Some of you will remember well when movies started coming into our homes. When I was a little boy we didn’t have much money, so we couldn’t afford to purchase space aged technology like VCR’s, Betamax Players, or a Laser Disc player (for those of you younger than I am, laser disc was not compact and convenient like a BluRay or DVD, it was roughly the size of an Elephant’s foot and was likely to play two tracks simultaneously). So, while we couldn’t afford these modern marvels we could scrape enough money up, on special occasions, to rent a VCR and a few movies on a Friday night. Please keep in mind that VCR’s were not always as sleek and compact as they ended up being by the late 90’s. No, at this stage of the game VCR’s were roughly the size of a Datsun, but they came in a handy flight case that made up for their excessive weight by being painfully difficult to open. But despite the gnashing of teeth that this process entailed I remember being absolutely ecstatic when dad would pull up into the driveway, the back end of the station wagon squatting under the weight of the rental equipment in the back seat. Good times were surely ahead.
I loved movies. And I still do.
In watching movies throughout the majority of my life the transitions in technology and budgets are obvious. Comparing an action film from the mid-80’s and one made this year is almost laughable. We, as a culture, demand more and more out of the way entertainment and content is delivered to us. A good story cannot just be a good story, it has to have million dollar special effects or we tend to toss it to the side in favor of a sub-par story with grade-A illusions. We love spectacle, we love the tingle of an explosion on screen (even if it steals our attention away from the sage wisdom of the hero’s mentor it’s alright because it looked “so real” – as if we live in a culture of demolition experts who are qualified from their recliner to scrutinize the realism of a fireball). And this is what we tend to give our attention to.
In the church we are very similarly minded. We look for preachers, teachers, singers, and leaders who bring the tingle and the tears. And there really is nothing wrong with excellence in presentation, there should be emotional responses to music and the spoken word. I would encourage us getting as deeply connected to whatever is going on at the front of the room as we can. However, the glorification of the sensational is much different than the appreciation of it (and I do not use the word “sensational” in any derogatory way, I would place many of Jesus’ miracles in the category of “sensational”). There is something to be said for being capable of receiving profound truth and life-changing experience through things that seem common and ordinary. I was reminded of this fact as I came to John’s Gospel this morning.
One of the stock complaints that people had about Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah had to do with where He came from. Across the Gospels we see this a common roadblock for the Pharisees, religious professionals, and even the people from Jesus’ hometown. John records one of these instances like this,
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
The underlying assumption that the people made was that they knew everything about the situation at hand. They were confident that they knew who Jesus’ dad and mom were, where He came from, and how He had gotten to where He was. For those of us reading John’s Gospel we are given information in the prologue that keeps us from making those assumptions (“the Word was with God in the beginning…the Word was God”…etc…). But the people’s response to Jesus betrays a standard human condition, I fear.
Christianity’s message is not one of mere restoration (though that is an aspect of it) but one of resurrection. We believe that we are born again, given new life, old things pass away, etc… We rejoice in these ideas and yet for us to actually live them out is somewhat more difficult. It is difficult because it means, among other things, that our preconceptions about people who were also formerly dead cannot be carried over into their new lives as Christians. The addict, the self-righteous, or the slacker, who we would have listened to sympathetically and then written off later, are, after being baptized into Christ’s life, potential sources for insight, truth, and wisdom in our lives. The longer we are saved the more biased we can become about the delivery methods that God will bring truth and direction into our lives. We assume that since we’ve been walking with the Spirit for 10, 20, 40, or 60 years that He will cause great explosions in our hearts and minds, or bring floods of tears to our eyes, or work in the context of a sensational and emotional church service. And, to be sure, He may indeed use those methods, but He may also have a kid whose salvation could be clocked by an egg-timer speak a word of truth to us so profound that it could completely change our understanding about deep things. Our tendency would be to say, “I know this kid, his mom and dad work at the insurance company, he just got saved last Sunday…how can he have anything valuable to offer me?” And we would be just like the people who ignorantly complained about Jesus’ seemingly humble beginnings.
I am not suggesting that we trust everything that anyone tells us; by no means. What I am saying is that there needs to be a capacity in us to be able to receive profound truth from God from what might seem like very common and unexciting sources. What I think we might find is that those sources are not as common or normal as we thought. CS Lewis powerfully puts it this way:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
– CS Lewis
And if you are unconvinced as to the biblical nature of this point, if you think I’m stretching this thing too far, I would encourage you to take a look at Balaam’s Donkey (Numbers 22), the little boy Samuel’s word to Eli the high priest (1 Samuel 3), the servant girl’s advice to Naaman (2 Kings 5), and Paul’s explanation of the foolishness of the Cross (1 Corinthians 1).
It is just like God to use unexpected sources, from unexpected places, to accomplish unexpected things. No explosions, no special effects, no sensationalized approach; just truth, unfiltered, unsanitized, life-changing, and soul nourishing.