thinking about the words I’m speaking. There is no way that what John meant by logos is what we mean by “word.” In a sense, there is no English equivalent to the word logos. So I actually think it would have been better if (I think it would serve us better) if we would just leave logos in our English bibles. This mysterious, odd, quasi-weird word that really we don’t fully understand, and the reason I think that we should have done that is because for the Jewish audience that’s how they would have read it. In the beginning was the logos? What? Logos had no connection to the Jewish or Hebrew imagination, none whatsoever. But John does something really fascinating…everything that follows is borrowed from the popular music, songs, and poetry of the Hebrew people.

So he takes this really weird word called “logos” that nobody really understands, but then he uses really common phrases and language and poetry and songs to describe what the logos is. So, if you go back into Jewish poetry or songs, what we find is something like this…you can go to a book called the Wisdom of Solomon. Wisdom of Solomon is not found in your bible, it’s found in what’s called the “Apocrypha”, I won’t get into the details of that, but it’s not in your bible, but it’s uh, basically a study of his celebration of wisdom. Listen to how they describe wisdom in this book, “Wisdom is like the light, she is found before it for after this comes night, but it shall not prevail against wisdom. And wisdom was with you Lord, it knows your works, it was present when you made the world.” Can you see the commonalities between their description of wisdom and John’s description of logos?

There’s this whole thing about the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not overcome it. Wisdom is like light; wisdom…darkness…night shall not prevail against it. The logos was with God from the very beginning of all time. Wisdom was with God from the very beginning of all time. The logos made all things of the world. Wisdom made all things in the world.

Let’s go to Proverbs speaking now again of wisdom, “The Lord created me…wisdom. At the beginning of His work, when there were no depths I was brought forth. When he established the heavens I was there, then I was the Creator by His side.” Isn’t that amazing? So wisdom…all these commonalities and parallels between wisdom and the logos.

So one of the things that shows us (just so we’re clear), for the Jewish imagination, the Hebrew way of thinking, wisdom wasn’t just, you know making good decisions or getting good advice…that’s kinda’ how we use the word wisdom…we tend to minimize wisdom. For the Jews, wisdom was the very DNA of God; the creative life force that gives birth to all things, that’s what wisdom was…really, really profound stuff.

So John basically comes along and says, “Wisdom was with God. In the beginning was wisdom and the wisdom was with God, and the wisdom was God and that wisdom became flesh.” Wow, beautiful, okay that makes…okay that helps, now I’ve got it connected. So why, (laughs) why wouldn’t John just use the word wisdom (Sophia in the Greek)? Why wouldn’t he just say, “In the beginning was Sophia (not logos)?” This is very confusing; and…and really confusing and it makes my life a whole lot harder cause now I have to try and explain it and you know, John clearly doesn’t think about my needs it’s all his needs (Audience laughter). And umm…so, anyway…whatever.

So, what’s going on? Here’s what John does, this is what when I say it’s one of the most exquisite theological innovations here…watch what John does; logos was not a word you’ll find very much in the Hebrew or Jewish literature…it’s just not part of how they think about things…however, at the same time that John was writing, there were a whole lot of Greek philosophers of religion. And, the Greek philosophers were…wrote extensively about this universal animating life force called the logos.

So John actually (in this case) borrows from the Greeks and says, “In the beginning was the logos,” and the logos was a whole lot like the wisdom that the Jews talked about. Interesting. Let me just say a word or two about logos…just to kind of help us get our heads around this. Again, weird kind of stuff they’re all trying to describe the life force…they’re dealing with the mysteries of, “Why are we all alive? Why are we all doing what we’re doing? Why do we have the needs we have? What is that behind all of this?”

The logos; they use two images to describe the logos…this mysterious, invisible thing…they use symbols to help see it. One of the symbols was “fire”…the logos was fire. Another symbol was they used the Greek word pneuma, which is “air” or “breath”; that’s where we get pneumatic pump from air, wind, breath. So two symbols…fire and breath or fire and air; now why would they use those two symbols to describe this mysterious, quasi-thing called the logos? The reason was fire is the ultimate illuminator. In that day and age without electricity fire is light…fire gives light; so the logos is light. And air, wind or breath is a symbol of life. The reason you can live right now is because you’re breathing in and out, in and out. So for the Greeks, breath was a hugely important understanding of life. So what that means is the logos is the light and life of the world…light and life. Now, watch what John does verse four.

In Him (meaning the logos) was life and that life was the light of all people. So not only does he slip in all these Hebrew/Jewish understandings of what wisdom is, he then goes on to say, “Hey, the Greek understanding of logos I’m just lifting that directly…the light and life.” Here’s why this is so beautiful; here’s what John does – John then goes on to say that logos (or wisdom) became flesh and was Jesus and dwelt among us. John is the ultimate unifier and integrator of two religious systems that have nothing in common; the Jews and the Greeks…nothing in common…nothing at all in common…didn’t even use the same language most of the time. So here John comes along and says, “Hey (to the Jews) you know that thing you talk about…that wisdom…that beautiful wisdom that you talk about? Yeah, that…right. You know that?” And to the Greeks he says, “Hey, you know that logos…that mysterious, beautiful thing with life and fire and light? That, yeah right?” Both of those things, wisdom and logos…they are actually one thing. And they found full and complete expression in the person of Jesus.

