Religions of the World: Christianity
Rev. Sandy Johnson
June 7, 2015
We turn this week to our own religion, Christianity. Although we may think we know all about Christianity, we could do a ten week series just on the major Christian denominations and churches and not scratch the surface of the 35,000 different Christian churches. I had hoped today that we would get into the particulars of the two largest Christian divisions, Protestantism and Catholicism however I will need to push that to next week as there isn’t enough time today to give it justice. So next week we will do a short history lesson taking us from Catholicism to Protestantism to Methodism, with a focus on what makes us special as Methodists.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
When I was in seminary, the first day of our New Testament class the professor asked “what is the definition of Christian?” We spent the next hour discussing and couldn’t come up with a definition we all could agree upon. I had thought that a basic definition would include those who are followers of Jesus Christ. Some thought that it was those who believed Jesus was the Son of God. Some said you had to be baptized in a Christian church to be known as Christian. Others said being a Christian meant someone who read and studied the bible. Another thought Christian meant being in service to others, to “the least of these.”
In that classroom I saw firsthand why there are so many different groups who call themselves Christian. At a Methodist seminary we couldn’t get thirty seminary students to agree, how could we ever expect the whole realm of Christianity to agree? For our benefit today, I will hope to gain your consensus that being a Christian is being a follower of Jesus Christ. How you demonstrate your commitment to and live out that devotion to God is dependent upon which church ascribe to. Next week the final message in the series will focus on our own brand of Christianity, Methodism and what makes Methodists different from other Christian groups.
Christianity as a whole is declining in numbers. We have a bad reputation in the U.S. and around the world. Many folks believe themselves to be spiritual but not religious; their objection isn’t God or faith, but on organized religion in general. Throughout this study we “have maintained the traditional Christian view that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son, the Savior and Lord, God’s definitive word, while at the same time raising the possibility that God’s grace could extend to those of other faiths who, in the words of Micah, seek to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with…God” (Micah 6:8). I have raised this possibility remembering that according to the apostle Paul, it is only “by grace [we] have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) and that even this faith is a gift from God. I have suggested that God might look at the people of other religions and, based upon their faith, extend the salvation of Christ to them, even when they did not have the opportunity to know or receive Christ. If God does extend salvation to them, the day will come when “every knee [will] bend…and every tongue…confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-22).”
I hope that by learning about other faith traditions you have come to have a better understanding of your own faith and are inspired to be the best Christian you can be. So, what do Christians believe? The key scripture of our faith is John 3:16:
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This scripture is basically the “gospel in miniature.” This scripture affirms the very existence of God, everything begins with God. All of the world religions acknowledge something about God: for Buddhists, God is nonessential; for Hindus, God is an impersonal force; for Muslims, God is the Almighty, giver of Quran, and one who demands adherence to it; to Judaism, God is the giver of the Law, seeker of justice, righteousness and obedience. In contrast, Christianity begins with love. 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” God is love.
“Some of the other faiths affirm this idea, but for Christianity this is the starting point. God created human beings out of his desire to express love. We are created for fellowship with God. God’s love motivates God to act. It is because God “so loved the world” that he acted in Jesus Christ. Everything else in the gospel springs forth from this idea.” It isn’t complicated, in fact it is quite simple, but it is a difficult concept to really grasp, this idea that God is love. I have this dream that one day I will sit down with Jesus and talk about what it means to be his follower, to live out his wish that we love one another…(Reservations by Dave McClellan)
Jesus: Hello. May I sit down?
Jesus: Been waiting long?
Tony: Well, I’m not really waiting for anything, I’m just sitting.
Jesus: Any chance you’ve been waiting for me?
Tony: No. Look, I don’t really want to chat right now. I’ve got a lot on my mind.
Jesus: If you knew who I am, you would ask me, and I would answer many questions.
Tony: (skeptically) Is that right?
Jesus: Yes… (pause)
Tony: (humoring him) Well, then, tell me. Who are you?
Jesus: What would you say if I told you I was Jesus?
Tony: Yeah, right.
Jesus: You doubt me?
Tony: Yes, I do. It’s this thing I have about reality.
Jesus: Why couldn’t I be Jesus?
Tony: I don’t really want to discuss it. If you think you’re Jesus, fine.
Jesus: But why couldn’t I be?
Tony: Well, in the first place, you don’t live down here anymore. Remember? The cross?
Going back to heaven?
Jesus: Yes, I remember.
Tony: And in the second place, you don’t look like him.
Jesus: How do you know what he looks like?
Tony: Hey, haven’t you seen the pictures? You wear these long robes – white and blue I think – and your hair is much longer. You also have these haunting, deep-set eyes. If you’re gonna be Jesus, you have to work on the costume or people will never buy it.
