Why are You a Christian?

Preached on August 14, 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15, Year C

Why are you a Christian?  The quick answer is, because you were baptized, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever – maybe because you were baptized as a child and had no say in the matter.  Still, something brings you here this morning.

What is it?
Why does being Christian matter in your life?
Why does being part of a community of faith matter?

Even if you’re not Christian, you’re here.  What is it about Christianity that piques your interest enough to get up early on a Sunday morning to come here?

These are important questions to ask ourselves from time to time and we can expect our answers to change as we go through life.  Especially now, though, as you go through this time of transition, I suggest that this is a particularly appropriate time to ask those questions not only individually, but to have that conversation as a community.

Right now, you are discerning who you are as a community, what God is calling you to do or be and the profile committee is gathering that all together and trying to articulate it in the profile.  Reflecting on these questions is part of that discernment.

So, again, Why are you a Christian; why does it matter?  When I was in Sunday school, I thought the answer was so we would go to heaven when we die.

I don’t think Jesus would say that, though.  He said that he came that we may have life; life in abundance.

Now, in this life.  Some have interpreted that to mean a life of abundance and even to be exempt from suffering.  If we do the right things, believe the right things, we will be prosperous and healthy and nothing bad will happen to us.  But it doesn’t work that way.

In their book, Saving Paradise, Rita Brock and Rebecca Palmer point out that for the first thousand years, the church focused on our earthly life – Paradise in this world – rather than on the afterlife.

Wouldn’t it be nice if being Christian were easy; being baptized, going to church on Sunday morning, and pretty much hanging out until Jesus comes again.  Never having to disrupt your life or change or be transformed.

But life in Christ is not without cost.  Jesus also said what we heard today.  “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, but rather division.”

For the Jews of his day, to follow Jesus meant, first of all, to accept him as the Messiah when he wasn’t at all like the Messiah they were expecting – someone great and powerful who would overthrow their Roman rulers and reclaim Palestine for Israel; someone to be a king, like David.

Second, it meant to follow this itinerant rabbi who hung out with the outcast and preached a message of love and forgiveness.  To follow him meant they would do likewise, practice love and forgiveness especially toward those who were different.  This challenged or at least questioned the status quo, not only the religious status quo, but also the social, economic, and political status quo.

The inevitable result of that kind of challenge is conflict and division.  Jesus, I think, is describing the result of following him, rather than his purpose in coming.  The baptism he talks about is his crucifixion.  It is the inevitable consequence of his message and ministry more than it is the purpose for his life.

Jesus came to transform the world, not through power and conquest, but by transforming individual lives; by calling us back to God, showing us a new way to live, a new way to relate to one another and to God.

For the early Christians, following Jesus did, often cause division in their families and relationships; sometimes it cost them their livelihoods or even their lives.

What about us, today?  What does it mean to follow Jesus?  To call oneself a Christian would not cause any raised eyebrows.  But to truly follow Jesus?  It still challenges the status quo and stretches social norms and may not set well with our friends and neighbors and co-workers.

What does it cost you to follow Jesus?  What price would you be willing to pay for the transformed life God offers you through Jesus?

Now, imagine.  Imagine if this community were to gather together each Sunday morning, and perhaps other times, too, to reflect on our lives with Christ.
In whom have we found Christ?  How have we served God in the world?  What challenges or divisions or conflicts have we faced?  Should we do it again?  Should we do something differently?

Imagine if we were to gather together to encourage and to be encouraged by each other as we move through the difficulties of our lives in Christ?  Imagine discerning together:
What is God calling us to do or be next?

Imagine if we came together to be transformed in the depths of our very being and if that transformed our very lives.  Now imagine if we then went out from here and transformed one small piece of our world simply by having been transformed ourselves.

With all that in mind, I ask you again,
Why are you a Christian?
Why does being Christian matter in your life?
Why does being part of a community of faith matter?
What has it cost you?
What price would you be willing to pay?