9/3/2017 Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Romans 12:9-21.
Grace and peace to your from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, my friends, it’s Labor Day weekend and unlike the years that I was in grade school, classes have already begun. How do I know? Not by today’s attendance. After all, this is the last weekend of summer. But I can tell you that traffic has returned to its pre-summer pattern. I found that out on Thursday morning as I attempted to cross to the other side of Worcester and found that it took me 15 minutes longer to get to my destination than it did a week ago.
Ah, school is back in session. Or is it? Did anything really happen the first week back? On Friday, I was waiting in line to pay for an item when I overheard a mother with two young children grousing about the fact that her kids started school on Wednesday and they already had Friday and Monday off. This made me wonder why school even began before Labor Day. And it also made me wonder what is more important…education or vacation.
That’s the question of the day. What is more important to us as individuals, as a society, as people who proclaim the Christian faith? From my experience here at Emanuel, I can tell you that we have 80 children on our rolls that are of Sunday-School age and I expect that maybe one quarter of them will register and of that number half will disappear after the Christmas pageant. For course when it comes to confirmation students, the enrollment is a little better – about half of them will enroll and most will complete the course.
It doesn’t seem to me that many of us are risking very much for our faith these days. I once heard someone describe the average Christian in terms of a person dressed in a deep-sea diving suit, oxygen mask firmly in place, marching resolutely into the bathroom to pull the plug out of the bathtub. Somehow, we have missed the mark and most of our children are getting the same sense of value about Jesus Christ as those two youngsters did about the importance of school on Friday morning.
Carla Barnhill of Christianity Today recently did a survey of several high school students, asking them about people’s perceptions of Christians. She began by asking them what are some of the myths they thought people held about Christians. One young man answered: “People’s picture of a Christian is someone carrying their Bible around, wearing glasses and a suit and tie, walking to church. You know, kind of nerdy.” A young lady replied: “There are also people who say they’re Christians but don’t really do anything about it. They give people the impression that Christians are just like anyone else, that there’s nothing special about being a Christian.”
So what does a Christian look like or should I rephrase it – what should a Christian look like? In Romans, Paul paints a picture of a Christian with the words love, honor, rejoice, patience, harmony, not haughty. Paul concludes the passage by addressing how Christians are to interact with those around them, saying, “Live peaceably,” “never avenge yourselves,” “feed your enemy,” “overcome evil with good.” These are the benchmarks Paul sets for Christian conduct.
Looking at this picture from Romans 12 can make us a bit uncomfortable. In the Christianity Today article one student sums up what it means to be a Christian. He said: “Being a Christian isn’t just a Sunday thing. You have to live it out every day.” And this is something that most of us forget. We can’t live the life God wants for us by confining it to Sunday mornings when we have nothing else on the schedule, nor can we live it by limiting our interaction with people to texting and emailing. A life of faith requires one-to-one contact and interconnection with people. It’s being part of the Christian community of faith.
Sadly, we live in an age where many are missing out on the interaction we so desperately need as a Christian people. We are relational beings and yet, we can graduate college through online courses without ever stepping onto a college campus. We can educate our kids through home schooling. We can send money or collect needed items for causes, like that which has been done to help the victims of last week’s hurricane. We can express our thoughts and “friend people” on Facebook and other social media. We actually may dare to get involved in a walk for the cure for cancer or an ice bucket challenge to support ALS research – and that is good – but this can be done without weeping with those who weep or rejoicing with those who rejoice.
Paul’s benchmark for faithfully living out the Christian faith involves face-to-face interaction. It follows the example of our God who found it important to touch and to be touched; to be part of a community. So rather than sending down his word in stone, he sent his Son to be with us and among us.
Sadly, we live in an age where the sense of community has broken down. We have busied ourselves with so many things that we don’t take the time to preserve in prayer, to extend hospitality to the stranger and to associate with the lowly. Why, we barely have time enough to spend quality time with family and friends. And if there are those who have wronged us or hold different values we label them and dismiss them, making them somewhat less than human, rather than listening and loving and living peaceably with all.
So what do we do? It doesn’t seem to me that many of us are risking very much for our faith – BUT it doesn’t have to stay that way. Jesus risked everything for us and suffered the pain and indignity of the cross. The very least we can do is to ask ourselves the question: what is more important?
Yes, that question requires some soul searching. It may involve some change in priorities. For, it is not enough just to be kind. We are not polite simply because we learned it in kindergarten. We do not share our toys just because others will admire us. Everything we do or do not do is to be based upon what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. So, how we live in this world should be an expression of what we believe and what we believe should shape how we live.
Let that be so. Let us learn to enjoy what it means to be part of God’s family and love one another. Let us weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice so that the world will know that there is indeed something special in being a Christian. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.