Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sermon 10/26/08 Myth Biusters Part 2: The First Place Looser"

“The First Place Looser”

Mark 9:30-37

The second myth that I want to talk about today is the myth that Christians only believe in God because of their own selfishness. You may be wondering, if you are a Christian, how Christians can be accused of this, so let me explain the argument from Christopher Hitchen’s perspective in his book God is not Great. Here is the argument as best I can tell:

1. Revelation implies that God asserted his divine will directly to randomly selected individuals who then passed them on to those who were not selected.
2. Since all of these revelations are not the same, some of them must be false.
3. Religions fight and argue over which revelations are true and which ones are false
4. Thus, religions are used to give those who are victorious power over those who loose.
5. In the end, religion is just a wish projection of our own lust for power. Those who believe in god are selfish.

As a Christian, who believes very deeply in God and that God has revealed God-self to the world, I can understand why Hitchens sees religion as leading to selfishness and power. We would not have to look very far to see times and places where religion has been misused. If we were to go no further that Christianity, we see as early as the 4th century Christianity being used to bring power to those who are on the “inside.” One of the greatest tragedies in the church is the crusades where Christians killed Muslims in the name of God for control of the Holy Land. In our own country, Christianity was used to kill Native Americans and enslaves blacks. Again, it was used to give certain people power.

We do not have to look past the current election and see how people use religion to convinced people to vote a certain way. Not too long ago I went to a pray breakfast for a certain candidate and a preacher from our area got up and declared this candidate the next Moses and prophesied that he would win the election. It is too bad he was wrong. It is terrible that religion is used for power by both sides.

The good news is that Jesus never intended it to be this way. I love the story found in Mark 9:30-37,

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise." But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus predicts his death three times and after each occasion, the disciples fail to understand what Jesus is talking about. Actually in Mark’s gospel they very seldom get it right. It seems that when Jesus speaks in parables they are always trying to understand them literally and when he gives them a straight forward teaching, they are looking for something else. In verses 30-33, Jesus tells them for the second time that he is going to be delivered over to people and be killed, but then he will ride in three days.

The first time Jesus announced his death; Peter took him aside and scolded him for saying that kind of thing. This time, the disciples decided to keep their mouth shut and keep walking. The next few verses though, explain that the disciples really did not get it. Apparently they were discussing or arguing about which one of them would be the greatest.

You may be wondering why they would be having this kind of conversation, so hopefully a little background will help. The Jews, of which Jesus and his disciples were, believed that God had chosen their nation and that he would come back through a savior or messiah and liberate them from Rome and rule the people again. The disciples believed that this messiah who would liberate the Jews and establish God kingdom as Jesus. Notice the language Jesus uses. He calls himself the “Son of Man,” which is a reference to a passage in Daniel that says the Son of Man will come in power and establish his kingdom.

Also, the Jews believed that when God’s kingdom was established, there would be a resurrection of all the dead who had lived righteous lives. The reason the disciples were so confused was because the Messiah, they thought, could not actually be killed and the resurrection would happen to all the dead, not just one person. Instead of wrestling with Jesus’ words, they tended to only focus on the part that gave them power. If Jesus was the Messiah and they were his followers, then surely they would have a very high place in this new kingdom.

The interesting thing about this passage is that the disciples were struggling with the very same thing that Hitchens accuses theist of. They had an idea in their head and despite what Jesus was saying to the contrary, they chose to believe it anyway. I am sure the words Jesus was telling them went against the very heart of what they were hoping for. They were hoping that by Jesus’ kingdom coming, they would be the ones who had gotten it right and they would be the ones who were great.

The problem with this is that Jesus had something radically different in mind. He sits down, taking the posture of a rabbi who is about to break it down to those listening and begins to explain the fundamental problem they are having. He then says, “Anyone who wants to be first has to be last and has to be a servant to all.” I am sure you could hear the air going out as the big headed dispels were deflated. Jesus then gives an example of this principle. He tells them that if they welcome a child, they welcome Jesus and they welcome God.

I realize that one tendency we all have is to want to be great. Honestly, I want to be the best preacher that I can be. I have imagined myself traveling all over the country preaching and teaching. I have thought about all the books I could write and all the money I can make. Selfishness is not just a religious problem, it is a human problem. I think atheists have this very same struggle.

The other day I asked myself this question: “Brian do you love preaching more than Jesus or do you love Jesus more then preaching?” The answer to this question is important because if I love preaching more than Jesus, I will only use Jesus to accomplish my goals. This is when religion is dangerous. However, if I love Jesus more than preaching, I will use my preaching to help other be connected to Jesus and make the word better for it.

I think all of us, who claim to believe in God must ask ourselves this kind of question. Do we love…….. more than Jesus? If we do, then we run the risk of using religion selfishly to benefit ourselves.

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