Two Australian sailors were on leave in England and decided to go out to the pubs.
After a long night of drinking, they were both very drunk and had to get back to their ship. By this time it was early morning and a heavy fog had settled in.
They got out on the street and between the alcohol and the fog, they quickly got very lost.
They saw a highly decorated English Naval officer approaching and thought they would ask him for directions. They said, “mate, can you help us get back to our ship?”
Seeing their inebriated state and their lack of proper respect for a superior officer, in his disgust he replied, “Do you know who I am?”
The one Australian said to the other. “Mate, were in a mess now, we don’t know where we are and this bloke doesn’t know who he is!”
Our culture has thrown off the bonds of religion in an effort to find freedom. We have broken through the walls of tradition and cultural restraint to find new sources to satisfy our soul hunger. Yet, it seems that many are not finding that satisfaction. Consider this snippet of lyrics from the song “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows:
Believe in me
Help me believe in anything
I want to be someone who believes . . .
We all want to be big stars, but we don’t know why and we don’t know how
But when everybody loves me, I’m going to be just about as happy as can be
Mr. Jones and me, we’re gonna be big stars . . .
The lines, “help me believe in anything, I want to be someone who believes” jumped out at me as I listened to this song recently. To me, this is a clear example of current popular thought. We have made it so that definitive statements of belief are not politically correct, yet have given nothing substantive as an alternative.
Before tearing down a wall, a wise man will seek to understand why it was built in the first place. You may tear down the wall thinking to find freedom only to be confronted by something very nasty coming from the other side. Yet we have torn down the moral and spiritual walls with reckless abandon only to find that the walls were not the problem and that chaos is on the other side.
Honesty requires me to acknowledge that the church holds a large share of the blame for the spiritual and moral chaos that is around us. Too often the church’s message has succumbed to one of two errors.
One error is legalism, where the message becomes a list of do’s and don’ts, which ends up being arbitrary and outdated. No one wants a god who is like a grouchy father who shouts random commands from the couch as he watches TV. Legalism presents such a god, a god who is not worthy of worship. In fact, one could argue that the legalists worship their rules rather than the god who they claim in support of the rules.
The second error is that of inclusivism, where the love of god is emphasized, and nothing is considered out of bounds. In this case, god is presented as a doting, perhaps slightly senile, grandfather whose only words are, “That’s nice.” There is nothing that can be done to harm the relationship with such a god. In these churches, we have the luxury of having religious expression without the responsibility to modify our desires and behavior. What good is a god who doesn’t affect change in his worshippers? Why bother?
The third option to consider is that there is a loving but holy God who sent Jesus so that he could be in relationship with us.
In a few weeks we will celebrate Palm Sunday, the day when we celebrate Jesus riding into Jerusalem surrounded by the pomp reserved for a king following military victory. He is a king, and he did enter in victory but not the kind of victory that his followers expected. He came in victory over sin (our moral problem) and death (our ultimate fear).
In the following week, believers will focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus, events which infuse our spiritual experience with meaning. It is at the cross where we find an answer to our spiritual hunger. It is at the cross where we find a solution to our moral problem. It is at the cross where we find a means of experiencing forgiveness. It is at the cross where we find hope of being new and different. It is at the cross where we find Jesus.
I leave you with one last thought. Contrary to how he is portrayed on many crucifixes, Jesus did not remain on the cross. He rose again to demonstrate his victory over sin and death.
There is your hope for newness. There is your freedom. There is the path to finding meaning in life. It is in the resurrection of Jesus on which we focus this week.