Christ and Culture Sermon – Tim Giovanelli (John 16)

In this sermon, Tim looks at how Jesus came from the Father and has overcome the world. in doing so, Tim gets us thinking about Christ and culture and how we engage the world around us.

John 16 From the Father

Great to see everyone!

  • I hope you’ve had a good week.
  • Introduce myself… out in the courtyard after the service and I’d love to meet you.
  • Worship this Wednesday…
  • Members Meeting on May 25th to find out more about our campus strategy… 
  • And to vote on the adoption of Haberfield Baptist. All very exciting. It feels like God is in it and we have a good plan coming together!

Happy Mother Day 

  • Favourite story is of a friend of mine… 
  • Proctologist… so tired from being up all night with her baby…
  • Gone to early prayer at church
  • Then rolled into work… public hospital Drs meeting…
  • Prayed
  • Relevant to our sermon today… but aren’t our mums wonderful!

We have been doing a series in the Gospel of John, focusing in on the final week before Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  • Its often called the Upper Room Discourse
  • And in it we find Jesus instructing his disciples as to what is to come as he heads back to his Father in Heaven
  • And beyond the command that we would love one another as Jesus had loved us…
  • We see all of these promises about a place in the Father’s house for those who believe and the promise of the Holy Spirit
  • Who will help them in times of opposition.

And then last week I thought Peter spoke really well on the disciples grief and joy!

  • Following Jesus doesn’t mean we are spared from grief and troubles… but we have Jesus helping us in the midst.
  • There can be a peace and joy that is not of this world…
  • So we continue today, and I want us to be thinking about how we engage the world around us
  • Knowing that we are part of a story that has changed countless millions of lives and continues to transform the world in which we live!

Read John 16:28-33

28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” 29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

31 “Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. 32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Well I want to talk today about Jesus’ incarnation and then in turn how we can be incarnational as followers of Jesus

  • Two phrases: “I came from the Father” and “I have overcome the world.”
  • Shaped by the way Jesus came into the world, and how he overcame the world
  • And filled with this promised peace in the passage!
  • This is some of the most radical thoughts that Jesus brings into the world. That he has come from the Father… from God… 
  • So this is about how God reveals himself to his creation, doing this by dwelling with us 

And this is central to understanding John’s gospel and his view of who Jesus is. Remember John 1:14 (PICTURE)

  • “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
  • So God, that is the Word becomes flesh and the incarnation happens
  • And we get to see God’s glory, because the son comes from the Father… 
  • And he is full of grace and truth.
  • So that is the incarnation… it’s like when you go camping and pitch a tent in a field… you dwell amongst those you have camped with!
  • God with us is Jesus… camped out on earth… dwelling in our midst

So one of the things that we have seen in this series, is that as Jesus prepares his disciples for life without him and mission.

  • There is this clear call that they are to go out into the world to bear fruit. 
  • They are called, just like Jesus, to be light in the darkness
  • They are called to have a visible love for one another that demonstrates the kind of servant leadership on display of their Master. 
  • They are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to testify to the truth.

But one of the significant questions that has asked through church history is how?

  • If we as Christians are like Jesus meant to dwell amongst the world around us…
  • How do we engage the prevailing culture and worldviews and communities that we find ourselves in?
  • Afterall there are all kinds of complexities…
  • There is obviously a radical difference between the values of the Kingdom Jesus came to demonstrate, and the values of the world. 

Of course there is a weird tension in that here in Australia we live in a culture that is still broadly shaped by our Christian past

  • And so the church runs schools, has politicians in most major parties
  • Christian ideas like charity, the dignity of each individual, extending mercy
  • These are still things we find in our culture… even if increasingly they aren’t attributed to their Christian roots…

But then at the same time there is a growing darkness and opposition to the Christian faith. 

  • The sexual revolution of the last 50 years has elevated self expression and promiscuity and our rights over our responsibilities in relationships…
  • The elevation of conspicuous consumption… flaunting your wealth as a sign of your power and prestige. 
  • And there is always the temptation into racism, sexism and division in our culture.
  • So how do we bring the gospel to bear on an increasingly dark and selfish culture that’s heroes are more likely to be Kandashians than Mother Theresa…

So to get a bit nerdy today, as we think about the incarnation, I want us to think about how we engage the world around us with the good news of Jesus…

  • And the paradigm for our engagement was well articulated by Richard Niebuhr in his 1951 book Christ and Culture. 
  • And he outlined a number of ways that historically the church has engaged the world. 
  • All of them in one sense have a place, all of them have verses of the bible that support them for certain seasons or situations… 
  • So if our loyalty or allegiance is to Christ and his Kingdom, how do we live in this world?
  • So I am going to look at 3 of them, and then we will get back to the passage for some answers…
  1. Christ against Culture! 

