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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

False Religion Sermon

False Religion Sermon

In this first of two sermons I’m preparing, I’m going to talk about false religion and in the second about true religion. I don't write many sermons. I mostly research theology and write resources for others to help keep the corruption from seeping into the beliefs of those who choose to follow Jesus the anointed one, the Christ.

My reference is two of the Churches called out in the Book of Revelations. The writer of Revelations seems to have had a thorough knowledge of these churches, their history, and what was going on in them. They seem especially applicable to today.

I call myself “a follower of Christ.” The term that initially named the followers of Christ was “Christian.” Today there are around 30,000 organizations that identify as Christian, with over 1200 in the US. Suffice it to say that, like children fighting over whose piece of candy it is, they don’t agree with each other. And within each organization, people don’t agree with each other. Well, maybe that’s a good thing? But maybe not.

Like many I describe myself as a Follower of Christ to avoid being branded as any one of the 30,000 variations. People love to stick labels on other people so they don’t have to bother to understand them. I try to defy that.

It’s endemic in our individuation into separate people that we do two things. We define ourselves as members of groups, and that we stand out in the group as an individual. We typically form our identity in this way. Some of us form an identity by being against certain things. Some form an identity by being for certain things. And then there’s the oddball. Me.

I form my identity as someone who tears apart things to understand them, and then removes the corruption that accumulates in them as society loosely uses them. My grandparents once gave me a wagon as a birthday gift. They welded the wheels on so that I couldn’t take the wagon apart. I’ve noticed some manufacturers doing similar things so that people can’t repair their devices so have to buy new one when a part fails. As a curious person, I undo them anyway.

The 30,000 is indicative of how we understand and use information. My work is primarily communications, so I know it is fraught with misunderstanding. I communicate in many fields, including communications, theology, technology, and the human condition.

To do this, I study Semiotics, identity, and the roots of behavior, for insight into how each of us understand our communication and lives. What is meant by a raised fist, a micro expression, the direction a foot is pointed, an action? Does it hide something? Is it resistance or defiance? Do we understand the nuances such as are people being assertive, demanding, or aggressive?

None us understand the same thing from the same word, message, sign, action, or event. There would likely be 30,000 interpretations of the previous paragraph.

I set out early in life to understand the most often asked question we hear: “What the hell is wrong with you? Are you nuts?” Human behavior has always intrigued me because I have always been curious about why people do things that don’t make any sense to me. I tend to be more like Spock on Star Trek. “That’s not logical.” I’ve learned that people are anything but logical. Sometimes including myself.

I learned many years ago that the most efficient way to be misunderstood is to write an email that mentions more than one thing. The second thing always gets overlooked. People don’t read beyond the first line. So if the second line was important to the first, you’re misunderstood.

The second most efficient way to be misunderstood is to write an email. It has words in it. Ninety percent of the effectiveness of communication is through body language. There is no body language in an email.

The Apostles spent a great deal of their time sorting out the flood of misunderstanding that people had about Christ’s message. Even they didn’t fully understand it, especially in the beginning. It didn’t help at all, that often like the writer of Revelations, they had to speak in coded messages because if the authorities got hold of their writing, they would suffer greatly and probably lose their lives.

The Greek and Roman occupiers would not tolerate those who disobeyed in word or deed, so starting from Daniel on, they coded their writings. Jesus also had to fear the religious leaders because his message wasn’t the legalism that they proclaimed, but a message of love. The leaders weren’t against love, they just failed to understand it in the context of the Law.

John dared to write a missive to other churches, but had to write it in code. What he pointed out is that they had somehow lost the message of Christ. The great questions of the day, such as faith versus works, had sidetracked them so they lost sight of their purpose.

To the church at Ephesus the writer said in Revelations 2: 1-6, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. … But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

In the onslaught of people who thought they knew what Jesus meant in his teachings, there were many who had warped views, and many who gave self-serving false information. Undoing their harm was a constant battle.

John said, “You have forsaken the love you had at first.” What was the love that people had? It was for the ways of Jesus. They didn’t follow him to get wealthy – that would have been a fool’s errand. They followed him because they saw a way of life that was better: love. Love was the message.

Jesus said to those who asked which Commandment was most important, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love, as demonstrated by Jesus, was caring enough about others that you would do things for them. Apparently, they had stopped.

What seemed to be paramount in the minds of the church at Ephesus? “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.”

The first thing that preoccupied their thoughts and activities: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people.” It’s one thing to point out that certain activities are wicked. It’s another to be intolerant toward others. It shows a lack of love. It shows a focus not on love, but on what people consider to be sinful, better described as missing the mark of good behavior.

