What is the purpose of being a “Christian?” Is it a “get out of Hell pass?” Is it about “saving souls” from God’s wrath? Is it waiting to be sucked up in the “rapture” and going to “heaven?” Or maybe creating a “Christian Nation” through political power and legislation? Or as many a TV preacher pedals, about securing “health, wealth and physical healing through Miracles?”
Or…is it rather, simply about creating a more compassionate world? “Loving your neighbor as your self.” Where the will of God is being done “on earth as it is in heaven” as Jesus taught us to pray. Is it about participating in the ancient Jewish concept of “Tikkun Ha Olam,” fixing the broken world systems that dehumanize, oppress, brutalize people with greed, hoarding and oppressive power?
Is it about helping humanity recognize it’s common “image” in God, our responsibility to be our “brothers keeper” as Genesis proclaims? Is it about helping those who are born into this world at a huge disadvantage simply because of the spot on earth they happen to be born into?
Is it the mission Jesus announced to “proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the imprisoned, sight to the blind, liberation of the oppressed?”
Is it a responsibility to administer the resources of the planet entrusted by God to his Man and Woman? To be “fruitful and multiply!” Caring for it, sharing it, distributing it with equity not waste. Jesus described a judgement with these words “For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me, sick and you gave me care, imprisoned and you didn’t forget about me!” And the flabbergasted righteous asked “Lord, when did we do that?!” And he answered “I tell you truth, what you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me!”
With many so called “Christian’s” pontificating about who we should vote for, who we should share a bathroom with or bake a cake for, who can get married, who is worthy of love and who isn’t, it begs the question. What is the purpose of being a Christian?
I’d like to submit for your consideration, that sharing “the good news of Jesus” is our purpose! But this “news” isn’t good for anybody unless his followers actually get out of bed in the morning and seek to emulate the one they claim to follow!
When Jesus took on the task that his disciples believed was well below their dignity at the Last Supper. And he washed their filthy feet, he said “I have set before you an example that you should do as I’ve done for you!” He rammed home that nothing is “below us” in serving humanity. He also stated “I tell you truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works…!” Wow. Greater! Really? How??? Jesus said “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Thats how! What was one person in space and time is now expanded through us followers, like a single dandelion catching the breeze and exploding its seeds, distributing the Jesus presence throughout the whole garden.
So if Jesus is our “example,” (the Greek word actually means the one we trace, pattern, our life over) why do so few Christians look like him?
Why are American Christians in the midst of a historic world wide refugee crisis reluctant to even “consider” how to help? And notice I say “consider!” Because helping others is complex. It takes work, thought, planning. Simply throwing the doors open carte blanche singing “kumbaya my lord” is not thoughtful consideration, and is not only dangerous but irresponsible. There are very legitimate security and safety issues, very real threats to “work through.” And I’d also add taking Syrians for example, and converting them into “Americans” is disastrous to maintaining their identity and culture. But if believers simply block refugees and immigrants of pursuing a safer life, only to be sent back to a impoverished and violent homeland, what’s the point of being a Christian?
For Americans who gather in churches every Sunday to worship a brown skinned Middle Eastern Messiah, only to then exit that church and choose self-preservation, passively support systemic oppression that plunders the poor, create’s horrific wage disparity, keeps the rich getting richer, withholds basic health care and discriminates in our education institutions, Justice system, work place, then what’s the goddamn meaning of being a Christian? (And if you are more horrified that I cussed than at the truth of what I’m saying you’re part of the problem)
May we ponder that as we celebrate the illegitimate birth of a dirt poor, terrorized, refugee. And then at Easter, after a state sanctioned execution of “The Prince Of Peace” by an authoritarian regime, His being raised to indestructible life by the power of His Father. Paul bellows “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death…”
This Messiah now invites us to “pick up your cross and follow” Him into that death and life. Why? To save us from hell?? SMH.