So this is really where there is such a strong rejection of the values and culture of the world around us, that we withdraw from society

  • People who have taken this position would be influenced by a verse like Ephesians 5:11 “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”
  • Or 2 Corinthians 6:14  “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
  • The thinking goes, so dark is the world and corruptible… that we should be separate and withdraw from culture in order not to be tarnished.

When I was in my 20’s I lived in West London in a place called Hammersmith

  • To be honest I really enjoyed it… by the river Thames and not far from the city and a great church and community of young people…
  • But I remember there was this large block on Hammersmith Road with this 10 ft wall behind which the Sisters of Nazareth lived.
  • And this Christian community, surrounded by homes and pubs and workplaces, had cut themselves off from the world around them (PICTURE)
  • They desired to live lives, untouched by the culture beyond the walls of their community.

I guess the reality is that we can do this in our own way… put up our own walls.

  • And I guess particularly if you have a background in certain habits, addictions or lifestyles, you may need to for a season separate yourself from the world in order not to be enticed back in.
  • But we can also unhelpfully do this even in a church like Manly Life where it is safe and fun and life giving community and we end up having no friends outside of the church
  • And I guess the challenge to this comes from Jesus himself who calls us to be the light of the world… you cant do that by hiding your light under a bowl. 

So you can see the tension in this position. 

  • But it is also one that is not without merits…
  • Christ against Culture has gained recent attention again with an American author named Rod Dreher, whose book The Benedictine Option was a NYTimes bestseller.
  • Dreher argued that with the culture moving so radically in the other direction of Christianity and family values…
  • That we, like the monastic period during the dark ages 
  • May need to start our own schools and communities in order to preserve the Christian faith and have it propagated to the next generation.
  • What do you think? Is it convent time?
  • Christ of Culture

And I guess at the heart this position is that Christ and culture are not really all that different

  • And who are we to condemn?
  • If God is the creator of all things, we are in his image, then surely we must move with the times… 
  • And that in not always seeing culture as evil, we may participate in it, giving us a relevant voice in order to speak to people.
  • A verse may be something like 1 Corinthians 9 “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
  • Now of course a position like this can take many forms…
  • From just syncretism, where we take on the culture around us, behaving and living no differently…
  • To honest attempts to stay with the times, being empathetic to the latest values and to being involved in the latest trends and activities…

So we want to be culturally relevant but it can also go horribly wrong. (PICTURE)

  • We had the sad story of a Pastor in New York a few years ago that became a Pastor to the elite stars of Hollywood and the music industry…
  • Loved hanging with the Beebs… 
  • Replete with tatoos and expensive fashion and getting about in private jets.
  • But ultimately in the desire to be relevant and in the culture, he himself succumbed to temptation, trashing his own marriage and the church. 
  • I guess the warning being, you can’t transform something you are the same as.
  • So although this is probably the easiest posture to take towards the world, we can get swept up easily in the culture around us
  • We become nothing more than cheerleaders for the culture
  • So it’s easy to be compromised…
  • Christ Transforming Culture

So maybe this is a half-way position… one that emphasizes the goodness of creation….

  • But in bringing the gospel to bear on culture, affirms what can be affirmed and seeks to transform what is corrupted by sin and selfishness. 
  • So Christ transforming culture involves being in the world in order to be different and transform the world.
  • Jesus says you are the salt of the earth. Jesus says you are the light of the world.
  • The Apostle Paul says don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 
  • Or Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (PICTURE)

One of my friends down at the swim is Bruce Baird…who I have coffee with a couple of times a week.

