Return to Sermon Archive
Ignoring the FAQs
January 5, 2003
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 10-18. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,
13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
15 (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'")
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Perhaps you got your kid a Playstation2 or a Nintendo GameCube system for Christmas and you are glad that you are not going to hear him (or her) say, "Dad, will you help me set this up?" In such an unlikely event, you go to the manualwhich does you no good whatsoever. You would have a better chance of understanding it if it were written in Mandarin Chinese. Your child, however, has no such problems. He does not bother to open the manual. He connects up the Playstation, turns it on, and parks himself in front of the monitor where he gradually lapses into a semicomatose state in which he will remain until school starts. Of course, if there is a problem getting the thing to work, you will be the one to say, "Is it plugged in?" Your child is not unusual. Few people want to be bothered with weighty manuals.
While it's certainly true, as the apostle John says, that "In the beginning was the Word" (1:1), in this day and age, at the dawn of 2003, not many people want to take the time to read any words at all. Americans today buy the most sophisticated computers, the coolest digital cameras, the sharpest video game systems, the snazziest automobiles, the most versatile cell phones and handheld organizers, and then we forget, or decline, or simply refuse to read the directions. Owner's manuals, care guides, troubleshooting Web sites, how-to directoriesall of that kind of thing is just too much trouble.
Lee Battaglia of Vienna, Virginia, never reads directions for the computer and camera gear he buys. "It's too time-consuming and I'm impatient," the retired photographer says. "I'd rather watch someone else doing it, and then I can ask why." Schoolteacher Pam Grainer says, "I'm a hands-on person; I learn by doing." Both would rather pay to take a course to learn how to use their new computers than do it on their own, from the detailed manual.
Marketing experts, customer service consultants and corporate executives agree on the phenomenon. "There's no question that people are averse to reading the full instruction manuals," says a director of technical information at Canon, Inc. "That's a given these days."
In Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure, a bookless young orphan, desperate to learn the language of the Roman poets, finally obtains a secondhand Latin grammar, only to discover that "there was no law of transmutation ... that every word was to be individually committed to memory at the cost of years of plodding." He flings the book down "and was an utterly miserable boy for the space of a quarter of an hour." This sounds like a lot of new computer users, who expect technical literacy to come to them through either osmosis or divine revelation. Americans like their solutions like they like their food: fast. Most new computer users routinely avoid taking the time to do the one thing most likely to help them: reading the manual. [Stevan Alburty, "Byting the bullet," from The Net, home.earthlink.net/alburty/byting.htm. Retrieved July 24, 2002.]
There is an old saying: "Digging for facts is better than jumping to conclusions," but apparently most Americans prefer to jump to conclusions and suffer the consequences. The implications of this trend are disturbing, in both our economic and spiritual lives. Failure to read the instructions makes products more expensive, because manufacturers have to provide toll-free help lines to provide simple answers to simple questions. There are jokebooks filled with stories about people calling tech support for help on their computers.
A woman was perplexed by an error that would appear every time she tried to print. The computer would say, "Looking for printer" and after a while, "Cannot find printer," In desperation, she grabbed the computer monitor and pointed it at the printer, and said, "There it is."
A customer called tech support to complain that her keyboard no longer worked. She had cleaned her keyboard by submerging it for a day in warm, soapy water.
A woman called to say she could not get her computer to fax anything. After forty minutes, the tech discovered that she was holding up a piece of paper in front of the monitor screen and saying "fax."
In another story, a tech said a woman called who was enraged because "her computer had told her she was bad and an invalid." The tech patiently explained that the computer's "bad command" and "invalid" responses should not be taken personally.
[True Tech Support Stories, elsop.com/wrc/humor/truetech.htm. Retrieved July 25, 2002.]
And who, you might wonder, is paying for people to sit in corporate call centers and answer these questions? We are. We are also paying, through higher prices, for all the perfectly good products that get returned to manufacturers because purchasers cannot figure them out.