Jesus: But what if he’s not like the pictures? They’re only guesses you know.
Tony: Nevertheless. I just can’t picture Jesus in jeans and a T-shirt.
Jesus: What would you expect him to wear? Is there something evil about jeans?
Tony: No, not evil. Just…everyday. You’re too everyday to be Jesus. Look, you’ve even got Nike shoes on. Jesus wouldn’t waste money on name brands. He’d just wear generic shoes. Or maybe sandals.
Jesus: But what if he liked Nikes?
Tony: He wouldn’t
Jesus: Why not?
Tony: Because it’s too human to like something like shoes.
Jesus: Wasn’t he human? (standing to wander)
Tony: Not that human.
Jesus: I see…How do you feel about him?
Tony: Who? Jesus?
Jesus: Yes, do you follow him?
Tony: Well, I’m a Christian if that’s what you mean…
Jesus: But how do you feel about him? Do you like him?
Tony: Do I like him? He’s the Savior of the World…
Jesus: But do you like him?
Tony: Yes, I like him.
Jesus: Do you love him?
Tony: Look, what’s it to you?
Jesus: I’m curious. Is it that hard to answer?
Tony: Yeah, I love him. Are you happy?
Jesus: Not very convincing.
Tony: (Jesus sits back down next to him) Why do I have to convince you?
Jesus: It just seems if you loved somebody, you wouldn’t be so defensive about it.
Tony: I do…love him…I just don’t like your dragging it out of me.
Jesus: And why do I have to drag it out of you?
Tony: (irritated and standing) I don’t know! It’s none of your business, I guess…(pause – he’s weakening) I’m sorry…I don’t know why this bugs me…it’s the word choice I guess.
Jesus: Which word? Love or Jesus?
Tony: All right, you wanna know the truth? I don’t really like either one.
Jesus: Hmmm. This is interesting a Christian who doesn’t like Jesus.
Tony: That’s not what I said.
Jesus: Well, what did you say?
Tony: I said I didn’t like the word “love.”
Jesus: Why’s that?
Tony: Well, I never really thought about it before.
Jesus: Do you love your dad?
Tony: Of course.
Jesus: I don’t get it.
Tony: That’s different
Jesus: Do you love your brother?
Tony: That’s different too. How did you know I have a brother?
Jesus: Never mind. Just keep going. This is fascinating.
Tony: Well, again, it’s that family thing. You love your family.
Jesus: So you don’t love him?
Tony: (sitting down again) I don’t know. I don’t like to say that I do. But I don’t like to say that I don’t, either.
Jesus: Tell me about the Jesus word. You said you didn’t like that word either.
Tony: Well, I never really thought about it before…but since you brought it up, I have to say I don’t like it. I should, but I don’t.
Jesus: What’s wrong with it?
Tony: It makes me think of a flannel graph. Did you every go to Sunday School?
Jesus: Yes, I’ve been there.
Tony: (painting a picture) Well, you remember how they put Jesus up on that flannel and move him around? He’s like a little doll. He always has that same look on his face – kind of a vacant stare. He always steps in to save the day. But he never moves his hands.
Jesus: But in real life he did. He moved his hands and people were healed.
Tony: Yeah, I know. But I can’t get away from the flannel graph. “Jesus” seems like a child’s word.
Jesus: So call him something else.
Tony: What do you mean? You can’t change his name.
Jesus: You’re right. But his name isn’t Jesus.
Tony: You’re losing me…
Jesus: Jesus is just the English word. He’s called all kinds of things. Every language pronounces it differently. In Hebrew, the same name is “Joshua.” So if you don’t like “Jesus,” trade it in. He’s been called by many names. Some have called him Aslan.
Tony: What are you saying? It doesn’t matter what I call him?
Jesus: Well, whatever you pick, you have to mean the guy born in Bethlehem. You know, the shepherds and the angels and –
Tony: Yeah, yeah, I got that part.
Jesus: But it sounds to me like you don’t os much have a problem with Jesus; you have a problem with how the word has been used.
Tony: Yes, that sounds right.
Jesus: So let me guess. When you hear a guy on TV gushing repeatedly over the word “Jesus,” he spoils the whole word for you.
Tony: Exactly. That’s exactly it.
Jesus: So if you called him something else, you’d be fine. You’d be able to say, “I love” or wait…let’s drop “love” too since it makes you bristle. Let’s say, “I deeply respect, and am totally loyal to, and fond of…him” – you know, the guy from Bethlehem. What does that do for you?
Tony: Seems to lack something, doesn’t it.
Jesus: A bit sterile. Seems detached. Like you’re afraid of something.