As Christians, as Paul and others tried very hard to tell us, despite our insistence by many that the Law is above all, is we are not subject to the law, except love, and are not judged by it. If we insist on using the law as our standard, then we are judged for every infraction and found guilty. And to follow the entire law, there are 613 laws in the Bible to keep us too busy to love anyone.

We don’t decide what is right for anyone. We need to accept that. We are responsible for loving others and demonstrating that love for others as a witness to Christ. And if we travel down the path of promoting the law to others, it’s an endless journey and condemns us.

And the other thing that preoccupied them: “you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.”

Looking for false prophets and apostles is another endless pursuit. You could start off by testing the 30,000 Christian organizations. Many of them have people who claim to be prophets.

False prophets proliferate today. There is a group that calls itself Christian, that attracts a number of politicians in Washington and around the world. What do they believe? That Jesus was wrong! They don't like it that Jesus went to the poor. They feels that getting and exercising power is the key. They help protect politicians from public exposure for crimes and moral failures. They are the antithesis of Jesus message and proudly admit it.

Some false prophets try to get people to follow Jewish Law.

Another common false prophet is the one that tells you that your salvation (being in the Kingdom of God, which is right here, right now) depends on what you know and proclaim. Following Jesus is not an intellectual exercise, it’s about what following in his steps leads you to do. This is what John meant when he said, “You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” He told this to two of the churches mentioned in Revelations.

Nicholas was a prophet who was all about “knowing,” and he apparently spread that message everywhere. Spirituality is about what we know that is compelling, and it’s a continuous battle of discerning what is true – what we can count on. When that gets too far out of kilter, so that the emphasis is on knowing, rather than on doing.

Knowing is the basis of Gnosticism, which the early church fathers, who assembled the Bible, decided did not represent Christian faith. Gnosticism searches endlessly for secret knowledge. Searching is a full time occupation. As the Apostle Paul said in Corinthians 13: "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

“Have not love.” Was Paul talking about feelings? No, love is an active thing. It means things we do for others. You can know everything there is to know, and have deep faith, but if all you do is talk about it, then you have nothing. Or as James put it, Faith without works is dead.

There is an example I like of focusing on the wrong things. If you work in a store and see dollar bills come in every minute, you know so well what a dollar bill looks like that if you see a counterfeit, you will likely recognize it for what it is. It’s the same with people who practice love on a continuing basis. When you see something that points in another direction, you recognize it as false.

If you love others, you don’t need laws to tell you that stealing another person’s mate is wrong – it wrecks a family. You shouldn’t need a law to tell you that having sex that will bring a child into the world with no means of financial and emotional support, is wrong. You don’t need a law that tells you killing people for their possessions is wrong. Love is the standard, the gold standard, to which all things must comply. You can’t break a relevant law, meaning something that hurts others, if you are acting out of love.

The second church I want to talk about is the Church in Laodicea.

Revelation 3: 14-17: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

We in the US think that we’re the wealthiest nation in the world. We have the highest GDP, which is the value of our products and services. Yet many of our businesses pay poverty wages which doesn’t allow people to support themselves, let alone children. We encourage businesses to keep wages low so that we can buy, buy, buy. And we ignore starvation around the world. “Wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Not hot or cold about following Christ and loving others.

The Bible asks us to treat well the sojourners in our land.

We tolerate and even glorify those who tell lies and deceive us with wicked plans. Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

We have today an abundance of people lying, making devious plans, telling falsehoods about people, and sowing discord among people.

God has set the example. Micah 6:8, ESV, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” If you read the Bible, these things become abundantly clear.

God set the example for us in Jesus. Jesus didn’t condemn anyone during his ministry, and said he had not come to judge, with one exception. Not the adulterous woman, not the tax collector who was dishonest, certainly not the sick, not the Roman soldiers. Just the leaders who he described as snakes and hypocrites.

Jesus set the example by going to those despised by the Jews, that is, the Samaritans who didn’t believe exactly the same thing as the Jews, the Roman soldiers who they felt oppressed them, the lepers and the sick who the Jews generally thought had their condition because of something bad they had done. He went to the poor and others who some might consider to be "losers."

Do justice. That doesn’t mean lock people up – it means treat others fairly. Love kindness. This doesn’t refer to our feelings, it means to actually help other people be treated fairly.

Walk humbly with your God. That doesn’t mean deciding Jesus was wrong or being self-serving with what we do. It means being less than God and looking up to him as a guide.

Our actions as followers of Christ demonstrate what following Christ means. It demonstrates not just to us, but to others. Words are just words, confusion in the spiritual realm, until the Spirit of God and experience in life convinces us of their validity.

This is all a bit different than swearing some kind of allegiance to a "Christian nation," with all sorts of self-serving and misled beliefs. This is what it means to be a Christian. This could help some understand what is false religion.

- Dorian

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- Dorian

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