Years ago while visiting a parish in New Mexico I heard a sermon that has stayed with me ever since. The preacher spoke of the transforming power of the Gospel. The point being that the Gospel of Jesus is, in fact, a challenge to change. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is transformational; that is, life-changing. The fundamental problem is that even those who claim to believe in the power of Jesus and the Gospel do not live as though that challenge is meaningful.
However, as I listened to the sermon, the question was for me, how does Jesus change our lives? Or more accurately, how do we allow Jesus to change life, to convert us into something better?
…there is too much emphasis placed on where we will be after we die and not enough on where we are when we are alive.
In the Christian community, much emphasis is placed on being saved. The idea is if we declare Jesus to be our savior, he saves us from hell and makes us citizens of heaven. This valid premise is supported by the Scriptures and is a part of our baptismal vows, but it seems there is too much emphasis placed on where we will be after we die and not enough on where we are when we are alive. I believe that all baptized Christians will enjoy the fruits of faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ. I think we will enjoy being in the nearer presence of God after we are no longer in this mortal condition. But that is not enough to change things, to transform us, in the here and now. Heaven is far off; it is sometimes called “pie in the sky.”
Because they place so much emphasis on the hereafter and not on the here and now, many Christians are often called or thought of as hypocrites. Some proclaim the Gospel through fear of hell. Some proclaim the Gospel by the force of law. Some proclaim the Gospel by exclusion and shunning others. Over the two thousand years of its existence, the history of the Christian Church is filled with murder and mayhem. Political cartoonists often portray Christians in combat gear shooting off automatic weapons from behind a sandbagged position and caption their cartoons, “In Jesus’ Name.” How can Christians love guns more than people? Remember Christ took from Peter’s hand the sword during the moment of Judas’ betrayal. But, it does not matter if we use a firearm in the name of God, Allah, Mohammed, or Jesus, it is a form of blasphemy. We lose the transformational nature of the faith to which Jesus calls us in the messages of hate in the name of religion.
Smorgasbord religion is one in which people get a little Christianity, a little Buddhism, a little Hinduism, a little Taoism, and maybe a little animism, and we call it “spiritualism.”
Guns and religion are topics worth discussing, but some use a less lethal way to proclaim the Gospel these days. It is called “Smorgasbord Religion.” Smorgasbord religion is one in which people get a little Christianity, a little Buddhism, a little Hinduism, a little Taoism, and maybe a little animism, and we call it “spiritualism.” People will eschew “organized” religion but will tell you that they are spiritual. The word, standing alone, is meaningless. Being spiritual means, I get a fuzzy and a warm feeling when I think about what is out there beyond the clouds, or get a fuzzy and a warm feeling when I think good thoughts, or take care of a stray dog. Being spiritual means I get to sleep in on Sunday, or I get my spirits lifted when the Kansas City Chiefs score a touchdown.
A seasonal Collect or prayer in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us that Christians have a calling, and as more people opt to be spiritual or seek a smorgasbord religion, we have failed in that calling. Recall in the collect we have prayed, “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works…” We have prayed that God will give us the grace to answer the call and do so readily.
It is appropriate to ask, respond to the God’s call to do what? The answer for the Christian is this, proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ; the Good News of the transforming power of his life, his sacrificial death, and his defeat of sin and death. The transforming or saving nature of his life is one of grace. That is, we proclaim the Gospel by living as grace matters—we do not proclaim “pie in the sky”—the postponement of grace. Jesus has defeated both sin and death. In his life, he demonstrated for us what it means to live and to live gracefully, or abundantly.
In our presence, at worship, at Communion, Jesus fulfills the world’s hope.
In our presence, at worship, at Communion, Jesus fulfills the world’s hope. When the host and cup are lifted and offered to God as our living hope, and we offer ourselves as our living sacrifice, we are transformed. Given to us is the opportunity to make a difference, to love others as Christ loves us, and to counter those who preach fear with the optimism of hope that is found in a genuine faith.
Therefore, if God’s creative reality is fulfilled in our presence today and we are truly ready to receive the grace to answer the call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ why are people turning to the cafeteria religion of spirituality and not to the Church, the Body of Christ? Jesus has not failed, God has not truly changed; the people of God, those who say they are the Body of Christ that has failed. Many Christians do not act as if the salvation from sin death, the transformative life of Jesus, matters. We wring our hands in despair, squabble over inconsequentialities, and worry about the future. We show little evidence of the Good News revealed to us and is being revealed in the “marvelous works” of our Lord.
To transform, to change, often means we have to give something up.
Just as the priest asked me years ago, I ask you today, “What are you doing to transform your life?” Are you living the life God in Christ Jesus has set before you? Are you living as though your faith matters? To transform, to change, often means we have to give something up. In my mind, such sacrifices include giving up those things that destroy life, or diminish life, or makes life unsatisfactory. Giving up worry that does not add an inch to one’s height or a year to one’s life can be a start. Giving up prejudice, unfounded biases, and hatred of others is the best place to start living a transformed life. Think about what keeps you from living and readily answering the call to be proclaimers and from acknowledging that the Scripture, fulfilled before you is the Year of the Lord.
Christians have often prayed that God will open their hearts to be those who proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven; if they have prayed it, they must live it.
When I hold up my arms in prayer at the altar and say, “Lift up your hearts,” my hope is that the people respond with joy as they say, “We lift them to the Lord.” In those words, Christians are in communion with Christ Jesus and also in communion with each other. In the Christian life together, as people who are in Communion with Christ Jesus and each other at the altar, how can there not be transformation? How can the faithful not leave the altar ready to answer the call to proclaim by their very lives that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s love for the world? Christians have often prayed that God will open their hearts to be those who proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven; if they have prayed it, they must live it.