Tony: (a sense of realization) I am afraid of him! You’re right, I am. I’m afraid of the guy…
Tony: (snapping out of it) I don’t know. He said some weird things. Harsh things. One moment he’s loving and accepting and gentle. The next minute he’s angry or judgmental or so cryptic you can’t understand him. Mostly, I’m moved by what he said, and sometimes he’s incredibly wise. But sometimes he confuses me or scares me. Talking about hell or cutting off your own hand or eating flesh.
Jesus: Hmm…The hard sayings.
Jesus: The hard sayings. Things that he said that sound off-center. Things that challenge conventional wisdom. Not culturally correct. Many people let him because of them. And many still do.
Tony: I guess that’s it.
Jesus: So will you fall away too?
Tony: Sometimes I wonder…But, I don’t think I could. Where else would I go?
Jesus: You said you love your father, right? If your father said something that sounded harsh or confusing, what would you do? Would you be afraid of him?
Tony: No, I’d just ask him what he meant.
Jesus: Ah, so in other words you’d decide what meant partly by the words he spoke, and partly on what you already know about him. His character…
Jesus: So maybe you don’t know Jesus well enough. You don’t know what he’s like, so you only have the words. Words spoken when you weren’t there. When you didn’t see the context and the audience and hear the tone of his voice.
Tony: Yeah, but that’s it! That’s all we got! Just these words that he left behind. With no person. No skin on them. That’s all he left us…You know, if I could just meet the guy, it would help a lot.
Jesus: Yeah, too bad that’s not possible.
Tony: Yeah, too bad.
Jesus: Too bad you couldn’t just sit down and see what he’s really like. Maybe you’d see how real he is, how human, how…different from you expect.
Jesus: Too bad you can’t see what he’s like in Levis. Too bad you can’t see to what lengths he would go to win your…friendship. That word’s ok, isn’t? Doesn’t make you squirm?
Tony: No, that one’s fine. That’s a good word.
Jesus: Ok then. Let’s use that. He used that word didn’t he? “Greater love has no man that this: than when a man lays down his live –
Tony: for his friends.”
Being a Christian means being in relationship with God. It means fostering a relationship, developing a friendship, through prayer, fellowship with other Christians, weekly worship, scripture study and service to others. It means being a follower of Jesus Christ and accepting that we all fall short of God’s glory and that is where Jesus comes in. We fall into sin and make wrong choices and it is only through Christ’s death on the cross that we are redeemed.
Being a Christian means choosing to live a life modeled after Jesus Christ. God tried it another way; he tried to get the Israelites attention. He called Moses to communicate to them through the Ten Commandments and through the rest of the Law. When that failed, he sent prophets to remind the people to follow God and attempted to scare them by telling them of the horrible fate that would befall them, if they didn’t repent. The people killed the prophets and refused to listen. God didn’t give up. He was persistent and loving.
As Christians we “believe that God decided to address sin once and for all, preparing a kind of remedy that would transform the recipients from the inside out. God’s plan was that this remedy would begin with a handful of people who would see it and understand it. They would then share it with others, who in turn would share it with still [more] until the whole human race might be healed from the ailment of human sin. God did not send another prophet or book. Rather, God chose to become one of us. The Divine entered into our humanity.”
God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood so that we might understand God and that God might understand what the human condition is really about. “God’s desire was that in Jesus Christ we might come to know the heart and character of God.” Jesus’ ministry lasted a mere three years and it appeared to end when he was tried, convicted and put to death. God changed history when he rose from the dead and proved once and for all that Jesus was Savior and Lord and his death was not the end, but in fact the beginning for humanity. “In Jesus’ resurrection we find the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of grace over sin, of God over Satan, of life over death. And this fills us with hope.”
All of the faith traditions, we have studied through this series, placed salvation on the shoulders of the people, assuring them that through their good works they can save themselves. “Christians believe that God turned the idea of salvation through works on its head. God said, in effect, “You haven’t done such a good job of saving yourselves. So let’s try this way. I will save you. I will set you free from sin. I will love you. I will give you my Spirit to strengthen and heal you. I will give you a church family with whom you can grow in faith. I will offer you salvation. Your response is to receive my gift. If you do I hope that this gift will transform your life and from this day forward you will live your life in grateful response to my salvation.” As Christians our salvation is by God’s grace alone. It is a gift, all we can do is accept it, believe it, trust it and give God thanks for it.
Let us pray: Gracious God, thank you for your gift of salvation and the relationship we enjoy with Jesus Christ. Continue to guide and direct us in our seeking you and continue to encourage us to spend time with you every day so that our relationship with you might be rich, fulfilling and peaceful. We ask this all in Jesus name. Amen.
 Hamilton, Adam. Christianity and World Religions. Wrestling with Questions People Ask. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2005. Page 112.
 Ibid. Page 115
 Ibid. Page 115
 Ibid. Page 119-120
 Ibid. 120
 Ibid. 122
 Ibid, 123