Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Formation Sermon 2

So... life is good enough?  Not quite?
As a start to this journey, as in a marriage (from last week) the first major hurdle is to simply say "yes."  But a "Yes" that is not "OK", not assent, not compliance or obedience, not a "Yes, I'll give this a go." We are talking here of a "Yes, I am getting into this raft that is unalterably going through the white water rapids of the Colorado River with no opportunity to change my mind".  There is simply no way for you to make progress in a marriage or in your relationship with Christ if you don't commit.  One may think we can dance with Christ and gradually get to know Him well but this is simply not true.  There is something critical about a decision.  The honeymoon is wonderful and the flutters a delight...but fleeting.  There are difficult things to deal with as the journey together becomes longer and authentic.  Unless you have committed to each other to press through those difficult times of learning to love, you can never experience true marriage or true Christianity. 
    In our spiritual walk, the beginning can be easy and exciting and one can continue to walk without a commitment not even realizing that we are not even true friends with our walking partner.  But, most people will realize at some point that the relationship is stale, stagnant or boring or unfulfilling.  Often then one looks for a new relationship.  We all know people who hop from relationship to relationship because they cannot find "the" one.  Generally, it is because they refuse to commit.  If we stay in the relationship, we soon realize that we are being asked to change, to pay attention to someone else, to become someone different than we are, to sacrifice some things, in Jesus' words, to die to ourselves.  This time in our life pivots on the decision we made.  What I am finding in my conversations with many people is that those who think they have committed to Christ have often based their decision on an idea that Christianity will be good for them and their family, a good practical decision, will provide a good return for their investment, Jesus is true but true because He makes life better.  I have even heard this preached - that if you give to Christ you will get back more than you give.  Nice tooth-fairy theology but hardly Christ's.  And as often I hear people begin to doubt Christ.  Their expectations are not being met so where is He?  So... there are two critical components to the "Yes" that is required by Christ.  One is that you are convinced that you are getting married for good.  You are marrying, not the person but the relationship, marrying marriage as it were.  The second depends on the first.  You are deciding that, "yes," you will give up your welfare, your agenda, your dreams for the other person. 
    If you are not a Christian then take a moment to decide whether Christ is God.  If He is God, then you have another choice to make...will you follow Him.  If you are a Christian - or have thought yourself to be one - then your next step in your growth as a disciple is to give yourself up to Him for ever, despite how you feel and despite what may come.  You must decide that you will ride these rapids out - and better put, you will make sure the raft makes it through the rapids no matter what happens to you.  Everything does get better if you stay with this.  Everything but your life and circumstances. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Formation Sermon 1

In order for any of this to make sense we have to have an understanding that formation is a process.  If you believe that being a Christian is an event, only a wedding if you will, then formation doesn’t make sense.  Ben Johnson, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary states that our relationship with Christ does not grow, that we do not grow closer to Christ but that our relationship only becomes different.  The relationship with Christ changes, he contends, but this ”does not mean improvement.”  He even uses the example that his marriage is different now but is not better than it was on their wedding day.  How sad.

If our relationship with Christ is not improving, getting better, then it is dying.  As with any relationship, there is no middle ground.  So we have to have this understanding that there are stages of actual growth, there are mature and immature Christians  We are all un-formed Christians but some of us are less formed than others.  This is easy to see in children but adults have a harder time thinking that they are immature or need to grow. 

To return to the wedding/marriage analogy, my position at St Johns is like a marriage counselor for your marriage to Christ.  A wedding is a great thing and it is critical to make a public statement of fidelity to your wife.  Making a public confession of Christ is critical, but, as with marriage, is there more?  Are marriage preparation and marriage quality an issue?  In his book, Unchristian, Kinneman’s research shows that 85% of Americans state that they have made a public profession for Christ.  Now, only about 30% of the population says they attended church “last weekend” so where are the other 55% of believers.  Obviously we have a lot of “wedding” Christians with little or no marriage.  So….
How are you doing?  Is Christ there for you, walking with you through the tough spots that you can’t handle on your own?  You obviously participate in church since you are here.  And most of us are involved in a Bible study or Sunday School class.  Jesus has an impact on who you are and how you act.  Got your ticket and you're done? 

These talks are an invitation to take a step, for some a leap maybe, to see if there is more to your life with Christ than what it is now.  Kind of like -
You got married to Christ at baptism and confirmation and now... what? You’re on speaking terms?  Life perks along and is happy enough.  Nothing is really wrong with life – troubles but everyone has troubles.  Not quite content but is anyone?  Being a Christian doesn’t mean I supposed to be happy all the time, does it?  So what are you talking about?  Life is good enough. 
Well… is it?