given on Sunday, May 3, 2015:
Fads come and go: a new look, a new food, a new toy, a new technique, a new design, or a new hobby. As much as we do not want to admit it, we all go through the experience of trying out a fad. Looking at the big picture of our lives, the fads usually do not damage our lives, so we tend to shrug our shoulders and look past different fads.
One of the more recent fads that might baffle some of us is the trend of wearing two different colored socks—one on one foot and the other color on the opposite foot. When I first started seeing it, I would quietly go up to a student and mention it and ask if they had a difficult morning. They all thought I was nuts.
The origin of fashion fads may not be very clear, but some fads do have a base in a scientific study or an observation that became noteworthy and thus publicized as the newest way to improve or to do something. I wonder if the earliest Christians were perceived as a fad.
Consider this: the Jewish people were well entrenched in their way of life. The structure for the week had worked as well as anything else for them. The successful businessmen would not need to see anything change because it might upset the profitable work they had created.
Everybody knew what was expected of him or her. Men ran the business or the farm. Women had to maintain the house; kids even understood they had a role in the culture, and the rhythm of life preserved the standards they knew.
Oddly the Jewish culture was centered on the faith that waited for a new leader. The leaders of that faith kept the story well taught, but when Jesus was born and grew into the adult minister that our generation now identifies as the leader, the Jewish culture could not accept it as anything more than a fad.
Today is a first Sunday of the month, and we celebrate communion. We certainly do not see this ritual as a fad, but did the ancient Jewish families just see it as a fad or did they quickly embrace the practice as evidence of their commitment to God?
Have you ever wondered if you would have said Christianity was just a fad and ignored it; or would you have joined the movement committed to its mission?
As the weeks after the crucifixion continued, the earliest believers dealt with an enormous set of challenges. First, the leader was gone after only three years of ministry. Who, if anybody, would take over?
Then, if Jesus was executed, was it even safe to be Christian? How would they live what they believed if they feared for their lives? Do they hide? Do they run away from their homes? Do they think that it was just a fad and return to the old ways?
Today’s scripture gives us insight into the transition early followers made into a new Christian lifestyle. First, some did return to the old ways of the Jewish faith. Some gave up all their possessions and joined into communal living arrangements, many located on the northern coast of Africa. These newest Christians were expecting the second coming of Jesus any moment. And then there were others who openly lived the new beliefs regardless of their future.
For those who continued openly living their beliefs, Christianity was no fad. The old ways were re-evaluated under the lessons Jesus taught. The new leaders were Jesus’ handpicked and trained disciples. They did not run away and hide, they began the work Jesus commissioned them after Jesus’ resurrection:
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[b] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The earliest Christians quickly had to adapt to the change they had witnessed. The work started and the ‘fad’ of Christianity became a solid faith system that has transformed the world.
The earliest Christians had to face persecution, to demonstrate God’s new covenant: Love one another. The crucifixion could not shut down the simplicity of living the Christian lifestyle. The results were fruitful and the ‘fad’ was no longer just the latest crazy idea.
The love that is defined in today’s scripture from 1 John 4 and even included in the gospel of John so dramatically changed the faith practices that it made a difference to every culture. Loving one another supersedes all other laws. It is adaptable to all cultures. It can be flexible and it can tackle enormous disasters or the smallest of paper cuts.
These qualities have caused the earliest Christians to spread the word about how much God loves us, and how that love is demonstrated in all the different ways we love one another. Christianity has never been a fad, and the adaptability has made it grow exponentially around the earth.
Today, we are locked into a routine that has boxed us in as Christians much less as a Christian community. The small rural churches are struggling to meet the ever-changing culture around them. Are we able to adapt God’s law to the daily world in which we live today?
Are we able to be honest about the changes in the community? Are we able to identify the needs within the community? Are we clear about what the church is doing or can do or should be doing to demonstrate love in action? Are we able to share the story in ways that all neighbors young and old can understand?
The scripture in 1 John 4 is very clear:
- 7“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another; for love comes from God.
- 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
- 12God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13And God has given us his spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.
- 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
This is the foundation for the Christian faith. No matter what rules or organizational structure is placed upon a church or a denomination, God’s gift of love as demonstrated through the life and death and resurrection of his son. Are we satisfied to leave the story just like that or are we going to do whatever we can to share the story but maybe more importantly show God’s love?
The scripture from 1 John 4 continues with a few more clear directives:
- 19We love each other because he loved us first.
- 20 . . . if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?
The truth about what we are doing can be painful and it can make us feel as though we are guilty of not fulfilling our promise to God. Christianity was no fad, and the thousands of years since the crucifixion the church has continued to adapt to the cultural changes.
Regrettably, I am afraid that many of the suggested changes for today’s churches are being ignored as though they are just a fad. We must evaluate what the church is doing, what it represents, and then design the best practices the church can do to keep Christianity meeting the needs of the community right now in 2015 and into the future, not the past.
As May scurries past us, we need to equip ourselves for making disciples of Christ. Can this church adapt to the culture around it in order to share God’s love?
The gospel of John 15 explains the proper way to prune a grapevine in order to provide the best fruit. We have heard that message year after year, but are we being honest about how strong our vine is here? That fourth verse spells it out:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
The needs of the community provides for the direction of the church’s ministry. The outreach of the church is our personal responsibility. This month is one to evaluate and to plan for a new year. We must remember the eighth verse, too: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
We are tasked to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world and we know this world has many needs. The Christian faith was no fad, but it takes adaptability in order to continue the work God assigned to each and every one of us.
Dear Loving Father,
Thank you for the gift of your son
And even the meaningful ritual of communion.
At these times, may we reflect that love
Right here in our community
So others may come to know your love, too.
Guide us in looking for ways to share the word.
Guide us in working together to help others.
Guide us in the decisions as to what is best
For the community and for the church
As we work to adapt in ways to share your love.
May all that we do show others the love
That transpires all struggles in our lives. –Amen