Posts Tagged Christian

I Wanna Be SUPER-CHRISTIAN! (Sermon for Advent, 4)

I wanna be Super-Christian!

I want to get up before dawn every morning without fail

and spend three hours in prayer and meditation!

I want to fast twice a week

without thinking once about my waist-line.

I want to be able to perform miracles of healing

and cast out demons,

and diagnose short legs and roots of bitterness

with a single glance of my compassionate eyes,

and then, with a mere gesture or a whispered word,

set people free from whatever it is that binds them.

I want to be so filled with faith that I never have a single doubt

and I never have to work again,

because all my needs are meet by God.

I want to be so free from materialism that I own nothing,

but can still give away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

I want people to immediately think of me

when they’re asked what a great Christian looks like.

And I want to be so immensely humble

that I’m never aware of this mass adulation.

I want to be so good at evangelism

that I just have to walk into a room for everyone to be instantly converted.

I want to be able to read and remember a book of the Bible a day

and actually understand everything I read.

And everything I write

(or at least, everything my researchers write in my name)

becomes an instant best-seller.

And not just in Christian bookshops either.

I want this direct line to God,

so that I always know exactly what He wants me to do

and he always knows exactly what I want Him to do.

And he does it.

Because I’m such a fantastic Christian.

I wanna be Super Christian.

What a pity I’m just me.

And the Bible says this:

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,

but do not have love,

I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

2 And if I have prophetic powers,

and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,

and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,

but do not have love,

I am nothing.

3 If I give away all my possessions,

and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,

but do not have love,

I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient;

love is kind;

love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5 or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,

endures all things.

8 Love never ends.

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;

as for tongues, they will cease;

as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;

10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child,

I reasoned like a child;

when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,

but then we will see face to face.

Now I know only in part;

then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;

and the greatest of these is love. [1]

According to the Bible, nothing else really matters apart from love.

Only love is eternal.

Hope and faith are right up there,

but hope is all about the future

and one day that future will arrive and we will need hope no more.

And faith is our trust in the one who we do not now see,

but one day we will see him face to face

and our faith will be taken up into adoration.

Faith and hope will one day be redundant,

but love…

love is eternal.

When Paul wrote those words to the Corinthians,

he was writing to a church where people saw themselves as super-Christians.

Earlier in this letter he said he was writing to them,

“so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.

7 For who sees anything different in you?

What do you have that you did not receive?

And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?

8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich!

Quite apart from us you have become kings!

Indeed, I wish that you had become kings,

so that we might be kings with you![2]

Paul can be really sarcastic when he wants to be.

To this church full of puffed-up people

who thought that the goal of Christianity is to become super-spiritual

he prescribes a radical change of direction.

It’s not about you, he writes, it’s about other people.

It doesn’t matter if you can speak in tongues or prophecy or move mountains;

what matters is how much you love.

It’s important to anchor Sunday morning sermon thoughts in reality,

so having your own personal examples of what Godly love looks like

is far better than having a few vague words from the pulpit.

So can we just pause for a few minutes

and talk amongst yourselves at your tables.

Ask each other this question:

“Who do I know

or what have I seen

that has shown me what real love is?

1 Corinthians 13 type love?”

Anybody want to share the example of Love they thought of?

Of course, Jesus is the greatest single example of love that we know of.

Paul points us towards him when he wrote to the Philippians:

2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ,

any consolation from love,

any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,

2 make my joy complete:

be of the same mind, having the same love,

being in full accord and of one mind.

(and here’s where he really begins to warm up…)

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,

but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

4 Let each of you look not to your own interests,

but to the interests of others.

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8               he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

This passage is one of the most important Christmas passages in the Bible,

because it talks about Jesus’ birth in the same breath as Jesus’ death,

and it shows us that the birth, no less than the death,

was an act of humility and obedience and love on Jesus’ part.

By entering into creation with us;

by becoming one with the world he made

Jesus healed the division between creator and creation.

In his body He is the bridge between heaven and earth.

And in his embrace of creation,

his holding and enfolding of sinful humanity into the inner life of the Trinity,

he didn’t stop at the manger

but continued to the cross and the grave.

Manger scenes tend to be prettily painted and very sweet.

I’ve done that myself.

The danger is that we miss the amazing indecency of what actually happened!

There was the out-of-wedlock conception,

There was the long journey in the final days of pregnancy,

There was the inability to find a decent room,

and the agony of birth – amongst animals!

There was the use of a feed-trough as a cradle.

There was a frightened and jealous king

who slaughtered an entire village of baby boys,

and there was a frantic flight by night from the danger zone

and being a refugee in a foreign land.

Jesus birth wasn’t especially pretty or lovely.

It wasn’t even a standard first century birth;

It was awful.

It was a pointer to the death that was to follow.

When God chose to close the gap between us,

he didn’t just come to the good things and the good people;

he came to the lowest of the low – shepherds and tax-gatherers.

