This morning’s sermon … enjoy!
Who We Are As Christians
What does it mean to be a Christian?
Does it mean something different today that it meant 2,000 years ago?
In some respects, yes, it does. Back then the church was only starting to become established. Followers were much closer to the events of the resurrection. Some witnessed it. Today we have established churches with histories and traditions. We have dogma and creeds. We have different denominations that are each grounded in their own beliefs and systematic theology. We have rules, practices and milestones. We have churches of every shape, size and style. We have worship services that range from very traditional to very contemporary. We have church building and sanctuary spaces that – again – range from traditional to contemporary.
This morning’s scripture comes from the book of Acts, which tells the story of Jesus’ apostles as they began to grow the Christian church and spread the Gospel message. Ever since Easter we have be working our way through the beginning of this book and trying to learn from the earliest Christians in our own lives and communities of faith.
This particular passage shows an important shift in how the Christian church really began to grow and expand in exponential ways. Up until that point, the witnesses and believers of Christ’s resurrection were Jews – referred to in this passage as “circumcised believers”. But the message was beginning to expand beyond those people. Gentiles – or uncircumcised men – were starting to accept the truth of the Gospel.
Peter – one of the apostles – had a vision. In his vision he was surrounded by four-footed animals and heard a voice telling him to kill them and eat them.
Now, this may seem like a strange vision, but it made a lot of sense to Peter, a Jewish man who followed strict dietary customs. Those animals were not clean – they were not ‘okay’ to eat by Jewish dietary standards.
But then Peter heard a voice – and that voice told him that it was okay for him to eat those animals. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,” the scripture reads.
In other words – it is about God, not our customs. Faith is about our relationship with God, not about rules and regulations.
Then three men arrived to Peter. They were Gentiles, but then that Spirit that was speaking to Peter told him to go with those men. “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us,” Peter said.
In other words – we can all come from different places and still call ourselves Christian. We do not have to be the same to be unified.
Then Peter went on to talk about baptism. “And I remembered the word of the Lord,” Peter explained, “how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them [the Gentiles] the same gift that he gave [the Jews] when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
In other words – how can we, as human beings, prevent someone – anyone, no matter who they are or where they come from – from connecting to God and believing in Christ’s message?
One of the biggest challenges as Christianity initially began to grow was the divide between the Jews – the circumcised believers – and the Gentiles – the uncircumcised believers. But this passage starts to break apart that barrier, bit by bit. Peter saw in his vision that this new life in Christ was not something simply extended to the Jews – it was for all people. And that was when the church really began to grow.
What a beautiful reminder to all of us here today! New life in Christ is not something that is extended to only a small group of people – it is and has always been for all people.
In some respects, Christianity does not look much different today than it did 2,000 years ago. We still face the same challenges. We still struggle with what it means to be a Christian, how we are supposed to act as Christians and what the right and wrong decisions are along our Christian journeys. We try to find common ground amidst our diversity and often get frustrated when we simply cannot agree.
So what does it mean to be a Christian?
One of the things that I love about this particular passage of scripture is that it reminds us that there has never been an easy answer to that question. The issues that we face today are issues that even the earliest believers faced.
But the other thing that I love about this particular passage of scripture is that it kind of lets us off for answering the question.
Because perhaps there just simply is not one right answer.
People often ask me what the difference is between our church and other churches. And honestly? I am never really good at answering that question. Because while there are a slew of doctrinal and structural differences between different churches in our area, at the core of those differences are Christian communities trying to listen to God’s call for them in their lives. We are all Christians. We all – in one way or another – believe in the resurrection of Christ and want to center our lives around the Gospel.
As technology and social media continues to connect us and make our world a seemingly smaller place, I think that our eyes are truly being opened to true diversity within the Christian Church. The scripture reads, “And [the circumcised believers] praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’” This reminds us that God gives everyone – everyone – access to the redeeming love of Christ’s Gospel.
I think we are very lucky that every day – through technology, media and social media – we are able to see such diverse expressions of that redeeming love.
There is no one right answer, one way to live out your faith. And while that may be frustrating for those of us who like yes or no answers and black and white scenarios, it is also incredibly freeing for us as we listen to God speaking to us in our own lives.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Perhaps that is not the question that we should be asking ourselves.
Perhaps the question that we should be asking ourselves is this: What does it mean for me to be a Christian?
You do not have to look a certain way, act a certain way, believe a certain way or worship a certain way in order to be Christian. And this is not a new concept either – this is scriptural! We have evidence right here in this passage that God’s intention for the church was diversity; that God wanted to invite different people from all over the world to share a meal together and be united by the font of baptismal waters.
What does it mean for you to be a Christian? Where do your gifts lie? What is God calling you to do? How do you want to live out your faith? How do you feel most connected to the Gospel message?
These are questions not only that we should be asking ourselves, but also that we have the gift of asking ourselves.
The grace of Christian living comes from being able to answer these questions in special and unique ways. We all have something to contribute. We are all good enough to be ministers in the world. The way each and every one of us expresses our faith is imperative in this world.
Each and every one of you sitting here is more than a person who comes to church on Sunday and then lives their life the other six days of the week. You are a Christian who brings a unique piece to this diverse religion every single both, both within this congregation and out in the world.
What does it mean for you to be a Christian?
Be that Christian. The church needs you. The world needs you.
Thanks be to God!