Sermon Series: Christianity and World Religions Part 1, This series is going to be an in depth look at World Religions including the major ones. Including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, John Wesley and of course Christianity! You don’t want to miss these Sermons! Why am I writing these Sermons? Because of the events that are going on today, we need to be well fed with the truth! And to be able to give answer to those who have questions! As it is written; But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. – 1 Peter 3:15-16
Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2″Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We have seen his star as it arose, and we have come to worship him.”
When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were, and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Today I begin what I think could be one of the most important preaching series that I have ever done—Christianity and the religions of the world.
This series could be the most important that I have ever done, especially in light of the times we live in – wars on multiple continents and a time during which our nation has been at war and now occupies Iraq along with other places. There is conflict within our own nation about displaying of religious documents such as the Ten Commandments in a court of law. When you examine everyone of those places you discover that underneath all the conflict is conflict about ideas, truth claims, and religion.
In Israel and in the Middle East the conflict is between Palestinian Muslims and Jews.
In the past, at the brink of nuclear war, India and Pakistan, that was a reflection of conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
In our own war on terrorism and the conflict we’ve had with Iraq and others, it’s a conflict between a predominantly Christian nation and a predominantly Muslim nation. And while we in the USA don’t see it necessarily as a religious conflict, I am pretty certain that on the other side it is seen as a religious conflict. We live in a world where conflict over ideas is most pronounced. That’s part of what’s behind the continued guerilla attacks and terrorism in that nation.
You and I also live in a world where you and I will come in contact with people of other faiths—more than any other time in our past. It is now likely that you have or will have neighbors right where we live, now who are Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Jews.
Your children may have or will have teachers at school of one of these religions. Your children will go to school with other children from one of these other religions and your children will probably learn about these world religions. You will have co-workers or sometime you may have a boss who is of another faith.
No doubt about what we see emerging is different than the world in which most of you have grown up and lived most of your lives. Many of you grew up in towns where there was not even a single Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim. Some of you may not know the difference between a Muslim or a Hindu. What do the different groups believe?
I think it is imperative that we as Christians come to understand the world in which we live and those who are seeking after God and who offer alternative truth claims. I think we need to understand their claims to the truth, that we might build bridges with them, that we might understand and learn from them what they have learned about God. As we converse with people of other faiths, it is above all an opportunity for us to share our own faith and how we perceive God and sharing with others what we have come to know In Jesus Christ.
How can you share what you know about the truth in Jesus Christ when you don’t understand where that other person is coming from? But if you have the opportunity to understand what another person of a different faith is perceiving about God and the world and if you listen with sensitivity, it opens the door for you to share the light of Christ.
So this is an important series of sermons that I will be doing in the weeks ahead. It is important but it is also threatening. I know this is uncomfortable for some of you—at least two persons have been honest enough to share that with me. I understand the discomfort and challenge of entering into this area.
It is threatening because when you start to talk about other religions it raises a host of questions. It taps into our own insecurities about our faith. Many of us are Christians because we have grown up in America. You were reared in a Christian home. That’s the case with me—I grew up not knowing anything else. Would you have been a Christian if you had grown up in India or Iraq?
Other questions arise. Can my faith withstand the earnest questions of people of other claims of truth or religions? That can be threatening.
I want you to know however that as your pastor I am concerned about you and I want us to grow together in our faith. I want to handle these topics in a way that it helps you to grow in way that when we finish this series that you will be a stronger Christian, a more informed Christian and better capable of lighting the light of Christ shine through your life.
In addition, The House of the Nazarene has stood as a Christian church for awhile. I want to help you understand our place as a Christian church in all of the religions.
In addition, to help you grow during this series each week I am providing you with study questions and Bible readings and suggestions for prayer. I hope you will use these resources I have provided for you. I hope to start off with a great learning experience!
In fact, I decide this week that in case you have anxiety or questions about any of this from week to week I will make myself available to you by E-mail, if you prefer to contact me during the week, Leave me an E-mail address to get in touch with you. I want to help you with any questions or struggles this series may raise for you.
So those are my objectives in this preaching series on Christianity and the religions of the world. exploring other religions there are certain questions thinking people will typically ponder. I’ll address a couple of them today and address other questions as I get into the specific religions.
The first question you might have is—Why are there so many religions?
There are some who view all the religions of the world and conclude that proves that there is no God. If there was one God, God would surely make himself know to all people who are really seeking him. Because there are so many ways at looking at religion is proof that there is no God at all.
Why are there so many religions? How are Christians to understand to non_Christian religions and can we understand how God might be working among them? How does God look at the other religions might be the most important question? Is God at work in any way in our friends of other faiths?
So why are there so may religions. Some look at all those groups and say that is positive proof there is no God. But as I think about every culture from the earliest times has had religious yearning, religious needs and religious experiences. These are common among all people. All humankind has had these same kinds of needs.
When a loved one dies in the tribal regions of Africa, there is a longing among those people for there to be an eternity.
Let’s say you’re in India and you see an amazing thing in the heavens or on the earth, there is this yearning to cry out in praise.
In Pakistan, you get quiet and spend time in prayer, you experience something that’s bigger than yourself.
There are people in Israel who like you have experienced an insight they knew came from an experience beyond themselves—a keen sense of inspiration.
People of all tribes, nations, and races have experienced the divine in their lives.
When we talk about the ultimate reality that’s beyond this world, we’ll call that ultimate reality God. All people have reached for that. To me that is positive proof that there is a God, there’s something people are yearning for. Human beings don’t yearn for something that doesn’t exist, I think for the most part. We yearn for something that is possible that is real, that we might not have yet attained and yet we have a hunger for it.
