Due to the Chilhowee Community’s annual fair, there was no written sermon. Therefore, this sermon was given on Sunday, September 8, 2013:
Maybe My Image of Christianity Needs Adjusting
Today’s question: What does Christianity look like today?
Scripture base: I Corinthians 10:23-31
Consider today’s question. What does Christianity look like? Now think about that in two different contexts—the first 20 years of your life and now. Has your idea of what Christianity looks like the same or is it different?
[The pictures I have brought in to share with you are ones I bought shortly after my appointment to the church. I was fascinated by the different images that they represented. They were so different than the ones planted in my memory or seen on the walls and windows of all the churches I attended or visited.]
My picture of Christianity was established during the 1960s as I sat in the church pew of my home church. I spent many hours looking at the stained glass windows that were at the back of the sanctuary.
In the basement, where we had Sunday school and church dinners, I knew Christianity by the pictures in all the publications—remember the four-page, colorful weekly lessons. I easily recognize the picture of Jesus with all the little children at his knees.
All that I saw created the images of Christianity for me. I also saw Christianity in the farm community. I knew that if you were a Christian, Sunday morning was devoted to Sunday school and worship. No field work on Sunday, in fact, no work as it was a day of rest.
There was no doubt that Christians simply got up, ate breakfast, dressed in their Sunday best, and as a family drove to church by 9 A.M. for Sunday school followed by worship. There was no dropping off the kids and the parents running home or to the store or whatever. In fact, there really was no reason because the stores were closed and there was nothing on TV except religious broadcasts.
On Sunday morning, everybody seemed to follow the same routine and it did not matter whether you were Methodist, Baptist, Catholic or another denomination. We all followed the same pattern. Sunday was for worship and for rest.
The Christianity of my youth probably matches most of yours. The pattern for our lives was established early and we all tried to follow it as we began our families. No one expected change, yet change is inevitable.
Paul’s image of Christianity certainly was challenged during the course of his ministry. Why, just his personal epiphany created a dramatic shift in his perception of religion. One minute he is a Jewish leader persecuting the earliest Christians, the next he is blinded and when he sees, everything is changed. He, himself, is now a picture of Christianity.
Just imagine if you were one of those earliest Christians who knew who Saul was and was trying to avoid running into him when you walk into the next Christian gathering and found him to be the featured speaker! Would you have turned and ran or would you joined in welcoming and learning from him?
The perception of a Christian has changed throughout history. Few changes can compare to that of Saul, the Jew, transformed into Paul, the Christian missionary. Yet review the history of Christianity. Some images are pretty horrific, especially during the Spanish Inquisitions. The fear factor in the Church at that time overruled the freedom factor that Paul preached.
Today we are facing some of the very same issues that the Corinthian Christians were facing. The issues are alarmingly similar—promiscuous behaviors, divorce, greed, false gods, and the list builds. The Corinthian church leaders needed help so they wrote to Paul. He answered them, not once but twice.
Editors have provided a subheading for I Corinthians 10: “Warnings From Israel’s History.” We need such a warning and using the scripture, we find it. We must read it with open minds and hearts recognizing very basic human patterns:
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters,[a] about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. 2 In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 3 All of them ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did,
Reading those verses today, one can almost hear them as an echo. This same warning is repeated by Christian leaders century after century. Why, then, is it so hard for us to heed them?
Each generation must hear the warnings and the lessons in a format they know and understand. The previous generation may not be comfortable with changes, but consider the changes in how we reach church today: some may walk, but most drive. Now where one attends depends on the content rather than the proximity.
The image of Christianity today is very different than my own image formed during the mid-20th century. But the true image of Christianity is not just by appearances; rather it is based on living faith openly. The key verse from 1 Corinthians 10 is 31: 31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
The world in which we currently live is different even from the mid-20th century. Transportation is different meaning the time limitations are less important. Technology has advanced communication into visual as well as audio, from delayed to instant. Data storage is now openly available through the internet so access to information, historical resources, quotes, essays, anything one might need or seek out.
How does this change the image of Christianity? The truth is that it should not change that image at all. The image of Christianity should be the same as it was during the first century and every century since then. But is it?
This is the problem. Christianity is that lifestyle of loving one another. As we wake up in the morning, we praise God that he has given us that day—remember the verse from Psalms 118:24:
This is the day the Lord has made.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Being Christian is living the faith openly despite all the bad that exists in our society, despite all the false gods, despite all the sexual promiscuity, the violence, the greed. We know the difference, and we must live the difference. We are the pictures of Christianity to the world.
Take a snapshot. Study it. Look carefully at what it shows of your Christian image. Is the image you see one that reveals Christ in your life? Is the image going to make others hunger for a Christian life? Is . . . well, consider this from the editors of the Life Application Study Bible:
On a bed of grass, a chameleon’s skin turns green. On the earth, it becomes brown. The animal changes to match the environment. Many creatures blend into nature with God-given camouflage suits to aid their survival. It’ natural to fit in and adapt to the environment. But followers of Christ are new creations, born from above and changed from within, with values and life-styles that confront the world and clash with accepted morals. True believers don’t blend in very well.
Are we new creations in Christ or are we gullible, changing with every new fad or trend that shows up in our culture? Are we able to be Christians in a society that throws so many challenges at our very basic beliefs? Are we able to adapt to the changes in our secular world and find ways to stand out so others will want to be new creations, too?
Only one answer is evident for Christians today: Do all that you can for all you can in all the ways you can for as long as you can, but no matter whatever you do, do to the glory of God. Simply serve for the glory of God.
Dear Loving God,
Help us take a snapshot of our Christian image
so we may see what others see.
Help us to find ways of sharing grace with others
so they may see your love for them.
Help us to keep our faith strong
so Christ’s light shines out across our community.
Guide us in serving one another in love.
Guide us in our own disciplines so we remain God-strong.
Guide us in our own actions serving others.
Keep us alive in Christ.
Keep us in prayer so we may hear you speak.
Keep us in community so others may experience your love.
Thank you, too, for giving us this day,
so we may serve one another in love. –Amen