God I need Help
Jesus is Our World
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
If we talk about this piece of paper — I think we’re all used to probably speaking what we would call the “scientific method” of looking at it — Irene describes its whiteness. Sandra describes its touch and I describe its texture. We discuss it and we say, “Oh yes, that’s an interesting piece of paper. It’s white and it feels like this, and it has this kind of touch when you touch it and this kind of shape.” And we have no difficulty discussing it because it is an “it” and we are superior to it because we’re persons and we’re able to talk about it in an objective way.
It’s a little more difficult if we say, “We’ll talk about Irene” because immediately, if Sandra and I are going to talk about you [Irene] it’s impossible for you to talk about yourself in that same way. Then if we try and talk about you we’re faced with, first of all, you’re right here and what can we do? We can’t kind of take a part of you and say, “Oh now, look at this finger — this is interesting. It’s this shape,” or, “Look at this ear.” It is just very difficult to talk about any one of us here in that way partly because the person is right here. You can’t treat them as an “it”. In some way, you’re very conscious that they are listening to what you’re saying about them. For one thing, it brings a certain amount of restraint to you and leaves you not quite as free as you are when you discuss this piece of paper. Of course, it’s even more difficult if we ask Irene to take part in the discussion and talk about herself because she’s very aware that she’s trying to talk about herself as if she were not herself.
So obviously, it becomes a little more difficult when you’re studying people. It does seem to me the more I read and the more I think about the way I talk about God, we have great danger of falling into an unreal attitude. That is, we’re in great danger of talking about God as if he’s this piece of paper — as if we are in some way his masters or superior to him — in some way as if we can discuss his whiteness, or his texture, or the way he deals with people – as if we can talk about him as if he was an “it”. Therefore, we actually talk about nothing. Actually what we’re doing is being utterly unreal and unrealistic and he has every right to look down upon us and say, “What are you little children playing about? I mean, you’re not talking about me at all. You’re talking about a concept of me in your mind. You’re talking about an idea as if it’s me — but you’re certainly not talking about ME.”
Really, it’s much the same reaction that Irene would have if we started to talk about her here. I mean she’d say, “Well you’re not talking about me — I’m here. Why don’t you talk to me? That’s what is normal. That’s what is realistic. It’s not realistic to talk about me as if I’m not here. You’re engaged in some kind of game.” I think often we may be engaged in some kind of game. Even in our sermons and our services and particularly in the way we think about God. We may be involved in something that is very unreal. I often think about it when either you or I, any of us here, are trying to make a decision about summer holiday or what we’re going to do and we say, “I want to find out what God thinks about it.”
But as you’re saying that you’re saying it with the tongue that he enables to wag. You’re saying it with the breath that he is actually creating directly through his son. Moreover, he himself is all around us at that moment. So it’s like me saying to you Sandra, “Well, I want to know what Irene thinks about that.” Your response would be, “Go ask her — she’s right there.” And me kind of saying, “Well, no — I know she’s very close and right here but no — I’ll have to think out what she probably would like me to do.” And you’d say, “Why not ask her? Ask her!” And I’d say, “Well,
yes I know she’s very close and at times she’s right next to me and maybe she is in this room at this moment but no, I’ll have to think about it.” I think we may do that with God. We may somehow believe in him without really treating him realistically as being here every second. In some way we may talk about Jesus missing completely the reality that we are actually part of him and that HE is everything.
Irene and I joke about when we talk about the little fellas that I used to look after in the poor children’s home on summer holidays. There would be one that would always hold on to the ball and wouldn’t pass it to anyone else. He always wanted to score the goal and the other little fella said, “Oh yeah, he thinks he’s the fella in the big picture.” Well the big picture was in those days in Belfast the main movie, the main feature program. In theaters you’d have the main film and then you’d have supporting films — sometimes news programs, or sometimes little light comedies or cartoons. So “the fella in the big picture” was the main star in the main feature. The little fella was saying, “Oh that fella holds onto the ball because he thinks he’s the fella in the big picture. He thinks he’s everything and none of us are important.”
I think we are in danger of getting into that where we think of ourselves and we talk about Jesus and God as kind of peripherals, as people on the edges. We talk about them always from our point of view. We always talk about how we can get closer to Jesus, how we can feel Jesus’ presence more, how we can please Jesus, how we can please God, how we can do God’s will — we, we, we, we ! But God himself is not the subject. He is kind of just on the peripheral and we’re kind of still in this position of the masters looking down on the piece of paper.
In some way we’re missing what reality is and I think that a lot of our problems come from that. I think a lot of our difficulties in the Christian life come from the fact that we think of it as something that WE do in order to please God. It’s something that we undertake, and we rule, and we run, and we operate with his help — but we are the doers. All the time we’re doing it as if he isn’t here. So that’s what I’d hope, if I can do it properly, I would like to talk about over these next Sundays. Maybe a good place to start is John 8.
