The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
When did you become a Christian? How do you know you are one? Some people make a decision to join a church and be baptized. Does that make one a Christian? For others, someone decided for you, and had you baptized before you could decide for yourself. A few people have a dramatic experience, like Paul, when you get knocked off your feet and turned upside down. However you have come to believe you are a Christian, a common denominator is to realize God loves you fully as you are. But even knowing that won’t make someone a Christian – no more than standing in a garage makes you a car. Nor does joining a church make you a Christian, though I hope it helps. To be a Christian means you decide to follow Jesus.
On the way to Jerusalem and his impending crucifixion, Jesus and friends enter enemy territory. The Samaritans resent Jews for many things, but especially for taking short cuts through their towns on the way to the Holy City. Today Jesus has another reason to cross into Samaria. He goes to preach God’s love and salvation for all, even Gentiles. Yet the Samaritans won’t let him. They rebuff his desire. James and John get defensive, “Jesus, let us call down fire and smite them.” After all, the prophet Elijah did that to smite his enemies. Jesus rebukes the guys. To follow Jesus, means we follow a Savior who brings God’s love to this world – without coercing or threatening anyone with anything. Jesus respects even those who don’t respect him. That’s pretty unnatural for us to do. In this world, we have been taught to get even with those who step on us, not respect them and just walk away. Following Jesus is hard.
A person runs up to proudly tell Jesus, “I’m ready to follow you anywhere.” Jesus knows he’s not, “Right, and you’re willing to give up your bed and home cooked meals to go with me? Think again.”
Jesus spots someone, “Follow me.” “Thanks, I believe I will. But in case my dad dies, I need to be home, you know, family obligations – the Law of Moses, and all. Can you wait for me?” Jesus moves on. Another man volunteers to join Jesus, but he wants to first go tell his family good-bye. “Don’t pull my chain, son. Go on home. You can’t divide your loyalty.” Sometimes we want to follow. We’re just not ready. And the darn thing, Jesus still loves us no matter our decision. Just remember, to follow Jesus means letting go of anger or revenge– and love others as he does. Try it. It’s hard.
Do we ever resist Jesus? You bet. Sometimes we say, “Yes,” to him, and keep him at a distance – even churches do this. I see church ads that invite those whose needs need meeting, “We can meet ‘em.” They offer a buffet of programs for everyone, every concern. They’ll have a series on ten ways to raise your self-esteem, and give you a program to help you achieve whatever selfish desire you want. “We are your one stop, full-service spiritual headquarters — Plus, our church pews have cushions.” That’s not at all what Jesus offers. He says, “Drop what you’re doing and get in line. I’m taking you somewhere you’d never go on your own.” Maybe we need to refocus on following Jesus.
How do we know we are Christians? Christians are those who decide to follow Jesus, or at least try. Being baptized, receiving a certificate, attending Sunday School is great. That gets us in line. But then we must decide if we will follow Jesus, or just hang out. Christians are those who follow Jesus.
Some churches forget to tell new members, “You’ve joined Jesus by joining this church.” We, the church – the people, exist to help others get started, and keep walking with Jesus together. We walk in a new direction. And I hope the world notices we are different. The world tries to help us fit into its agenda. Jesus takes us into the world to change it with God’s love and life.
Jesus will take us places we don’t naturally or easily choose. Instead of looking for what’s wrong in someone, Jesus looks for the good; and so will we. If they brush us off, we wish them well, and mean it – as Jesus does. An old prayer asks God to make us instruments of peace in an unpeaceful and hostile world; to sow love where there’s hatred; pardon those who offend us; maintain faith in a world of doubt and mistrust; bring hope to places of despair; be light in darkness. We console the weary, broken and fearful, rather than seek consolation; we love others unconditionally; serve others, welcome the stranger, take food to the hungry, and love without expectation of return. We follow Jesus. We choose to follow him, a decision that’s more heartfelt than logical, and often demanding and inconvenient.
However you started on the path of being a Christian, whether you chose, or someone chose for you – realize God chooses us first – and God chooses all of us before we are even created. That’s the good news. Then decide what we’ll do with this gift God gives.
Too many Christians think being a Christian is a weekly program or event at the church. Being a Christian is following Jesus into a new way of life. We won’t follow perfectly – we’ll fail sometimes, stumble, fall, even lose sight of Jesus – but God picks us up, dusts us off, and sends us on – if we ask. Let that divine love be the light that calls us on and keeps us faithful and following. God will not let us fail.
So, if you wonder if you’re a Christian — if someone asks if you’re a Christian, with great confidence just say, “I’m trying.” Trying to follow is all that’s asked. Truly, you won’t be asked to do more than that.