  • He is a Christian man and was both a State and Federal politician here in Australia
  • So as a Christian he incarnated politics…
  • Some of us remember him for his role in helping win the Olympics for Sydney as the Minister for the Olympic bid
  • But he was also known for the principled stand that he took against his own party when it came to the way Australia was treating refugees
  • Basically he visited our off shore detention camps and as a Christian couldn’t see how he could square the bibles teaching on human dignity and call to show compassion to refugees. 
  • Now this is not the greatest example of Christ transforming culture, because he didn’t really shift his parties position, and it kind of ended his upward trajectory in politics…
  • But he spoke up, he defended the voiceless, he took a stand and tried to bring his Christian faith to bear on culture!

Now I am not saying there are not times to go along with the culture, and I am not saying there aren’t times to withdraw from the culture… it will depend on situations…

  • But I think in general I find my heart and faith most drawn to this position.
  • Christ the transformer of culture… 
  • We walk the line between being in the world, but not of the world, and committed to the gospel that transforms the world.
  • We take our stand for Jesus and his Kingdom and the Christian vision for a just, compassionate, moral world. 
  • We dwell, incarnationally amongst the mess seeking its renewal and life!

So from todays passage what do we see about this….

Verse 28 Jesus says “I came from the Father and entered the world.”

  • Verse 33 Jesus says “take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • So how we engage the culture is linked to the entire story of Jesus coming into the world and it is all through John’s gospel. 
  • And the way of course that Jesus overcomes the world is by undermining its powers and principalities by dying on a cross and rising again. 
  • He enters in, in order to serve, and transform and show mercy.

So the doctrine of incarnation is more than just the fact that God dwelled with us… it is how he dwelt with us…

  • You see it is all good and well that God has made himself known, but the thing that captures us as believers is how he dwelt with us! 
  • Put bluntly… God incarnated amongst the mess and that is what changed everything…
  • He did not come to be untarnished by the world… instead he came to transform everything, taking the broken and making it new. 

Take Luke 15 It says; 

  • “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
  • He then goes on to tell stories about the lost being found. Of not coming for the healthy but the sick. Of coming to seek and save the lost.
  • So Jesus eats with sinners, but he doesn’t become a sinner. 
  • Transformation involved engagement. 

So he didn’t withdraw from the mess, he wasn’t changed by the mess… he overcomes the mess!

  • As you think about your workplace or family or neighbourhood…
  • We certainly don’t join in evil or be overcome by evil…
  • Nor do we separate us from all the evil in order not to dirty ourselves by the world
  • But we engage evil with good… we are Christ transforming the world around us. 
  • Our incarnation of the world is obviously different to Jesus… we are not God in the flesh…
  • Need to remember that church is not fully in the image of God, we are flawed…
  • We are not the answer in the same sense as Jesus was… though some of us do have a bit of a messiah complex…
  • But importantly we do carry the presence of God…  

So to close today how then practically do we become incarnational… taking on the same mission of Jesus to renew creation?

  1. Be soaked in the Jesus story…

Alpha Course sponge…

  • Undoubtedly the thing that changes the world is the way Jesus loved.
  • And we cant live like Christ unless we are soaked in his love and life…
  • The most radical, impactful Christians I know, live out of his story…
  • Dwelling with the broken, praying for the sick, speaking grace and truth.
  • Right? Don’t soak up the culture and its values and narratives…
  • Soak up and overflow the Jesus story!
  • Practice hospitality

At the heart of how Christ dwelt amongst us was hospitality… he dined with tax collectors and sinners.

  • I want us to consider one thing about Christian hospitality though… 
  • It wasn’t that Jesus showed hospitality in the sense of putting on a feast… rather he accepted invitations to go and eat in others homes…
  • I mean both inviting in and accepting invites are good… 
  • But if we only ever get as far with our hospitality of being the one in control, the inviter… then it is still on our terms…
  • But if we make ourselves vulnerable to accepting the invitation from others not like us… that is where the real power of hospitality may break out!
  • Incarnation undermines rather than overpowers… 

And this is a good place to finish… because we are never more like Christ in his incarnate state

  • Than when we dwell like he dwelt… being servants of all. 
  • So much of where our faith has gone wrong and been misguided has been in trying to force our will upon society and culture. 
  • And in doing so, we lost touch with the humanity, life and teaching of Jesus.
  • What transforms culture is the humble Christ and the kingdom of God he brings. 
  • We don’t overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good…
  • What is the answer to all the mess we see around us? 
  • You… dwelling, serving, bringing the presence and love of God to a broken and messed up world.

Published by timgiovanelli

My wife Victoria and I are planting a new church in Manly, NSW

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