Most of these verses are verses we’ve talked about before. Certainly, they’re ones that we know. John 8:57 — it’s the time when Jesus is making reference to Abraham and of course, the Jews are questioning him in a hostile way. John 8:57, “The Jews then said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’” In verse 56 Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad. The Jews then said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’” It’s good to pause on that and think of what that means. Jesus was saying very definitely and clearly — and remember Abraham was about 2,000 years ago — “Before Abraham was, I am.”
It’s interesting that he says, “Not before Abraham was, I was” — but, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He’s really saying, “I am now and before Abraham was I still am. Everything is present for me. Everything is present. What seems to you 2,000 years ago is present with me at this moment. I actually exist in such a state that everything that has been and everything that will be is present with me now. I am not bound by time. I am beyond time. I exist and have existed always.” And that’s what he says again in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” So Jesus is saying, “Father, glorify me with the glory which I had before you made the world, before the world was made.” Jesus is making it very clear that he existed before the world was made. He was in existence before this world ever
came into being.
I think you can see very clearly that obviously, Jesus is older than all of us and obviously, he transcends time — and you and I don’t. We don’t. We can hardly transcend more than 70 years of it let alone transcend years and centuries and centuries. So it seems that Jesus is implying he existed before the world was. Colossians 1:15 summarizes this: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” We’ve talked about that before, that Jesus was the first-born of all creation — that before the world was made he was the first-born of all creation.
We’ve talked together quite often how God probably, because we can only surmise, but God probably said in a millisecond to his son, “I want others like you my son — and to be like you they have to be part of you because you are your own self, dear and precious and unique. You’re my only begotten. So to be like you they have to be part of you — so I want to make them inside you. You must be their father. I must make them inside you. Now, you will be the first-born but they will be made inside you and they will be part of you.” It’s in that sense that Jesus is called “the first-born of all creation”. In Colossians 1:16, “For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities.” Spiritual powers, angels, archangels, you, me, the earth, the soil, the sky, the planets, oxygen, molecules, “All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Everything holds together inside Jesus.
It’s evident that when we talk about Jesus we’re in – I don’t want to say a very embarrassing position — but we’re in a sense an impossible position because we’re talking about HIM of whom we are a part. We are a part of him. HE is the real us. If we are anything, we are only little molecules inside Jesus. We’re only cells inside Jesus –obviously very privileged and infinitely loved by him — I mean, beyond what love have you for that little piece of skin? Well you know, if you get cut [your hand] you feel it and you like it, and you try to take care of it, but you wouldn’t say you love it. You wouldn’t give your life for it. You certainly wouldn’t give your life for it because it would be a contradiction. But obviously Jesus has infinite love for each of us. So even though we are just little specs and little cells, we are infinitely loved by him because, of course, we are HIM. We are him.
The amazing thing is that little piece of skin there does not contain your brain or does not contain my eye. But of course, when he looks at one of us we contain a great deal of him. In some strange way, all of him. In a remarkable way I suppose, we’re not everything that he is but we’re a unique expression of him. His whole personality is in some way in us even though the whole perfection of his personality is not in us. There’s part of him that is in us that isn’t in anybody else. There is that difference that when he looks at us he loves us as his own self because we are a unique expression of him that nobody else is — and yet, we’re only a tiny part of him. Our existence is utterly dependent on him, himself.
So you can see what I’m saying when I say we need to go cautiously, thoughtfully — finally you can only say worshiply and reverently and respectfully whenever we ever think of talking about Jesus because we’re talking of our world. HE is our world. He is our existence. We don’t have an existence without him. Every word we speak he knows it before we speak it — of course he hears it when we speak it. So in every way we are encompassed by him, surrounded by him, supported by him — without him we have nothing. That’s, you remember, what is said so plainly in Ephesians 2:10.
Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God
prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” It’s just simply stated, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” So whether we can tell how God did it or not, it’s stated very plainly that God made us in Christ Jesus. He made us IN Jesus. So we, in no way, exist apart from Jesus. But you see, I think often in the way we talk about our Christian faith — we often talk as if we are separate from Christ. We’ll often think of it in that way, “How can I get into Christ? How can I get into Jesus? How can I get into that place where I’m crucified with him?” The question is rather, how can you get out of him? It obviously is possible by stubborn resistance, by a determined persistence in thinking of ourselves separate from him. It obviously is possible in some way to withdraw yourself or to refuse to face reality. It’s in some way possible to refuse simply, “I do not believe that I am in Christ. I do not believe that I was created in him. I do not believe that I am part of him. I do not believe that what happens to him happens to me. I do not believe that. I am a separate entity on my own.” Of course, it’s laughable. It’s ridiculous. It’s like a cartoon — to see a little fly on the planet earth saying, “I am independent of the earth. I do not need it.” Of course it’s foolishness — it’s obvious that it’s a lie. It’s unreality.
