Friday, 25 February 2011

Do you remember seeing a guy, who was sitting in a crowd and holding up a sign that read, ‘John 3:16’? Millions of people who switch on their TV’s to watch the World Cup, the Super Bowl, the Olympic Games or any big sporting occasion must surely have seen this guy sitting in the crowds with a sign that did not say, ‘Hello Mum’, as is quite popular, but one that read, ‘John 3:16’. That was clever. He took full advantage of global broadcasting to maximise exposure of his message...for free! Very imaginative.
Yes, it is true millions saw this sign but, the question is how many people got the message? How many people knew what John 3:16 means? Probably not many. I fear this guy, despite all his good intentions and imagination, made the assumption that millions of people around the world will understand the meaning and significance of a sign that read, ‘John 3:16’.
This story is a poignant parable for the church today because sadly quite often we make the same assumption that un-churched people understand our biblical jargon. The reality is that for many people the language we use, the images we use, the metaphors we use to communicate the Good News of Christ are not accessible. Most people simply don’t understand what we are talking about. As we become more secular and our Christian heritage is disappearing from its public place, the biblical stories and themes have become alien to many people. Today, signs that read, ‘John 3:16’ are incomprehensible, obscure, esoteric; un-accessible... They need decoding.
The Gospel reading this morning was John 3:1-17, which tells us about the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. In this passage we see the emerging ways to explain spiritual truth (Jesus) and the inability of institutional religion (Nicodemus) to grasp the simple and profound wisdom of the emerging spirituality. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." But, Nicodemus didn’t understand. “How can a man be born when he is old?" he asked, "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
The problem was not Jesus, the problem was Nicodemus.
Nicodemus was a very religious man, he was a Pharisee. A learned man, knowledgeable on theological matters, and deeply rooted in the study of Scriptures and Jewish tradition, but despite all this he was unable to understand a very simple spiritual metaphor, you have to be ‘born again’.
The encounter enables Jesus to expose what is fundamentally flawed about institutional religion, which is its inability to move with the times...with the Spirit. In many ways the institutional church is like Nicodemus.
We are so absorbed by our own religious culture and our reductionist world view. We are so wrapped up with our own ecclesiastic traditions, so busy entertaining ourselves (and we call it worship). We are so occupied amusing ourselves (and we call it signs and wonders). We have become so inward-looking, insular and dangerously arrogant; intolerant, ignoring and dismissing, a priori, different ways to explain spiritual experiences and awareness of God by spiritual seekers. We hadn’t listened; even worse, we still make the assumption, like the guy with his sign in the crowds that our institutional language will reach out to spiritual seekers, that they will understand the message of God. Very soon we could become irrelevant, redundant, being something that many un-churched people do not understand, like a sign in the crowds that reads, ‘John 3:16’...

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