Monday 8 October 2012

Jesus: Gangnam Style

I recently had the privilege of speaking at an event welcoming new international students to Cambridge. Here is the text of my ten-minute talk from John 1:43-51 where Jesus meets a new student named Nathanael.

1. Classy and cheesy

For the first time in history a Korean pop song has reached number 1 on iTunes in the US. Since its release on Youtube just 2 months ago, “Gangnam Style” has been viewed 275 million times and earned itself a Guinness World Record as the most “liked” video of all time.

Gangnam Style’s sudden worldwide popularity is all the more surprising considering the song is performed entirely in Korean (except for a break in the chorus which goes, “Hey sexy lady!”)

This hasn’t stopped millions of fans from learning its iconic dance moves as performed by K-Pop artist, PSY (which is apparently short for Psycho). A recent TV appearance has PSY teaching Britney Spears how to dance “Gangnam Style”. Place your hands forward. Start galloping like you’re riding an invisible horse.

(No, I’m not going to dance it for you now.)

“To dance Gangnam Style,” says PSY, “You have to do two things. You have to ‘dress classy and dance cheesy’.” Dress classy and dance cheesy. That’s his technique. Classiness and cheesiness.

These two points summarise the two responses we see in this passage. The surprising thing is that both responses - classiness and cheesiness - come from the same person.

2. Dismissiveness is destructive

Nathanael, who is a student, hears about Jesus for the first time. His first response is classy. His friend, Philip, tells him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about. We have found the one all the prophets have been talking about. His name is Jesus and he comes from Nazareth.” Immediately Nathanael goes, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

What is he saying? He’s saying what any Cambridge student would say... when talking about Oxford. “Oxford? What good can come out of Oxford?”

That is, for something to be worth our while, it has to come from the right place. It’s got to have the right credentials. Of course, when I make fun of a place like Oxford, we laugh and we don’t take it too seriously. But if I were to dismiss someone because of the way he looks or because of the way that he talks, that sounds offensive.

And yet look at what Jesus says when he meets Nathanael. He says, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Some versions have “in whom there is no guile.” Jesus takes one look at this student and goes, “Here’s a guy who speaks his mind. This is a guy I can work with.” Jesus respects him and that’s surprising.

Now, I know that not everyone here is enthusiastic about coming to a Christian talk. Coming for food? - The food was great! But then this Asian guy stands up and starts talking about the bible - this is just weird.

But you came anyway and Thank you for coming. Sincerely, Thank you even for listening.

For some of us it is the first time we have heard anything about bible, anything about Jesus and Christian faith. If so, can I especially welcome you here today.

The thing we see in this passage is that even students like Nathanael, even students who are tempted to dismiss Jesus, who are antagonistic towards Jesus - they might be the very people whom Jesus says, “This is the guy I’m looking for. That’s the girl I’m looking for.” Notice, that Nathanael’s friend doesn’t go, “You stuck up snob! You Cambridge student.. no pudding for you!” No, what does he say, “Come and see.”

My point is this: Acting classy doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s not going to get you many friends. It’s not going to get you closer to the answers. Dismissiveness is just destructive. That’s my first point.

3. Christianity isn’t cheesy

The second point is this: Don’t be cheesy. it’s really interesting what happens next because one minute Nathanael’s classy, the next minute, he’s being cheesy.

Nathanael says to Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus says, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Straight away... straight away, Nathanael says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Some people look at Nathanael and go, “He’s sold out. One minute ago he was being all objective; he’s holding his ground. But the next thing you know, he’s joined a cult! One minute he speaks his mind, the next minute he is losing his mind.”

But look at what Jesus says, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than that” Even Jesus thinks Nathanael’s too much - Even Jesus thinks he’s being cheesy. Jesus doesn’t (clap his hands and) go, “Oh well done, you’ve come to your senses.”

No, Jesus says to him, “Really, seriously? Nathanael, your view of who I am is too small.”

Did you hear about the Chuck Norris bridge? The Chuck Norris bridge. It’s this bridge in Slovakia which made the papers this week. The officials in Slovakia wanted to name this new bridge that they had built, so they opened it up to the public and asked them to go online to vote for what name they would like to call this new bridge.

What they did not expect was an overwhelming majority - thousands of people - voting to name this bridge after Hollywood action star, Chuck Norris. (If you have no idea who Chuck Norris is, just think of Arnold Schwarzenegger except skinnier and does Kung Fu). Obviously, the officials rejected the name “Chuck Norris” because it’s silly! It’s embarrassing to name our bridge “Chuck Norris.” (An online comment says: No one would ever dare to cross Chuck Norris!) It’s a cheesy name! (like Murray Edwards)

Look at the names Nathanael calls Jesus. He doesn’t just call him, “Rabbi... Teacher!” He calls him, “Son of God.” “King of Israel.” And Jesus doesn’t reject any one of those names. Instead, what Jesus says to Nathanael is, “I am going to show you... You are going to see, see what it truly means to call me Son of God, King of Israel.”

“I tell you the truth,” that’s a promise, “you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” What does that mean?

I’ve only got a few minutes, but what I can tell you is that Jesus is pointing to the cross. He is pointing to the cross. The bible tells us that the clearest way - the only way - to see Jesus for who he really is, is to understand the cross. It’s not his life, it’s in his death. It’s not his works, it’s his greatest work on the cross. On the cross Jesus Christ died to take our sins and to open the way to God.

Actually when Jesus talks about the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man he is making a reference to an early part of the bible, the book of Genesis (Chapter 28). I don’t have time to go through that reference; but do come ask me after this. Or better yet, better yet, read the bible for yourself. There are copies of the gospel on the table - take them away and read them... tonight. It will take you about an hour. (The engineers might take an hour and a half.)

Then come back and ask your questions. Join one of the groups.

4. Come and see

Just to end... two responses to Jesus. First response is: You could act classy and forget everything you’ve just heard. What I would say to you is: If you have questions about God - If you have objections to God - it makes sense to ask someone. Questions: Is there a God, Did he really create the world, why is there suffering - these are big life questions - Why act as if there are no answers? Philip says to Nathanael, “Come and see.” Come. Ask your questions. At least see if there is an answer.

But the second response is cheesiness. Cheesiness. Some of us are too easily impressed. Some of us are really quick at making spur of the moment decisions and Jesus is saying to you, “Your whole idea of God is too small.” I would go as far as to say this - Unless you see this thing, unless you see what Jesus promised Nathanael - heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending the Son of Man - unless you can see how the cross fits into the very centre of who Jesus is and what he came to do - Unless you see this, Frankly, Your God is too small.

It’s not a put down, it’s a promise because Jesus says, “You will see.” Jesus says to Nathanael and he says to all of us, “You will see greater things than these.” That is our expectation every time we read the bible. We want to see the greatest and most amazing thing that God has ever done - and I put it to you - that what he shows us is the meaning of the cross.

That’s our expectation, that’s my invitation to you. Come. Join us.

“Come and see.”

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