Foreign astrologers and village no-bodies.

And in becoming human, Jesus embraced sin, and pain, and sickness

– and death.

Even death on a cross.

It is because God has entered into the very worst of human evil

and has destroyed it from the inside

that we have hope today.

Jesus has kicked down the doors of death

and thrown open the gates of the grave.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Christmas is the beginning of Easter

and Easter is the completion of Christmas.

The two holidays cannot be understood apart from one another.

This has obvious implications for us:

This means that Christmas is not all about getting stuff

but is all about giving to people.

Giving hope and forgiveness.

Giving respect, and care and attention and compassion;

those things that mean so much more than stocking-fillers

and make such an amazing difference in the lives of lost individuals.

Please turn again to those around you, or simply sit and ponder,

and  ask yourselves:

“what can I do this Christmas that will make a difference for someone else?”

(Close in prayer)

[1]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[2]NRSV, 1 Cor 4:6-8

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On Being a Christian (with thanks to Hans Kung)

There’s a problem with that title – right there, in the verb.  Being.  There’s a problem that we can all too easily slip into an either-or mode of thinking about reality, and make our faith all about ‘being’ and nothing at all about ‘doing’.  In this version of reality, my ‘being’ Christian is something static. It is the way I am, like the colour of my skin or the length of my nose or my place of birth.  There might be some slow, minor developments over the years, but it is essentially always the same.

Yet Jesus taught us that those who love him (and that’s a good definition of Christian, right there) would DO what he commanded.  He taught that the highest expression of godliness is love.  And love is active.  The writings of the earliest Christians and our records of Jesus’ teaching (the New Testament) abound with instructions for how to act.  It’s all too easy for us to slip into a somnambulant state of ‘being’ in which all is well with my soul – and the rest of the world can go to hell.  And that’s why Christianity is an ‘activist’ religion. Because the world – the lives of individuals and families all around us – are full of pain and suffering.  God rejects the idea that human pain and suffering are normal and we just have to ‘toughen up’ and ‘get over it’, and comes to us to bring liberation and celebration.  That’s the whole story of the scriptures, climaxing in Christ’s Cross and resurrection, and looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.

So because we have an activist God – a God on a mission – we get to go along for the ride, and we even get to play our part in God’s mission of bringing Shalom – peace with Justice – to the earth he created and loves.  And so we are busy with the business of God’s kingdom.  Doing works of righteousness and love.  Bringing peace and truth to the earth.

So if ‘doing’ is so central to Christianity, how come I’m writing about ‘being’ Christian?

Because even though you can’t really keep being and doing separate (unless you’re involved in Greek philosophy) there is this essential point to be made – that who we are in Christ is in fact more important that what we do.  The doing comes out of the being.  Because I’m Christian, I do stuff, but I’m not Christian because I do stuff.  I’m Christian because of what God has done – and is doing – in and for me.  We talk of God saving us, reconciling us, adopting us, healing us, redeeming us, purchasing our lives from the slavery of sin and setting us free.  In many different ways we describe what God has done for us, and the upshot of it all is that I have a different life now, and a different status.  I am different.  If before I was a slave, now I am free.  If before I was an orphan, now I belong in a Holy family.  If before I was sick unto death, now I am healed and whole and well.  These are differences in my basic being.  Before I was mortal and my life was no more than a brief flicker of existence across the inky darkness of infinity.  Now I am eternal, sharing by the Spirit in the resurrection of Christ, and through him, the immortality of God.

Because who I am is different, what I do is different, too.  My human doing is meant to reflect my human being.  But being comes first.

Putting ‘being’ first has certain consequences.  It means that we don’t fall into the trap of legalism; making our status dependant upon a certain set of actions; “You’re only Christian / saved / one of the elect if you do things our way.”  Putting ‘being’ first undercuts all the human power plays by which we seek to control one another.  No-one else can give or take from me the status that God has given.

Putting ‘being’ first leaves me without protection from God; I can’t hide my sin behind a cloak of religious respectability – ticking all the boxes on the outside, but continuing to be filled with envy, lust, fear, greed, sloth, pride, and anger on the inside.  My ‘good works’ aren’t good enough.  Only God’s work is good enough to save me from these things, and so I need him to have and to hold the real me.  I need to lay down my religious defenses long enough to let God make me his own, and bring me healing and hope.

Putting ‘being’ first means that what I end up doing is done with integrity.  I do it, not because it’s what others have told me is right, or it’s what others want me to do, so much as because it is consistent with my true nature as God’s beloved child in Christ.  Because it’s consistent with what God himself is doing.

I’m an activist.  I want to do so much and I want to make a difference, and I want to see God’s kingdom unfolding in the lives of those around me, and I believe that I might have a role to play in that – by God’s grace.  I am an activist, but only because I am in the hands of an active God.  It is who I am in Christ that makes me what I am.  Being Christian leads inevitably to Christian action, but it is ‘being’ that comes first.

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