Sunday, July 6, 2014 Pentecost 4 – Image problems, and maybe a solution

Christians are . . . What?

What is the image of the Christian? I offer to you some suggestions harvested from a posting in The God Article blog by Rev. Mark Sadlin. The post highlights some of the characteristics of the Christian as indicated by some of the things that Christians have a tendency to say, even well-meaning Christians like you or me.

Christians are deterministic. Deterministic is a big word for everything happens for a reason. I find this to be most obvious and offensive amongst our sporting stars, you know, the ones who cross themselves before stepping up to bat, or at the beginnings of important games.

They’re the ones who make sure that you know that they are praying before they play and that if things go right, then God was on their side from the beginning.

Most telling however, and why people think that Christians are deterministic in their thinking is what they say when things go wrong, when they do not prevail on the field of athletic endeavor that particular day.

They say things like, “Well, I guess it wasn’t God’s will that we win today.” Or something equally stupid and all of Christianity takes a little hit in credibility in the process. Is it possible that God likes the Red Sox more than the Royals, given their records for the past thirty years or so, I think a case could be made for that, but what those athletes fail to recognize is that both teams probably have players praying, fans praying, managers praying. Is God really going to take sides in such a contest, determining the outcome from the beginning of beginnings so that the Red Sox win is simply something pre-ordained? Why show up at all if that is the case? Why try hard?

I want one of the reporters in the locker room to ask the player who says things like that the following question, “So, Billy Ray, was it God who hung that curve ball in front of that 275 pound bruiser from Omaha, or was that you?”

When we pretend that we do not have a say in the outcome of things, that God is always pulling all the important levers and twisting all the vital dials up in heaven somewhere (seriously, over a ballgame?) then we announce to the world that there is no point in trying to change things, to make things better, we will always be thwarted by God’s will at unexpected moments and then we will throw up our hands and nobly surrender to God’s will and go home.

Maybe we should stop saying things like that, eh; stop pretending that everything happens for a reason? We are not puppets, God didn’t need new toys to play with when we were created. We are active participants in our own lives; maybe we should start acting like it?

Another one? How about this one: Christians are silly enough to worship a God they don’t trust very much, or even like very much. The example for this one is “God never gives us more than we can handle.

Hold on a second, God gives us things to handle? Did God crash the economy so that you lost your job so that you lost your home so that some days are soul-crushing experiments in trying to hold yourself and your family together in the face of debt and uncertainty? GOD did that? Why, to see if we’d buckle? I do not believe in such a God, for the record, neither did Luther, who wrote in the Small Catechism in response to the lord’s prayer where we pray that God lead us not into temptation, “God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”

This is just an extension of the previous problem, that god is just playing with us, testing us at every turn to find our breaking point. It’s as if some Christians think that God is a really big nine-year-old boy, toying with a captured lizard, not in cruelty, but in ignorant curiosity.

God already knows our breaking point. (point to cross) God was there with and for us and there is no reason in the world to think that God gives us trials or tribulations, the world we live in does a fine job of that. Maybe we’d be better off remembering that there is no problem that God cannot handle and that in turning to God, to the body of Christ, that the strength and the support we need might be found.

Christians also think that they are special. They say things like “There but for the grace of God go I” as if God were dispensing grace with an eyedropper, picking and choosing where it will land, favoring some and not others; going so far as to favor some and to condemn others.

Remember when Jesus said, “the poor will be with you always?” he wasn’t making a statement about what God’s intention for the world was, but rather that the world isn’t going to just heal itself, that the disciples of Christ, from the big twelve all the way down through history to you and to me, are not going to solve all of the world’s problems, even in Jesus name.

But that doesn’t mean that it is some kind of contest, to see who wins the most of God’s grace, God’s grace doesn’t work like that. It is not coming with an eye-dropper it is coming with a fire hose, a thousand times a thousand fire hoses and everybody gets the same inundation, the same drowning flood so stop claiming special grace, you worked hard, got lucky a few times, and the system of mankind worked for you and not so much for them, and you don’t know why it worked for you and not for them so stop trying to interpret. Do as God wills and love your neighbor as yourself.