Often it seems to me, even in our Christendom, in our Christianity, in our Christian way of talking, we talk of ourselves as if in some way there is a Christian and then there is Christ. We regard Christ as an intellectual concept, an idea that we discuss: we discuss Christ and we discuss how we can follow Christ – then, we obviously are thinking of ourselves much in the same way we are in relationship to this piece of paper. We’re thinking of the piece of paper as an “it” that is separate from us. We are in some way superior or at least separate from the piece of paper and we have an existence apart from it — except that with Christ we have no existence apart from Christ. We don’t have an existence. We don’t have a separate existence. We are nothing but part of him. When we pretend that we are something apart from him we are creating a lie that has no relationship to the larger environment that surrounds us.
So it is important to begin to see that Jesus is our world — that we are not so much “Ernest O’Neill”, “Sandra Tomczyk”, “Irene O’Neill” — those names just express the reality that we are different from everybody else in the universe. Those names just express that we are a part of Jesus that nobody else is. But, they do not express that we are separate beings and have a separate existence from him.
Of course that’s why they would talk about the “Christian name” when they baptized people. You receive a “Christian name” because the name that you had was looked upon as a pagan name because it expressed the whole unreality of the pagan fallen world that you were a separate individual, that there was no God and that you had your own existence and were a self-made person. So when you were baptized into Christ’s death and baptized into his resurrection then you were born again, rose up into reality and you were given a Christian name. Really, it would have been better to say, “You are ‘Sandra Jesus’ and I’m ‘Ernest Jesus’ and you’re ‘Irene Jesus’.” That’s really what they meant. They were giving you the family name of Jesus — the Christian, Christ. You could say it would be like “Irene Christ”, or “Sandra Christ”, or “Ernest Christ”. It meant that because we had no separate existence — because the reality is that we don’t have a separate existence.
And that, you remember, is what is brought out well clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:27 — but of course we again, because of our way of talking about Christianity, we have gone and misinterpreted and under-interpreted all these verses. 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Of course we go off into our little enthusiastic explanations and our very clever charismatic expositions that, “Oh yes, this means the church is really the body of
Christ — and what we normally mean is it’s like the body of Christ. It isn’t of course the body of Christ but it’s like the body of Christ. You all have gifts.” Then we get on to our “gifts”. Isn’t it incredible how we talk about the gifts: “What gift have you? What gift have I?” It would be like us looking down at our toes saying to each other, “What gift have you?” Jesus must think, “What are you talking about? Gift? You have no gift. It is my life blood that is flowing through your big toe and little toe. It is my energy that enables you to be where you are. What gift have you? You talk about how cleverly you can put a sock on? No, I put the sock on. The gifts are mine. You exercise them together with me or I exercise them through you.”
So often we misinterpret, “You are the body of Christ.” We end up interpreting it as meaning, “We perform the functions of Jesus.” Whereas the Bible doesn’t say that. The Bible doesn’t say, “You perform the functions of Jesus.” The Bible says, “You are the body of Christ.” Christ expresses himself through you. You are the outward expression of him. You are individually members of him. Each of you is a different part of him. Each of you actually is a unique part of him that nobody else is. You are part of Christ. Christ is the real being. He is the real entity.
Maybe where we should finish today is — though there’s a lot more and we can talk about it next Sunday — how everything conspires to bring us into that reality. It’s in Romans 8:28-29, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” Really, it’s that famous verse that we know from the King James version that runs, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
Everything in this present life is working together for good to those of us who love God — and what is “the good”? That they might be conformed to the image of his son. We usually stop there and we say, “Yes, yes.” We feel that’s very unselfish of us to say, “Yes, everything that is happening in our lives is working to make us like Jesus.” “Make us like Jesus?” Again, we somehow get ourselves into the center of picture. We make ourselves “the fella in the big picture” because we say, “Yeah, yeah, everything is providence, all the events and circumstances that take place in my life, all the disasters, all the moments of happiness and triumph, all the moments of failure — all of those are working together to make ME like Jesus so that I will be Christ-like.” And of course we forget that the sentence goes on, “So that he might be the first-born among many brethren.”
In other words, everything is working together in our lives so that Jesus himself will BE and be seen to be what he is, the first born among many brothers and sisters — but HE is the one in whom they all live. So everything in our lives works together towards that. I think often we have great difficulty with the things that happen in our lives, especially our frustrations, our failures, our difficulties, because we think to ourselves, “This isn’t making me happy.” What’s the big deal? You are not God. Maybe it isn’t in order to make you happy — that’s not why they all take place. Sometimes we also think — I have certainly often thought — “This isn’t making me Christ-like. I see myself as more miserable, and retched, and selfish, and stubborn than ever before.” Well, that’s not the big thing. The big thing is that Jesus might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters — that he might have his own body completely in harmony with himself, that we might take our right place in him, and that he above all may be all-in-all to us, and may be seen to be all-in-all by all the universe.
So, there’s a lot more that maybe we can begin to talk about next Sunday. The way Barth put it was,
“Theology is talking about God in the presence of God.” Well, not only that, but believing in Jesus is BELIEVING in Jesus — that is, INSIDE Jesus – believing, not pretending, you’re outside and believing as if you’re some kind of free agent: “I choose to believe this. I am in Jesus and I am believing.” He is our world. He is everything. We are nothing apart from him. What happens to him happens to us. Let us pray.