“In the Know”Dr. Mike Massar John 3:1-17; Philippians 3:4-11; Matthew 7:21-23. Year B: Trinity Sunday - First Sunday After Pentecost
J.R.R. Tolkien, the brilliant mind
behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy,
was enchanted with words.
It started early in his life.
When he was just a boy growing up
near Birmingham, England,
he would watch the trains from Wales
chug through the countryside.
The cars on the trains
bore Welsh words describing
Tolkien loved trying to formulate
the sounds of those words
and imagine what they meant.
This early infatuation with Welsh trains,
as well as Latin lessons taught by his mother,
ignited a life-long love affair with linguistics.
He not only spoke several foreign languages,
but, along with high school friends,
he wrote and acted out his senior play . . .
Not only did he speak several different languages,
he also invented two or three languages,
primarily elvish languages,
the words of the elves.
After completing his Oxford studies,
one of his first jobs was with Oxford Dictionary
where his work was to trace the etymology of words –
where words came from –
and he loved it.
Taken from Carpenter’s biography, Tolkien)
In doing some research on Tolkien this summer,
I, too, became once again
infatuated with the discipline of etymology.
I am intrigued by where words come from
and what they originally meant
and how they’ve changed.
For instance, there is the story of the dedication
of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London
where Queen Anne turned to the architect,
Sir Christopher Wren, and said,
“It is awful,
If we had been Wren
we would have taken this
as a painful critique of our work.
However, Wren took the words
as the compliments which Queen Anne
You see, “awful” in those days
meant “full of awe . . . awe-inspiring;
“artificial” meant “clever work of art”;
and “amusing” meant “astonishing.”
I mention all of this,
because our texts for worship
all feature the word “know.”
And while I know that you didn’t come here
for an esoteric linguistic study,
I think some background into the meaning of this verb
will give us a most profound spiritual lesson.
In tracing the word in English,
the original meaning goes back
to the Old English word “cnawlec,”
which means “perceiving by the senses.”
The French emphasize,
wouldn’t you know,
the meaning of “sexual intimacy,”
which is also found in the biblical Hebrew.
The Teutonic and Aryan roots
speak of a system . . .
“know how” . . .
how to know how to do something.
(Skeat, W.W.; Etymological Dictionary of the English Language)
This morning I won’t go into all the detail
listed by the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language
but rather focus on two distinctions,
important ones, I think.
These distinctions are found in
the difference between knowing about something
and knowing someone.
The first text is one of our favorites,
the story of Nicodemus coming in the dark
to see Jesus.
John, its author,
must have been mesmerized
by the insightful genius of Jesus.
Jesus encounters this most knowledgeable man,
a man of letters,
a man of law,
a man of great reputation,
and talks about the important difference
between knowing about God
and knowing God.
Listen to the way John describes it
in the third chapter of his book . . .
Our second text is from a letter
from the Apostle Paul
to the church at Philippi.
Paul’s letters are interesting collages
of travel, history, theology, and personal journaling.
This morning’s passage
is a wonderful slice of all of those.
Paul tells of his magnificent training,
how he graduated summa cum laude
If anyone had any reason
to be proud about their theological and academic training,
it was Paul.
But Paul tells us
that it is not what you know as much
as it is who you know.
And he deliberately uses that verb “know”
in his letter.
Listen for it
in this personal note . . .
Finally, I want you to hear the most forceful of Jesus’ words
on the distinctions between knowledge of
It is at the heart
of being a Christian.
I invite you to stand
and give reverent attention
to the reading of God’s Word
as found in the book of Matthew,
beginning with the verse numbered “21″
in the seventh chapter . . .
You have to love Nicodemus.
After all, he was everything
most of us aspire to be.
He was academically astute,
probably graduated first in his class
from Scribe Tech.
He was theologically and legally savvy,
Having been chosen to serve on the Sanhedrin,
the Jewish equivalent of the Supreme Court.
He was a man of letters
a man well-respected in Israel,
perhaps even envied.
He had it all.
He was what people might declare
“in the know.”
He knew things,
all kinds of things -
political, social, theological . . .
Nicodemus was a knowledgeable man,
one so knowledgeable that he knew
he didn’t know it all,
especially about religion.
I think that is why
he came to Jesus.
And as John puts it in his nuanced, poetic way,
Nicodemus came to see Jesus
“in the dark.”
However, he begins his audience with Jesus
by saying with a certain smugness,
“We know . . .”
as if to say “I’m in the know.”
“We know that You are a teacher
sent from God,”
which may be another way of saying,
“Jesus can we talk,
teacher to teacher?
There’s no way You could have done
some of things You have done
because they are,
how should I say
Because we know this story so well,
we are hesitant to admit it,
but we are so much like Nicodemus,
We’re here this morning,
because we know enough
to have gotten us here;
but if we are honest,
there is much about this faith
that we still need to learn.
If we could just receive something,
some bit of knowledge,
just to get us over the hump,
we could be more intentional and vibrant
about being Christian.
we want to be “in the know.”
we’re not all that different
from Brother Nicodemus.
However, knowing is not an accumulation of “how to’s”;
knowing is relational . . .
it is knowing and being known
Marriage is something akin to that.
When folks who are about to get married
come in to see me,
the dreamy-eyed brides
and the romantic grooms
think they know one another.
And while premarital counselors do their best
to somehow not rain on the couple’s parades,
any counselor worth his/her salt
would be quick to say . . .
“You don’t know,
That usually doesn’t happen
until at least a couple of months into marriage
or that first disagreement when one or the other
or both cry,
“I don’t know who you are.”
But now, maybe they do.
Knowing someone is not so much a set of facts;
it is a connection.
The great thing about marriage
is that I am coming to know all kinds of new and wonderful things
and we’ve been married for over 45 years.