So here’s what’s so stunning: at a time when it was unthinkable to try and unify religions, John is basically saying your religion totally valid…I love it…I’m even using your language…and your religion…I love it…it’s beautiful totally valid…I’m even using your language, but I just want you both to know that there’s something bigger than what you’ve got.

There’s something that transcends what you have; it doesn’t nullify what you have, it doesn’t get rid of what you have. It just moves beyond it. So John does this unbelievably beautiful thing of basically saying, “I want to get past the religious divisions among us in our world. I don’t want to get past it…Jesus comes to bring us past it.” Jesus is the ultimate unifier in these various diverse ways of looking at the world. The only way that anyone could ever see that is by looking at the interior (not the exterior).

A black man and a white woman look very different on the exterior, do they not? They look very different from the outside, but on the inside the same longings, same needs, same need for love, for significance, for peace, same need for food…very little separates us on the inside. Now, this is really easy to talk about when you’re talking about people, isn’t it? Yes, people look different on the outside, but in the inside we’re all the same. That’s not what John is doing, he’s doing it with religions.

Mennonites and Muslims, they’re basically the same. No, no, no, no, we’re very different. I beg to differ, right? I mean when you try to do this with religious systems, you’re playing with very dangerous stuff because a religious system…what makes a religion a religion is the thing that makes it different from other religions. A religious identity is derived from what makes it distinct. A religious identity is derived from our boundaries; we sing music this way, that’s what makes us different. We believe Jesus did this and so we follow Jesus that way…that is what makes us different. You don’t even believe in Jesus; we’re different from you in that way. Even religions that have come along and said, “Our religion believes there are no distinction between religions” is in fact, a distinction.

So these…these external things…religion is about making these distinctions…and guess what? That isn’t a bad thing. Having a distinct religious identity marked by some boundaries, knowing how you’re different from other religions isn’t a problem. John isn’t trying to get rid of that, he’s trying to point beyond it. Keep it, but move beyond it.

To lose your religious identity is like losing a sail at sea. The sail is like religion, the wind is the Spirit. You need a sail to catch the wind…to harness the wind, but you gotta’ realize that that sail isn’t the wind. The sail is actually dependent on the wind. See, here’s the crazy thing, the Spirit (the wind), doesn’t need sails in order for it to move about the world.

The sails need the wind. So the Spirit in order for it to move and operate in the world has no need of religion, but we (those of us made the way we are) for some reason need sails in order to catch the wind. We need religious structures, external things we can touch and see and traditions and lineages that teach us so that we can better catch the wind. Now some sails are built better than other sails; some sails are bigger than other sails, some sails are better shaped than other sails and those differences matter. And sometimes, one sail is better than another sail in the same way that some religions are better equipped to catch the Spirit of God. Some religions are not as well equipped to fully capture and be compelled by the Spirit. So it matters what religion you choose. It matters why that religion…why you choose it. It matters what it looks like…how it’s shaped , but don’t ever confuse the sail with the Spirit…the sail with the wind.

Here’s what’s so confusing about this…John comes along and says, “Hey both of you guys you’ve got great sails…both look awesome.” I just want you to know it’s the wind that I’m interested in. He says Jesus became the fullness of that wind. And so along comes us and we create a sail around that person. We go, “Now we’ve got it!” Wooo! It’s just another sail. Just because we claim Jesus as the center of our religion does not make us one and the same with the wind of God. It just means we have another sail. I happen to think it’s a better sail than most other sails. I happen to think it’s a more effective sail than other sails (that’s why I chose this particular sail), but it ain’t the wind.

This is what John is doing and it’s extremely innovative and it’s very unsettling that he’s inviting us beneath and beyond the things that make distinctions between us. He’s pointing beyond the sail to the wind and he desperately wants us to experience the wind…the logos…that animating, creative life force that gives you breath right now in this very moment. That’s what John will be pointing us to, so as we go through this series, that’s what we’re going to be experiencing and exploring is this whole thing of the logos becoming flesh, and the difference between our…how we operate in the world and how God animates everything that is in the world.

And that’s why it says, “It was the life and light of all people.” It didn’t say the light and life of the people who believe in Jesus. This logos affects everybody including Osama bin Laden, as long as he’s got breath in him is a spark of the divine. “It was the life and light of all people.” It didn’t say the light and life of the people who believe in Jesus. This logos affects everybody including Osama bin Laden, as long as he’s got breath in him is a spark of the divine.

Now he has shielded himself from that probably and many of us have to ourselves. So, this morning we’re going to practice right now an external ritual. And my great hope this morning is that in these external elements of bread and grape juice whatever you taste and feel and experience physically with your hands and sight and eyes and mouths, that you will allow that to be part of a sail; that that will be designed to catch the wind of God in our midst this morning. My great hope is that this will propel you beyond these elements into the very presence of God. So I want to invite the leadership team members and people who have agreed to serve to man or woman your stations. We have two stations in the back…


HT: Apprising Ministries

These types of messages, and these types of beliefs, are essentially non-christian mysticim. They are what is quickly infiltrating the evangelical church and deceiving the average pew dweller who is essentially Biblically ignorant or doctrinally ambivalant. And most disturbing is that this type of teaching is another form of universalism, which is a belief that all men are saved. The message is basically error frrom the first sentence until the last.

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