A User-Friendly Bible
As Aldous Huxley once said, "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." And ignoring instructions is turning out to be a high-priced habit. For some people, no amount of clearly written instructional material is going to make a bit of difference. For the rest of us, however, reading the manual is essential - as consumers and as Christians. It is in the manual called the Bible that we can find answers to so many FAQs, such as:
What should I be doing with my life?
How can I make a fresh start?
Where's the guidance I need for happiness in my relationships?
What's the point of the day-to-day grind I'm experiencing?
Is there more to this life than I can see?
The Bible contains stories and letters and prophecies and commandments with answers to these questions, and it rewards our attempts at careful and prayerful study of its sisty-six books. In an interview with Kathy Ireland, George Wayne said: "You were probably the first supermodel who was a Christian." Kathy Ireland replied: "I became a Christian when I was 18. I didn't meet a lot of models who were Christians. I remember, when I first started, meeting Rene Russo on a job, and she was reading her Bible. And I thought that was so cool." [George Wayne, "Luck of the Irish," Vanity Fair, August 2002, 110.]
Kathy Ireland and Rene Russo know that certain lessons are much better learned through Holy Scripture than through personal trial and error. But the Bible is big. Let us face it the Bible is an enormous owner's manual, containing over a thousand pages in most translations. We are not going to master it in a single sitting. It requires a lot of time and effortor we need a user-friendly version.
W.C. Fields was one of the funniest actors ever to appear on the big screen. Critics regard many of his films, such as My Little Chickadee, as classics. W.C. Fields was an agnostic who did not believe the Bible. The story is told, however, that one day some of his friends were surprised to find Fields reading a Bible. When a friend asked Fields why he was reading this book he claimed he did not believe, he responded, "I am trying to find a loophole." Well, to put it inelegantly, the gospel of John tells us about the loophole.
In chapter one verse one, we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (1:1). This pre-existent Word of God was part of the creation of the world, and brought both life and light into our midst. Best of all, "the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (v. 14). The Word of God became human in Jesus Christ and lived among us, so that we could see the perfect grace and truth of God at work in human life. In Jesus, God's Word is not only sixty-six books spread out over a thousand-plus pages; it is also a living, breathing, loving, forgiving, healing, teaching, consoling, challenging, and comforting human being.
The Creator's declaration of intention for the world, hidden by the words of the law of Moses, is now proclaimed in clarity by the Word made flesh. The Messiah, God's chosen, has entered historical time in flesh and blood. Many today assume that John's gospel is part of the smooth development of what we might call the normative Christian faith. There was nothing smooth about the development of Christian Faith. John's gospel is full of clues, some of which can be seen in this passage, that lead many scholars to agree that when the gospel was first compiled, the theology, chronology, and purpose of the text were at odds even with other expressions of the early Christian movement.
It is obvious that John used neither the same chronology nor the same sources that the other gospel writers used. In the synoptic gospelsthat is, in Matthew, Mark, and Lukethe identity of Jesus is revealed on the cross (Mark 15:39), at his baptism (Mark 1:11), at his birth (Luke 2:11). John's opening hymn of affirmation and praise emphasizes Jesus existence prior to his appearance in history as a man of flesh and blood.
The gospel's opening section makes a clear distinction between Jesus and the Jewish people. The Jews were called through Moses to serve a hidden God, whose name was not to be revealed other than by the letters YHWH ("I AM WHO I AM," Exodus 3:14). John writes that those who are truly children of God know that the name of God's true revelation is "Jesus." It is interesting that John does not actually use Jesus' name until v. 17, though it is obvious that he is talking about Jesus in every verse of his prologue. Names are important - they reveal the essence of the one named. For John to claim that now God can be known only through the name of Jesus would certainly not be acceptable to Jews.
In the Old Testament, the bloodline of the promise is vital. The necessity of descendants is made plain throughout the Old Testement. However, now the true revelation of God, according to John, is not from flesh and blood, nor any act or will of a man. The promise of God's special election of a people comes direct from God through the incarnate Word.