And yet there is still so much to know,
and the joy for me is our decision to bond to each other
in spite of all the mystery,
in spite of all that we don’t know.
At the end of the movie,
A River Runs Through It,
the father, a Presbyterian minister
on his deathbed,
is talking with his oldest son.
The younger son had died
many years before,
a victim of his addiction to gambling
and those who demanded payment on his debts.
Every day the father wondered what went wrong,
why he couldn’t have saved the younger son.
In the closing scene of the movie,
the father says out loud to the older son
something along these lines,
“Sometimes it is those people in our lives
we love the most
that we understand the least.
Yet, we love them anyway.
It is possible to love completely
without complete understanding.”
(McLean; A River Runs Through It : “Each one of here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”)
I think all of this is most certainly true
in the spiritual realm.
It’s not what we know;
it’s Who we know.
I think that is what Nicodemus discovered.
You will remember that at the end of John’s Gospel
Nicodemus comes to Jesus
in the dark . . .
in the darkest dark of human history.
But Nicodemus doesn’t come
so much to make a theological or creedal statement.
He comes out of loving devotion
to take care of the body of Christ.
It was at the risk of great cost.
He could have lost his reputation.
We don’t know.
But I don’t think it mattered to Nicodemus.
He came out of the great love of God
that he had discovered in Christ Jesus.
And that is really the only thing that matters,
and only thing that matters for Christ
and for us.
The chilling words of Jesus
which we heard earlier
are spoken to find their way to our hearts.
Jesus is speaking to the religious folks,
“Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name,
and did we not cast out demons in Your name
and did we not do mighty works in Your name?”
(Pastor Erwin McManus said about that text
that it scares him to death
because those folks’ resumes are so much better
But here is the heart-wrenching response of Jesus,
“But I never knew you.”
What God wants,
the reason God sent God’s Son
was out of great love
and the desire to know us!
And that is the question for us this morning.
It is not one of what do we know about Jesus.
The question is: “Do we know Jesus personally?”
Well, do we?
Several years ago the word came out of the Vatican
that the only real church there is
has apostolic succession
and believes in the transubstantiation,
the actual presence of Christ’s body and blood
in the Lord’s Supper.
In all honesty,
the Pope and his cardinals were not speaking
so much to Protestants
as they were to what they decried
as the liberal element in the Catholic Church.
But their words were harsh
in that they stated
that the only true church
was the Roman Catholic Church;
and if you didn’t believe what they believed,
then you were wrong,
People took offense at this
some Catholics and Protestants believing
in the tradition of St. Augustine,
that the church exists
only by God’s grace,
sometimes in spite of human efforts.
In thinking about that
I remember an experience recounted
by Dr. Joseph Jeter,
who used to teach homiletics at TCU’s Brite Divinity School.
Dr. Jeter remembers a time
when he was in worship in a Roman Catholic Church.
When it was time
to receive the Lord’s Supper,
the priest invited all of the folks there,
Catholic and non-Catholic,
to come forward.
Joey was surprised,
because the Roman Catholic Church
does not normally offer communion
But, along with others,
he went forward
and knelt at the rail.
He put out his hands
in the fashion of the others,
and, when the priest came to him,
he looked up in the priest’s face.
Joey saw the sweat pouring down from his face
and realized the risk the priest had taken
to invite him there.
In that moment, Dr. Jeter said,
the reality of Jesus became incredibly clear for him.
(Jeter, Joseph; Re/Membering: Meditations and Sermons for the Table of Jesus Christ)
You see, it went beyond dogma and creed and beliefs.
This priest was acting out of a relationship
with Jesus Christ,
one he wanted to share
with Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
And in a very profound way, I think,
Jesus was in that communion.
Dear friends, that is the call for us this morning.
I pray that we aren’t here
to learn some new spiritual calisthenics
that we believe will make us strong.
I hope and pray
that we are to meet Christ.
So, let me ask you:
“Do you know Jesus?
Do you have a relationship with Him?”
And what I mean by that
is not necessarily a one-time emotional experience
as much as a continued experience
of prayer and meditation.
Paul’s phrase here seems extremely helpful.
When he talked about being a Christian,
his phrase was being “in Christ Jesus,”
“in the Spirit of Christ.”
Being a Christian
requires the kind of disciplined devotion
that is at the heart of any meaningful relationship.
This morning I don’t want to play games with you.
I simply want us to ask ourselves,
“Do we know Christ Jesus?”
Nor do I want to manipulate you
or make you feel unduly guilty.
I simply want to offer you an invitation
to know the One
Who has been crazy about you from the beginning . . .
To that end,
I invite you to pray with me . . .
About the writer:
Dr. Mike Massar grew up in west Texas, attended Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mansfield College at Oxford, the Graduate Theological Foundation and the Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. His ministerial journey has taken him from 7th and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas to Wildewood Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, to the First Baptist Church of Clemson, South Carolina, to the First Baptist Church of Tyler, Texas, to the University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
He and Lisa have three children — Matt and his wife, Meredith, Patrick and his wife, Kendall, and Meredith and her husband, Chris Munson as well as two grandchildren — Luke and Mae. After over forty years of pastoring churches in Texas, South Carolina and Louisiana, Mike is completing his ministry at University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Gruene, Texas, where he and his wife, Lisa, will begin writing the next chapters in their life. Those chapters will include writing, traveling and enjoying their family, especially their grandchildren.
Scripture and Music:
A Charge to Keep I Have
All My Help Comes From the Lord
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
Come, ye thankful people, come
Freedom and Life Are Ours
God of Freedom, God of Justice
Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost
Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
How can I keep from singing all the day
I Surrender All
In the Day of Need
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
O God of Earth and Altar
Thou hidden Love of God, whose height
Walk On, O People of God
We Are God’s People