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Wednesday Wondering - January 10, 2024

John 13: 34 - 35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


James 2: 14 - 17

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”


Reflection

I have been wondering a lot lately about what makes one a Christian. It is what we believe that makes us a Christian? Is it a belief in God, however we might understand that, that makes us a Christian? It is believing in Jesus as the Son of God, that makes us Christian? Is it the fact that we go to church that makes us a Christian? As I thought about all of these questions, and trust me, my mind was wondering about all of these at the same time,  I read an article by a retired Methodist minister who was asked by someone, “Do you think that I am still a Christian?” This individual, who asked the question, had been raised in an evangelical faith and had drifted away when they were in university. They got married, had children, and decided that they wanted to give faith another try. When they returned to the denomination of their youth they realized that this evangelical faith no longer aligned with their belief system, so they looked at other denominations. In the process they examined what they really believed and what they no longer believed. The realized that they struggled with the understanding of God that they were raised with, it was an understanding of God as this all-powerful, all-knowing, puppet-master of a deity that existed somewhere in the sky. They also realized that they struggled to accept the divinity of Jesus. They saw Jesus as a man who came to change the world, a man who lived a life that challenged authority, but a man nonetheless. Yet, they also saw in Jesus a way of life that was worthy of examination, a life that we each might want to follow. So, they believed in following the man, but struggled to see that man as the Christ, the Divine Jesus. In examining their beliefs, this individual began to question where or not they could consider themselves to be a Christian, and so they reached out with this question. So I am now pondering a similar question, what makes us a Christian?


I believe that for many people, who call themselves Christians, they understand their Christianity, their faith, to be lived out in strict adherence to the the doctrines, theology, and creeds of their particular faith tradition. If you don’t adhere to the strict rules, doctrine, and creeds of your particular faith then you have no right to be called a Christian. This  is the historical understanding of what it means to be a Christian, it means to believe the ‘right’ things, to say the ‘right’ things, and in doing so we become part of a larger community. The question that I wonder about is, was this what Jesus envisioned?


The scripture that I picked speaks, not to belief, but to action. It does not speak to doctrine or to creeds, but rather it speaks to what we are called to do in the world. Jesus when he called his disciples did not call them to come and learn the doctrine that he would teach, Jesus called them simply to ‘follow me.’ Jesus didn’t come to start a religion, Jesus was and continued to be Jewish, rather Jesus came to show a new way to live. A way to live so that the Kingdom of God might be born in the here and now. I believe that the early Christians understood this idea as they followed Jesus and lived by his example. Jesus spoke that he didn’t come to abolish the law, no, he came to fulfill the law. What this meant was the Jesus came to show that it was not strict adherence to the law that was important for worshipping God, it was understanding the intent of the law, to live in community, that was what was most important. Jesus taught that to live in the Kingdom of God, one must seek justice, care for the poor, the marginalized, the lost, the lonely, the downtrodden, and the sick. To live in the Kingdom of God, one must live a life of compassion, care, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Jesus did not ask his followers to believe in anything other than the coming of God’s kingdom, but to bring that kingdom one must follow Jesus, one must live as Jesus lived. So what then make us Christian?


What we do matters. What we believe matters too, because that impacts what we do. Yet, it is in what we do that truly makes us followers of Jesus, Christians. It is truly following Jesus, living in love in a world where love is difficult to find. It is living in forgiveness, in a world where forgiveness is not often given. It is living with compassion, in a world where we are taught that it is all about ‘me!’ It is not in forcing ourselves and others into strict adherence to doctrine, creed, rules, and regulations, that proves that one is Christian. I truly believe that it is in loving as Jesus loved, caring as Jesus cared, and accepting as Jesus accepted. What we do, that truly matters. We have been blessed to find a community where we can live this out with each other every day and that matters. To live in a community of followers, a community who encourage, support, and challenge one anther as we continually learn what it means to follow Jesus, whether we believe him divine or not, that, for me, is a real Christian community.


Prayer

God of Infinite Understanding, we ask the you continue to guide us in the way of Jesus. Help is to see that it is what we do, not the creeds or doctrines that we adhere to, that makes us truly followers. Give us the courage and the wisdom to continue to follow even though we know that this can be difficult on our world today. Open our hearts to continue to see the life of Jesus as an example of a life well-lived, a life that we can also live each day. We ask this in the name of the one who came to show us the way, Jesus. Amen.

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