Tuesday, September 5, 2017

17A



The text appointed for 17A can be found here. At St. Clement's this year we are using Track 2. 

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The Summons

Recently, a woman in my neighborhood posted an article on-line describing a violent hate crime with the following introduction to her post,

Oh My God. This is so scary I'm shaking after reading it. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if this person claimed to be a Christian too. Absolutely despicable…” 

Despicable. Delusional. Mean. Narrow-minded. Judgmental.

These are the words that appear at the top of the google search feed when you type in the search term “Christians are…”

And, at the bottom of that first page of results? An article titled, “Survey Finds Most American Christians are Actually Heretics”.

No wonder so many of us feel like we need to issue a disclaimer if we claim our Christian identity amongst our secular world friends and colleagues.

I’m a Christian, but…

We live in a world in which a wide range of individuals claim Christian identity for themselves and their communities. There is Prosperity Gospel Evangelist, Joel Osteen, who made headlines this week for failing to provide shelter to those in need in Houston; the nuns whose photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times as they stood in line to volunteer to help victims of Hurricane Harvey; Bree Newsome who appeared on the national stage when she tore down the Confederate Flag at the State House in South Carolina; Ku Klux Klan member David Duke; Christian Social Justice Author and activist Jim Wallis; Pope Francis; Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu; likely, your grandmother; for sure, your priest; and many of you…

All call themselves Christians.

And, hence, one of the major conversations happening in the wider church is one of Christian identity. Who is a Christian? Are there things that one must do in order to claim this identity? What actions or practices make us Christians and others, perhaps, not?

At this time, I invite you to find a few of your neighbors and let’s have a conversation about this question. What does it mean to be a Christian? A few things about how we're going to do this.

First, you're going to introduce yourself--even if you are speaking to your spouse of 58 years (B and T...I'm looking at you). So, introduce yourselves. Then, take a moment of silence to collect your thoughts. THEN begin to share with each other.  

Please know, I'm not going to ask you to share this with me or anyone beyond your group. Also, there is no one right answer! This is not a test. So, once again. Introduce yourselves, moment of silence, sharing. "What does it mean to be a Christian?". You will have 5 minutes. "What does it mean to be a Christian?" 

Note, the conversations bubbled around the sanctuary as people discussed what it means to them to be a Christian in the year 2017...if you are following along at home, feel free to leave an answer this question in the comment field below. 

I hope this is a conversation that we keep having. And, not just amongst ourselves but amongst those (which quite honestly includes some of us) who cringe when they hear the words “I’m a Christian”…it is vital that we not only know to whom we belong but also who we are…who we are as Christians in the year 2017 in a time when the world is demanding that we put our money where our mouth is. If we want to be it, we must proclaim it—not just in words but in action.

And, this, this is where we encounter the Gospel today—Peter has spoken aloud the truth that has been revealed to him, Jesus is the Messiah. But the proclamation is not enough and in this passage we hear today, Peter is rebuked with the command, “Get behind me, Satan!”

This does not mean that Peter has become demonic—but rather that he, like the powers of evil who Jesus has already commanded with authority, is being told to fall into line. Get behind me so that you can follow me! This is a command to obedience and an invitation to a way of life. If you want to be my follower than you, by definition, will have to follow me! 

So, what does it mean to follow Jesus. Well, as Jesus himself says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”

I’ve read this sentence in the past as a command to asceticism. Christians ought to deny themselves pleasure and embrace suffering in order to do the “right thing”. But, this reading feels superficial and I think misses the mark, when we see the cross as a means of death rather than a way of life.

When Jesus dies on the cross, the forces of evil in this world are overturned. His resurrection transforms an instrument of death into a means of hope. So, to take up our cross, is to live in such a way that we too overturn the forces of death and from death create new life.   

To carry our cross is to carry life into the midst of the death dealing places in this world. To carry our cross, is to live with the knowledge that death cannot consume us and evil will not win.


And, so, to live in such a way…that is our calling.

So, what are the actions that demonstrate an adherence to the way?

That is fundamentally the question that Paul is tackling in this portion of his letter to the Romans today. A portion that can be understood as a textbook for how to follow Jesus. 

From Romans, to be a Christian you must:

  • ·       love one another and show each other honor;
  • ·       be passionate in your service to God;
  • ·       be hopeful.
  • ·       Be patient when things aren’t going well.
  • ·       Share your money with people in the community who are in need.
  • ·       When people in your community rejoice, rejoice with them.
  • ·       When people in your community are sad, be sad with them.
  • ·       Live at peace with each other and remember that it is not up to you to judge others.
  • ·       Feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, even if they are your enemies…especially if they are your enemies.

I wonder, what our wold would be like if this way was the defining way of all Christians? What words would Google provide to complete the sentence “Christians are…” 

Christians are loving. Christians are honorable. The are empathetic, kind, and generous.

The dominant narrative of Christianity needs to be challenged and it needs to be rewritten. And, it is up to us, the people of St. Clement’s, to rewrite this narrative of modern Christianity by accepting the invitation to get behind Jesus and follow him. 

Get behind, and follow. 

Amen.


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