Now it may be that John is not only denying Jewish tradition, but is also gently criticizing the genealogical data of Matthew and Luke. John alludes to Jesus' supernatural birth in v. 13, (which is more fully described in Matthew and Luke). John, however, does not feel any need for specifics.
What is a fact, to John, is that the Jews have no relation to Jesus as the true revelation of God. It is not only that they have rejected him; to John, the Jews neither knew him nor received him. Hence, they did not believe in his name. "His own people received him not." (11). Therefore, the Jews, according to John, are not children of God.
Now I know that in our day it is customary to say that we are all children of Godand to recognize all people of all religions as people of faith. We need to understand that the gospel of John has no such political correctness. Having placed the Jews and all others who do not recognize Jesus in one large group in verses 10-14, John now identifies those who have recognized Jesus for who he is: "And the Word became flesh and lived among US, and WE have seen his glory" (v14)by "we" John means Christians. He means those who have recognized that God came in Christ.
In verse 16, we are told that God's essential and active nature has located in Jesus, and from this full expression comes abundant grace, "grace upon grace." The distinction between law and grace is usually tied to Paul and his letters, but it is spelled out plainly here: The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus.
Jesus is not a Word we sit down and read. Instead, Jesus is a Word we watch and hear and imitate and follow. No form of instruction could possibly be more user-friendly.
The Jesus Interpretation
To follow this Word-made-flesh is to accept that Jesus is at the heart of our interpretation of Scripture. Does a particular interpretation conform to the teaching, activity, example, life, death and resurrection of Jesus? If so, then it is a correct interpretation, and a valid form of instruction. If not, then it is not something we should associate ourselves with.
Pick a difficult problem: capital punishment, abortion, education, welfare reform. Then plug in a popular Christian solution, and ask yourself, "Does this solution conform to the example of Jesus Christ? Does it support his great commandment to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind - and to love your neighbor as yourself? Does it spread the love given by God, commanded by God and shown by Jesus?" If it fits the life and teaching of Christ, then that is the way for you and me to go.
Jonathan Swift, the 18th-century author of Gulliver's Travels, is said to have commented: "We have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another." Unfortunately, Swifts observation is all too true, and it is true because we do not read the Word. We do not model ourselves on the Word made flesh.
It is certainly true that not many people today are willing to slow down long enough to read the fine print of various owner's manuals, care guides, and how-to directories. And it is equally true that many among us are not going to take the time to do a careful study of the rules and regulations of the Old Testament books of the law. That is why we need the Word made flesh. That is why we need someone to come down and pull us out of trouble, save us from our sins, lead us by the hand and inspire us to follow the way of God. In our word-avoiding world, we need THE Word. We have it: Jesus Christ the Lord.
"Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets," says the writer of Hebrews. That was the age of instructions, the era of detailed how-to directories. But "in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word" (1:1-3). In the coming of Christ, we have now been given a user-friendly guide: the flesh-and-blood Son of God.
In Jesus, the creator took the form of the created. The high and lofty one came down as the most lowly of the humble. The King of Kings became a suffering servant. The glorious mighty one took on simplicity and weakness.
To find the answers to life's questions, we can do no better than looking to God's Son. He is the reflection of God's glory and the imprint of God's being. He is the heir of all things, the creator of worlds, the sustainer of all people.
When we are searching for direction and guidance, he can lead us. When we are desperate for forgiveness and new life, he can fill us. When we are hungering for meaning and insight, he can satisfy us. When we are looking for holiness in the swirling chaos of current events, Jesus can reveal himself to us. To all who receive him, to all who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God (1:12).
Sure, reading the manual still works with Nintendo and PlayStation, but when power disappears from our day-to-day life, only one thing is left to try. Plug into Jesus; Depend upon him, now and forever. Amen.
Mayer, Caroline E. "Why won't we read the manual?" The Washington Post, May 26, 2002, H1.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 2/28/03