Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 8, 2014
A family friend raising two young boys used to send them off to school each morning with this advice: Be a distinctive Christian today. Implicit in that challenge: It was up to them to figure out what that meant that day. St. Augustine, when celebrating the eucharist in North Africa in the 4th century, held up the bread and wine and told his congregation: See who you are. Be who you are. He left it to that congregation, convening at a time when the world was falling apart, to figure out what it meant to be the body of Christ. In baptism, perhaps my favorite goose-bump moment occurs when the priest makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the candidate, using oil blessed by the bishop. The oil immediately seeps into the skin, invisible but indissoluble. In that moment, a new identity emerges, as the priest says: You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Each baptized person is then and thus called to go into the world figuring out what it means to bear that new identity.
What are the marks of identity in your life indicating the faith you embrace? Or as one preacher noted: If you were arrested for being a Christian, if you were arrested for being a person of faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you? These questions are meant as challenge not judgment. I want to raise them this Monday morning because if our faith shapes the way we live, that’s worth nothing. If it doesn’t shape the way we live, if it doesn’t in some way call us to a new way of life, then why bother?
I want to raise them because as I’ve been doing reading about why religious observance is dwindling, I hear consistent comments from those identified as “nones”, those who claim no religious observance. When these folks are asked to describe Christians, they often refer to people who are self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, boring, and often, by the way, constitutionally averse to having a good time. Ouch. Too often, in our culture, being a Christian has become identified with taking a particular point of view on one particular social issue, insisting on everyone’s agreement, claiming to be in the right, which has a way of creating division, making somebody else wrong. Way too often, Christians have been on the wrong side of history in terms of issues of justice and peace.
The Acts of the Apostles paints another picture. It tells us that the early church grew exponentially because outsiders looked in at the community of faith, and said: See how they love one another. It grew because people who had been disposable in that culture, children and widows and slaves and aliens were included, were cared for. The doors of welcome and inclusion were surprisingly wide open. What would outsiders conclude from looking at your community of faith, or mine? I confess that I may be the most conflict averse person on the globe, so I hear the challenge from N.T. Wright and G.K. Chesterton (below). We are called to make a difference, even if it stirs things up. And as Christ’s followers, as Christ’s own, we are called to do so in a spirit of love, practicing forgiveness and compassion and kindness and joy. What might that look like today?
– Jay Sidebotham
Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. -Matthew 5:16
Jesus promised his disciples three things-that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble. -G.K.Chesterton
Everywhere St. Paul went, there was a riot. Everywhere I go, they serve tea. You have to ask, are we doing something wrong?” -N.T. Wright
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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