The following is a transcript of my introductory homily setting the stage for what will be a series of sermons based upon The Heart of Christianity, by Marcus Borg. It comes as my first re-introduction to the congregation after having been on holiday the prior two weeks. As has been our pattern, my family spent those two weeks on the Florida Gulf Coast.Well, you never know what you'll hear and over hear when you're sprawled out on the beach. In the same afternoon, I caught snippets of two different conversations all the while I have my copy of "The Heart of Christianity" in my hands which I found I started using as a shield to cover my surprise, disgust and insatiable interest in what was going to be said next.
The first was a conversation in which a mother was talking about how proud she was of her daughter and her performance in a church play. Apparently, there's this church in Mississippi that is featuring an original production of a play written by the pastor. The play has to do with the "rapture," and this little girl who refuses the mark of a bar code on her forehead. She is declines the "mark of the anti-christ," and she is killed for her stance. At the end, though, there is triumph as the lights go bright, and she is escorted back on stage alive hand in hand with Jesus. So moving is this dramatic moment that the house erupts in tears, cheers, and applause.
And I'm going "Oy, vey, let me get this book up a little closer to my face!"
Another conversation I'm overhearing later occurs in the afternoon as Jack is playing on the beach near the water. I'm down with him as he's playing. Nearby there is this gathering of young people. 20 somethings. And they are in an animated conversation. I really wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but it was so loud I couldn't help it. When I heard the words, "PeaceCorps, " and "anti-Christian," I was hooked.
One young man was so zealous in his belief, that, while I think he's completely off base, his passion caught my attention. His argument was that people who join the PeaceCorps won't see the need in going to church, therefore, according to his logic, the PeaceCorps is anti-Christian.
And that's where we are as we start this series isn't it?
The truth is that each of us is on a journey as it relates to any and everything dealing with what it means to be a "Christian."
Some of us were born into it. One way of looking at that is to say that we didn't have any choice.
Ask any preacher's kids growing up -
Many of you were born into it - baptized into it. The Church kept is vow and provided a safe place for you to grow and know the ways of faith until such a time that you claimed for yourself the vows made for you as a child.
Some of you came to Christianity as a result of a radical encounter with God, and the Christian life is the antithesis of the one you've been living.
The revival era, at its best, captures the hearts of those whose lives are "turned around."
However it is that you touch this Christian journey, there are some things that are true. If my one afternoon on the beach is any indication, and I happen to know that is, then I have full confidence to say that I know that you know, work with, are related to, love, or struggle to love someone who calls themselves "Christian," the same word that you call yourself, but the expression of their Christianity is not one that looks comfortable, desirable, or even resembles what you understand it to be.
How is this so?
How is it so that Christianity can be so different?
Over the next several weeks, we're going use Borg's book as a guide to try to figure that out. We're not here to worship Marcus Borg, please spare me. But we are going to let his points shine light on our questions. And as I have done with my previous sermon series, especially when employing a book, I come into with several assumptions based upon my years in ministry and my own practice of Christian faith.
I'm guessing, assuming, that you and I, at various points in our journey, maybe even right now, find that we are not the "Christian" we were, and we wonder if that's good or not.
In fact, if the consideration of our Christianity, we compare it someone else that we know. Am I as "Christian" as she is?
Am I "Christian" enough to do "X?"
We measure our Christian faith against someone else. And when we do that, we rob ourselves on the moment of "now" to recognize the God that is and the God that seeks to be in each of us.
We're going to talk about some fundamental things over the next several weeks. Faith, the Bible, Jesus, God, What a Christian life looks like.
If you've ever wondered to yourself about how Christianity can be so broad, and that broadness is the stuff of constant, incessant infighting, this series can lead you in that. It'll be a bit abstract at times, but if that's where your journey takes you, then that's o.k.
But I really want to push you to consider your personal journey.
How can I, six weeks from now, know something different about my relationship with God, through Jesus, that I don't have right now, and how can that feed me and motivate me in the dailyness of my living.
The only quote from Borg, other than the spiritual reading shared earlier, is this one, and it is my prayer that six weeks on this line is true for you:
"The Christian life is about relationship with God that transforms the present."
I belief that is the "heart of the matter."
A Christianity that only considers what will be one day, that disregards the present for concerns of the afterlife and not think about the transformative moment that is now misses the boat, and is not hearing Jesus.
In how much of your Christian journey do you seek the transformation of this moment?
This moment becomes different.
This moment becomes "grace-full."
That this is the moment we can tap into what Peterson's treatment of Matthew describes so well as the "unforced rhythms of grace."
If we can get to that place, were the transformative power of now pervades our hearts, then there is no room for argument and conflict within the Christian family. That doesn't mean we all have to think just alike. We don't all have to be "Christian" alike. But we do embrace what is in common - God, Jesus and that prime moment of now to make a witness of extraordinary love to cast out all our fear.
And we need to come to this place. Because do you know what's going on as the Christian community argues among its own? People, those ordinary people that Jesus revealed himself to, are struggling to figure out how to make it, how to pay their rent, buy their gas, how they're going to survive, how they're going to be in community and if there will even be a welcoming community there at all to provide them sanctuary.
Real people with real issues. That's who Jesus came for. Right here. Right now.
That is the heart of the matter.