Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sermon 10/5?08 The Gospel According to the Office Part 3: Moving to Authentic Faith in the Office"

This is our final sermon in the series on “The Office.’ The past couple of weeks we have looked at the office as a way to help us understand mission and why we reach out to people. Today I want to use the office to move us beyond religious talk to true worship.

The following clip from “The Office” takes place in the episode called “The Race.” This episode begins when Michael hits Phyllis with his car in the parking lot and cracks her hip. When the people from the office go to visit her, Dwight goes to take care of Angelia’s cat and poisons it with pneumonia. Due to the injury of Phyllis and Angelia’s cat dying, Michael believes the office is cursed. He calls everyone in the conference room to talk about their religious beliefs.

Time 14:46

Setting: Conference room about the recent bad luck in the office

Michael: Alright, I would now like to talk to you about each of your individual religious beliefs.
Toby Oh Michael, you can’t ask about people’s religious beliefs.
Michael Satan is the master of lies. Everything he says is the opposite.
Toby Alright, then you can ask about religious beliefs.
Michael Thank you for your permission… SIKE. Let’s just go around the room and tell me what you believe in.
Stanley I’m uh Catholic
Darrin Presbyterian
Pam Me too
Darrin Oh really
Pam Same religion
Phyllis I’m a Lutheran and Bob is Unitarian, it keeps him spicy
Angela That is why we are cursed
Creed (Privately to the camera) I have been a part of a lot of cults, both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower, but you make more money as a leader
Michael Kelly, you are Hindu, so you believe in Buddha.
Kelly That’s Buddhists
Michael Are you sure
Kelly No
Michael What are you?
Computer guy Well, if you are going to reduce my identity to a religion, then I am Sake, but I also like hip hop and NPR and I am restoring a 1968 corvette in my spare time.
Michael OK, so one Sake and….

Time 15:58

At the end of the initial religion conversations, Michael concludes that the problem they have is that they believe in God. He things they should invent a new god until he discovers that his fortune has changed. He finds out that due to hitting Phyllis with his car, they found out that she had rabbis, so Michael things he has saved her life. He then says,

Time: 19:40

Setting: Michael to the camera

Michael: Is there a God? If not, what are all these churches for? And who is Jesus’ dad?

Time 19:50

Of course this discourse is layered with all kinds of problems. The one thing that struck me the most was that I was reminded in this clip about how empty spirituality can become. Belief in god is turned into having a label attached to you and our beliefs are often limited to name only. When we limit our spirituality to names only, we begin to place people in groups and then we can claim we are better than they are. Take Angelia’s comment to Phyllis when she implies that the curse in the office is due to Bob being a Unitarian.

A bigger issue for me that this clip from “The Office” brings out is that we claim to be a follower of a particular religion, but we live our lives as if our faith had no bearing on our life. We completely divorce faith and life to the point that it becomes meaningless.

There is an article in the book The Office and Philosophy in which the writers define an “authentic person” as someone who understands themselves.” In this way, they would then know the truth about themselves. If we were to use this same definition for faith, would could say that authentic faith means to discover the truth about faith. In the clip we watched, it was quite obvious that the truth about faith did not rise to the surface.

This is somewhat the problem Paul is addressing in his letter to the Romans. Jews had become merely Jewish by name and Gentiles were just all the people who were not Jewish. By the time we get to chapter 12, he has leveled the playing field and said that both Jews and Gentiles had fallen short of being what God had created them to be. He also says that without Jesus, being a Jew or and Gentile means nothing. He says that while we were living a life without God, God chose to have mercy on everyone in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 12, Paul then urges his readers on to a higher plain by saying,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In order to walk you through these verses, it is important to note that Paul’s goal is to help his readers understand that they are calling to live a life quite different from the lives of non-Christians. He begins by stressing that they are living in response to God’s mercy, thus they should offer their body’s as a living sacrifice. The word “body” does not just mean your physical body. Paul means every bit of who you are and all of your actions should be offered to God.
Paul then goes on to say that we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind instead of being conformed to the pattern of the world. A lot of scholars believe “world” would be better translated, “age.” We are not to be conformed to the pattern of this age, but by the renewing of our mind, be transformed. In other words, we are to immerse ourselves in the things of God and change the way we think.

He says we need to do this so that we will be able to test and approve what God’s will really is. Think about this. If we fail to understand the world view of Jesus, how can we understand God’s will? Paul is telling us that when we give our everything to God, we will then be able to understand God’s will.

Paul Meets Michael Scott

As I was thinking through these two verses in Romans, it made me wonder what Paul would have said to Michael about his religion. I am sure Paul would have actually preached a sermon and Michael would have fallen asleep and then fell out the window, but if he were to keep it simple, here are some things I think Paul would have added to the conversation.

First, I think Paul would have informed Michael that his actions as a Christian are not based in following a set of religious rules or laws, but his life is based on responding to God’s mercy. Again, notice that Paul begins this chapter by stressing “In view of God’s mercy….” I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges to authentic faith is that we narrow religious belief down to following a set of rules. I do want to say that sometimes rules are good, but they are not the end for which we live. We live the way we do out of gratitude as a response to who God is and the mercy God has shown us.

Secondly, authentic faith is offering ourselves as living sacrifices. When Paul says body, he means all of who we are. Eugene Peterson in The Message says it like this, “Take your everyday ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life- and place it before God.” Our faith today seems to be very compartmentalized. We go and do the God thing on Sunday or Saturday, but we leave God at the church door. Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice means we offer all of who we are, all of the time.

Do you realize that worship does not begin when you walk into this center? Worship is always going. As a staff we evaluate ourselves after the worship service. When we do, the evaluation does include how we preach, sing, run sounds, etc during the service, but it also includes our prayer time during the week, reading our Bibles, exercising, work preparations. Everything we do leads up to this moment on Sunday, but our lives Monday thru Saturday begins our worship.
Thirdly, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we will no longer be conformed to the world around us. Colt Helton, our technical director made a good point during one of our meetings this week. He said that often we use religion when it is the cool thing to do. We use it when our friends use it. In the clip, Michael uses religion to solve the office crises. However, authentic faith is faith that goes against the grain. We don’t worship God because it is the cool thing to do. Often times our worship calls us to be transformed into new people.

When I see people who claim to be religious, I often find people who live just like everyone else, they just baptize their actions in religious language. Take Angelia from “The Office.” She claims to be on a higher spiritual plain than everyone else and judges people for not being a Christian. She often calls Pam bad names because she assumes Pam is sleeping around. However, we see that Angelia is having a secrete relationship with Dwight in which she is doing the very same thing. Authentic faith calls for transformation.

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