SERMON ~ November 6, 2022 ~ “Being Christian”

November 6, 2022 ~ Proper 27 ~ Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98; Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Being Christian

“Jesus said to them, said to the Sadducees, ‘The children of this age marry each other but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age to come and in the resurrection from the dead do not take husbands or wives. Indeed, they can no longer die— like angels they are children of God, since they are children of the resurrection.’” — Luke 20:34-36.

In an article the late theologian Marcus Borg once asked a pertinent question. “What does it mean to be Christian?” Please note, Borg did not say “What does it mean to be a Christian?” but rather, “What does it mean to be Christian?”

Borg then asked the next obvious question. “What makes a person Christian?”

Borg wrote the article with these questions not to provide criteria for deciding who is and who is not a Christian. It was not about separating sheep from goats, about deciding who is or is not voted off the island. Rather, the article asked ‘what lies at the heart of being Christian?’

Being Christian, said Borg, is not about believing a set of statements which might be construed as right. However, the notion that Christianity is about believing a set of dogmas is a widespread phenomena. And the roots of this started a long time ago.

Borg said seeing Christianity simply, even only as a set of beliefs took some of its shape with the advent of the Reformation of the 1500s and gained momentum toward solidifying this concept with the dawn of the Enlightenment in the 1600s. Of course, seeing Christianity as only a set of beliefs continues today in many quarters.

Indeed, Protestants often distinguished themselves from, for instance, Catholics by using comparisons between lists of what they believe and what Catholics believe. The opposite is also true— Catholics separate themselves from Protestants in the same way. Needless to say, Protestants often divide into multiple denominations and churches by distinguishing themselves from others using comparisons between lists of beliefs.

Because we ignore the origins of this, not only do we tend to miss that they stirred to life in the 1500s and 1600s, but we do not realize that by drawing lines of beliefs into distinct units back then, people were merely mirroring what happened in the world, in the culture of that era. Insisting on differences largely happened because there was a change in understanding the ways in which we humans know things.

You see, the Reformation leads to the Enlightenment— no Reformation no Enlightenment, case closed. Once the Enlightenment dawns, it calls into question many conventional ideas people had since serious study begins as to why things really happen.

Therefore, people start to realize realities— realities like the earth is, perhaps, not at the center of the universe. Creation, perhaps, did not take six days to complete. [1]

So, having listed some of the ideas the Enlightenment questioned— a concept of an earth centered universe, etc.— all that baggage— the real question becomes were these ideas ever actually involved in a real understanding of Christianity? Or were these ideas merely pre-Enlightenment cultural constructs not particularly associated with a sense of the reality of God? (Slight pause.)

These words are found in Luke/Acts in the section commonly called Luke. “Jesus said to them, said to the Sadducees, ‘The children of this age marry each other but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age to come and in the resurrection from the dead do not take husbands or wives. Indeed, they can no longer die— like angels they are children of God, since they are children of the resurrection.’” (Slight pause.)

In that same article Borg noted the Nicene Creed begins with the Latin word credo. Credo is commonly translated as “I believe.” But the Latin root of credo does not mean I believe. It means “I give my heart to.”

So this ancient creed does not mean “I believe the following affirmations are literally true.” Rather, it means “I give my heart to God” the creator of all that is.

Borg did note the language of “belief” has been part of Christianity from the first century onward, by far predating the Reformation and the Enlightenment. But, especially when culturally imposed precepts are taken into account in the era before the Reformation, religious belief did not refer primarily to believing things.

Again using the history of language to help us understand what changed, Borg notes the word believe was taken from a word in a more ancient form of English called Middle English. That word is “belove.” Hence, the meaning of believe was to ‘belove.’

To belove meant to love God so much that one committed one’s self to a relationship filled with attentiveness and faithfulness. Commitment to God and fidelity to God are the ancient and the original meanings of faith and believing. (Slight pause.)

I think when we carefully read the conversation Jesus has with the Sadducees we realize the response we hear does not address rules about brothers and a widow. Nor does it contain a distinct delineation or a definition about resurrection. Why?

It is clear the Sadducees were trying to trick Jesus into making a proclamation on the topic. Jesus realizes it and responds with an overarching concept: God lives.

And a God who lives is a God Who both beloves and to Whom we should give our heart. A living God, this God who loves, is a God with Whom we need to be in an attentive, faithful and loving relationship.

In short, once you start digging into history it becomes clear Christianity is not about a set of rules or dogmas or strictures. Christianity is about your heart, about having a relationship with a living God Who loves and Who calls us to be in a relationship with one another, calls us to belove one another. (Pause.)

All that having been said I want to change gears, big time. Trust me— I shall come back to God Who loves. This is the time of the year most churches enter into what might be called the stewardship season. The Kellogg Church is no exception.

So I met with the Board of Finance last week. A letter about stewardship, the making of a financial commitment to the church for next year, will be sent out this coming week.

Now my bet is you’re saying, what kind of gear change, what kind of segue is that? Well, let me unpack it by first addressing the practical, the reality of our lives.

We all make decisions about our finances. Often finances are formed by down to earth judgments like “how much money do I have in my budget to do XYZ.”

When it comes to stewardship, sound financial decisions are in order. Never give more than you are able. That makes no sense.

Next, whatever you give, please give not because you feel there is some rule about it. Please give because you love God and you love the people of God here gathered, the people called by God to be in this community of faith, this congregation. I think giving because you love God and the people of God is the only way giving to a church makes sense.

So give because you think that we— we as a church— in loving God and neighbor strive to do the work of God. In fact, I have looked at the budget figures for the current year and the proposed figures for next year. I can thereby affirm this based on my own experience: a lot of churches would be proud to devote as much of their budget to mission as the people of this church. (Slight pause.)

All that brings me back to loving God and loving the people of God. Just like belief, stewardship is not about rules. Stewardship is not even about money.

Stewardship is about our love of God and our love for the people of God, people called to be a part of this congregation. And so may we, the people of God here gathered, strive to continue to love God and together do the work of mission to which we are called by God. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “It is said the Hebrews did not have a theology. The Hebrews did theology. Is Christianity about dogma, rules, about having a theology? No. Christianity is about loving God and loving neighbor. Christianity is about doing the work of God, about doing theology. Christianity is about doing theology with your heart.”

BENEDICTION: We can find the presence of God in unexpected places. God’s light leads us to places we thought not possible just moments ago. God’s love abounds and will live with us throughout eternity. The grace of God is deeper than our imagination. The strength of Christ is stronger than our needs. The communion of the Holy Spirit is richer than our togetherness. May the one triune God sustain us today and in all our tomorrows. Amen.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s