“When people hunger there is such a thing as food”, CS Lewis once said. When human beings across all civilizations have yearned for God, it is because there is a God who can satisfy for the yearning that they have all shared in common.
At the same time, it is true that when two human beings experience the same thing they will talk about it in different ways. I saw the movie Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin a few months ago. I thought it was hilarious and funny. I then saw Ebert and Roper on TV review the movie and they really pooh-poohed it and had different reactions to the movie. I thought, “Did we see the same movie?”
As humans, we can experience the same thing but have different thoughts and analyze the same experience differently. If that’s true of movies how much more is that true of our experience of God the creator of the universe. Our three pounds of gray matter in our brains is not sufficient to give expression to the amazing reality of God.
So it doesn’t surprise me that people in different places have experienced that reality in different ways or have tried to give expression to it in a variety of forms.
Thus, religion is the human response to our spiritual needs, spiritual questions, spiritual experiences and spiritual yearnings. Since religion is a human response to spiritual yearnings I can expect that human beings will describes and respond differently to those experiences. But they are reaching toward a reality beyond themselves.
So why doesn’t God just give us the answers, why doesn’t God from the beginning say—this what I’m like and lay out for us? The same reason you don’t do that with your children. God looks at the human race and understands that we are changing and growing. We are understanding more today then we did yesterday. God is patient with us and allows us to learn, I believe. That’s part of what makes us human. We are constantly seeking to understand more.
Imagine what the world would be like if you had all the answers pre-programmed into your brain before you were born. What would you do with the rest of your life? Part of the human quest is to understand and to know.
Now it is tempting to give our children all the answers. You experience that when your children come to you with their homework and you’d like to do all for them—unless of course it’s math. They’ve changed math so much. And if you’re like me you’ve forgotten all the complex things like algebra and geometry you couldn’t help any way.
But if you have an area where you excel like English or History or something, so you help your child by giving him or her all the answers? Of course not! The best way to help is to ask questions to help children come to their own conclusions. Or give them a dictionary and tell them to look it up for themselves. Or do we still have dictionaries? I guess you go tell them to look it up on the Internet.
Then what they learn sticks with them more—they come to their own insights and understandings. Something about finding their own answers helps them to develop their thinking and problem solving abilities.
In fact, it’s important sometimes that a person fails. That can be a great learning experience. Someone told me this story, “One time in a psychology class that I taught at the local community college, a student came to me toward the end of the semester who had rarely attended class. He had failed the mid term exam and missed the deadline for a research paper. He wanted to know if I’d give him a passing grade because he really needed to pass this class.
Now what was the best thing for me to do? Pass him because he was a really nice guy? Because I’m a nice guy? Or let him experience failure? He may not have passed the class but I think he learned more through his failure of the class than if I would have just passed him on just because I wanted to show that I was a nice guy.” It’s in the failing, in the searching, and yearning that we grow and develop.
I believe that this is how God has chosen to look at humankind. Not only in the religious areas but in the sciences and all areas. God watches us do stupid things. At one time humans thought the whole universe revolved around the earth. God must have chuckled at that and said, “It’s OK for you to be confused about that for awhile. I’m not going to worry about it. Eventually they’ll figure it out.”
One of my mentors use to say, “God does not coerce us into relationships—he gives us space to screw up. So we should do the same with others.”
I think God takes the same approach when it comes to all the different religious faiths. So God wasn’t upset up before the time of Abraham that people couldn’t fathom that their sensing of the ultimate reality could be comprised of one God. God might have said, “They don’t understand yet but someday they will.” There was a world of a variety of gods up until Abraham.
Now Abraham comes along. God began to give hints to people. And those hints theologians have referred to as “special revelation.” At such points God steps in to give us some clues, some answers. Even then God doesn’t give the whole picture—just a nudge in the right direction.
So God calls Abram 4000 years ago and says, “You got it all wrong. Let me get it straight for you. There is only one God –the creator of all things. There is a variety of names you might call me but there is only one God. I want you to share this—I want you to be a light to the nations. “ Abraham will only touch a small part of the world’s population. So his descendents were to be a light to the nations as well.
Some years later God gives another hint through a guy named Moses. Moses is called to Mt. Sinai. God says, “Hey Moses let me tell you what I expect as far as what is right and wrong. Here’s some clues—here’s the 10 commandments.”
Did God tell Moses everything there is to know about God? No—but the commandments help to set the human race in the right direction. This is what the people could handle at that time. Then God says, “Don’t forget that Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites are to be alight to the nations.”
Then years go by and the prophets come along with more hints from God. Finally, God says, “OK. I want you to have the clearest hint possible.”
So God rather than giving another book or prophet—God’s word became flesh and lived among us. (Jn 1:14). Christian belief is that God desired to communicate with us as clearly as possible his truth, God embodied that by becoming flesh and walked among us as a human being, speaking the language of humanity. Thus, we might understand who God is, what God is like, understand his love and grace, our need for mercy and understand that there is hope even in the face of death.
Christians believe that Jesus is the greatest revelation of God. God gives hints along the way. Yet even then Jesus came to only a tiny piece of land that was occupied by the Roman empire. So the world did not yet know or understand what God had done in Jesus.
So Jesus sends his disciples and out and says, “You go tell other people.” On Epiphany Sunday you are reminded that you are to go and tell other people. Yet the vast majority of the population still doesn’t understand or know who God is through Jesus Christ. But they are seeking after yearning after, trying to give expression to their spiritual yearnings.
This article I read in Time magazine demonstrates that – The Lost Gospels: Early texts that never made it into the Bible are suddenly popular. People are still seeking and trying to understand their spiritual side. (Continued on next Sermon)