He calls us to “follow” Him, in combating the sexism, racism, hate, shame, pride, greed, waste and degradation of his children (our brothers and sisters) in the world just as he did!
So what will we do? We can’t “follow him” living in abject fear of the stranger. We can’t love God and others by rejecting our neighbors, building taller walls that ultimately only imprison us!
We celebrate a “good” God, who created a “good” world! How then can “good news” be seen by our brothers and sisters if we don’t show it!? How can we say “God is just” and keep silent in the face of injustice? How can they believe “God is love” when we fail to love our neighbor and yes, even our enemy as our Lord did himself directed us? How can we say “have faith” when we don’t show any?
When I look at the emblem of our religion, an empirical device of torture and execution meant to shame, dehumanize, intimidate. And I think of those early followers of Jesus in its shadow. What promise did they receive for following Jesus!? Political power, military might, a better standard of living, more personal security, better health, a bigger bank account, social status? Nope, in fact it was the opposite. In fact our “Jesus family” our ancient ancestors, suffered brutal persecution and martyrdom as they set out to repair the world in Jesus name. But for His sake they were broken and poured out willingly, to start the repairs. And fixing they did. When plagues and famine ravished the empire and people fled and hoarded, the Jesus first responders stayed and tended to the sick and shared their food in love. When newborn infants were tossed in the trash they retrieved them, adopted them and raised them as their own. They pooled their coins and bought freedom for the enslaved. They treated women, the ill, servant, poor, with respect, compassion, dignity and equality! They showed the foreigner hospitality. And these followers had never, ever, felt more alive, driven, purposeful even in the face of death! The result? So many were drawn (not chased down) to this movement and came pouring into “The Way!”
The only damnable thing that could derail this healing wave was it’s apprehension by the state. Once persecuted, they won the Presidency, Congress, and Supreme Court, not even seeking it. The Way became an institution with power and wealth. And 1700 yrs later we still haven’t recovered.
So what’s the purpose and mission of a Christian I ask again? Might it be as John stated “This is how we know who are in Him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did”?? Following Jesus is hard folks, not gonna lie. It’s not for the faint of heart.
At one point after a difficult teaching many disciples left Jesus. Though they are represented as deserters in scripture I actually respect them. They said “we cannot call ourselves your followers” at least at the moment. And I applaud their honesty. We could actually stand for much more of that today couldn’t we? Folks raising their hands saying “yeah I’m out, don’t call me a Christian!” Then Jesus turned and asked the twelve who remained “Do you want to leave too?” And Peter, oh the man that cut more checks he couldn’t fund stepped up and said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life! And we have come to believe, no more than that-know-that you are the Holy One of God!”
Following Jesus has often seemed illogical to many in the world. Paul said “We are fools for Christ…We are weak…dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” Wow. I understand the trepidation. Hardly a great recruiting plug. But for those that actually do it, they’ve discovered something remarkable. It’s rocket fuel to living! It’s wonderfully sacrificial, marvelously absurd, delightfully gracious, incredibly hospitable! It flows with kindness, patience, gentleness and generosity. It’s a world blessed with peacemakers rather than trouble makers, the meek rather than the cocky, those who thirst for righteousness through creating equality, fairness, justice for all their brothers and sisters. It’s a world filled with comforters and wounded healers for those who grieve and mourn. Its a world that cares for its resources, cultivating, protecting, renewing and “distributing them to anyone who had need” as it says in Acts! What a nice neighborhood.
Jesus is still asking “don’t you want to leave too?” And may we answer with a shitty grin on our face, “I got no place else to go, nowhere I’d rather be! We know you’re the Holy One Of God! You have the words of sanity in a insane world! The words that have made me so wondrously alive in a world filled with people sleep walking.”
It’s our choice. Now my responsibility, privilege and sheer joy to get up each morning, attempting my best to trace my life over my Savior! Christ have mercy and help us followers look a little more like you in this world. The world desperately needs it.
— Pastor Paul Bergmann