This week’s topic is drawn from the Lectionary, the common scripture readings read by churches all over the world. Specifically we’ll cover John 8:31-49 in a sermon preached by none other than my dad.
Dad talked about a common sentiment expressed by people who have left the church (and frankly some of those who are still in it), “I like Jesus, but I don’t like this whole religion thing.” But what do we think about when we think of Jesus. We think of him as being a good teacher, maybe performing some miracles, laying down some wisdom. A good guy, even he non-religious of us in the crowd can generally agree on that point.
But this passage does something else. We’ve all heard the phrase “the truth shall set you free”. Well in this particular passage Jesus is talking about people who believe in him, people who become his disciples. But the people in the room didn’t take to kindly to this. They said they weren’t slaves (because being set free implies some kind of slavery). After a little back and forth involving questioning Jesus’ parentage, throwing around some racial slurs, and threatening to stone him, Jesus slips away, this last bit after he identified himself as “I AM”.
No, he’s not Popeye. He’s God, like in the way that God used to talk about himself to moses. And the guys in the room knew this.
Claiming you’re God leaves only a few possibilities. You are either:
- An unbelievable heretic (Jewish view of the time)
- Clinically insane (more of a modern view)
So Jesus is doing several things here. He’s calling himself God, which kinda implies more than he was just a good teacher. And he’s implying we’re slaves to something.
In the word’s of the church lady:
Or rather that since Abraham is not their father (because if he was the Jews would be acting a lot more welcoming to Jesus) and their father certainly isn’t God, since they’re trying to destroy Jesus, that really only leaves one possibility. We are slaves to sin, and not just the big obvious sexy kinds.
Sin can be anything in our life that becomes more important than discipleship of Jesus. This can be our job, our politics, our spouse, anything, not just the known vices.
Jesus is making us face the fact we’re not perfect, that we screw up a lot and fall short of promise. Even though we know this about ourselves, we don’t like to face it. We’re all pretty good people, what’s the big deal.
The think is we’re not. We lust after people. We get jealous. Someone annoys us in traffic and we picture that our cruise control buttons actually fire cruise missiles out of our headlines, destroying every car in front of us. (Hmm… Been watching too many Bond movies lately).
I ignore the sin in my life by keeping busy. I have a lot of projects going, two blogs, a novel, work and just recently doing OS upgrades at home and at the Church. I’m really good at filling my time. If it’s not with working it’s with playing, watching TV, computer games. When I get to the end of the day and I’m tired I think, well maybe I deserve a little sinning. I’ve had such a productive day, I deserve a treat. That’s totally how it works right? Or I’ve had a really crappy day, maybe some sinning will cheer me up.
I don’t actually say sinning, I say eating too much or playing a video game until both my legs go numb or… that thing 98% of men do.
Now I’m not saying God doesn’t want us to have fun. One of the more interesting parts of The Screwtape Letters is the passage where he devil talks about how he can twist pleasures into sins. The devil can’t create any real pleasures, but he can nudge people into pursuing them into excess or becoming obsessed with them. We become slaves to sin when it’s all we think about, when it’s how we get through the day, when it’s something we can rely on to always make us feel better that isn’t God.
And Jesus is making us think about these things in this passage and we’d rather not. Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking I’m coming off like an adhedonic prude.
But the truth is we can get better, with God’s help, especially when we admit that we can’t fix everything on our own. That can be a hard thing for a man, and engineer, and just about anybody to say, but it’s a necessary part of the Christian life. We can enjoy the pleasures of life without becoming slaves to them. And we can receive Jesus like he’s what we’ve been waiting for since Abraham, and not someone we need to discredit.