You might even go so far as to follow Luther’s call in his explanation of the seventh commandment, anybody remember which one that is? (wait for reply) “We should fear and love God that we may not take our neighbor’s money or property, nor get them by false ware or dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business that his means are preserved and his condition is improved.”

Maybe spend a little less time saying that God has favored you over your neighbor and a little more time coming up with ways to spread God’s favor and be a good neighbor, and a good Christian in the meanwhile. Maybe just try it from time to time, what could it hurt?

It is good to be thankful for the grace that has been given to you, we could all stand to do a little more of the whole gratitude thing. When you start deciding who is and who isn’t within God’s umbrella of grace, however, you are getting a little big for your britches, and giving Christianity a black eye in the meantime.

And of course, no analysis of Christianity as seen in the actions and heard in the words of those who claim the name would be complete without the notion that Christians are all, well, what’s the right word . . . Judge-y?

Now to be fair, I am a fair hand at casting aspersions, I was on the varsity aspersions team at seminary, but have you noticed how many religious leaders, and not just Christian ones, have a tendency to be very finger-pointy? Hurricanes? “It’s the fault of the gays!” they cry. Bad economy? “It’s the Jews!” they used to wail out loud but now, thankfully, have to whisper. If you lost your job it’s because of lack of industry, if your marriage broke up it must have been because of your lack of faith, if your child has become a devotee of Lady GaGa it is a sign that you didn’t spank her enough when she was a child (we actually have a book in the Library that says that, I kept the book but labeled it “toxic”).

You’d think we all floated around on little clouds of righteousness to hear some Christians talk about how much better the world would be if only we were in charge of it because, after all, we’ve done such a good job of being in charge of it in the past.

Maybe it’s because I spend so much time thinking about the confession and forgiveness, so much time thinking about how grace saved me and not, you know me saving me, so much time reading Luther that I cannot bring myself to tell other people how to do things and claim that it is my Christianity that gives me that right.

I have no problem telling other Christians, it should be noted, but only because I am a firm believer in cleaning your own house before you criticize someone else’s.

Christianity did not give you special graces. If God loves you more than other people it is by the barest of margins and only then because God knows that more can be expected from you because of your faith. Jesus is the King of Kings, not you, you are a footman in the Holy household at best and while that is better than serving some other god, it is not enough for you to puff up your chest and opine about how you have the true and righteous path and that others should follow you.

While I was reading this and thinking about the ways in which Christians are perceived, I started wondering, “why aren’t Christians thought of as surprising? Why don’t we spend our time seeing what the expectations of the world are for us and then spend a little more time confounding them?”

The reason that there are memes out there in the world about how Christians are is because we have a tendency to think inside the box, and even worse, allow other people to build the box so we can climb in.

The sit in the marketplace and call out the tune and we start dancing. They wail and we mourn as if it was the calling of the Christian to do as we are told, to be what other people expect us to be.

What would happen if we just refused?

What if instead of saying “God never gives us more than we can handle,” when tragedy strikes, we actually asked, “how can I help?” or even better, just offered what strength we get from our faith to them, free of charge, just because we are Christian?

What if, when we spot injustice in the world that we think is wrong, that our faith tells us is not what God would have be the truth for the creation; we actually took a pass from the microphone and simply rolled up our sleeves and set about making it right, wearing our heart on our sleeve, risking something precious like our time or our reputations for the sake of the creation just because we are Christian?

What if we just decided to live out our callings to love and to nurture and kept our fingers to ourselves instead of pointing them in judgment? How much could it mean to have people thriving in the world by virtue of their faith and having their only witness be their thriving?

What could they say about Christians then? What might they think?

I don’t know the answer, but I do hope that they might find us a bit more surprising, that faith makes us act and react differently from other people, that we might do the things and be the people we are called by faith to be.

Because all of those things that characterize Christians in this sermon, those arfe things they could say about anyone, Christians are not special in their judge-y ness or their belief that they are special or their determinism so why not try and actually be special.

The yoke is easy, the burden light and it’ll surprise the heck out of them and that will be the most fun of all. And faith ought to be fun don’t you think?


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