Sunday, January 27, 2013

Slandering Jesus

When he was a young man,
         Mohandas Gandhi read the Gospels.
He studied the life and teachings of Jesus,
         and he said “Sign me up.”
Gandhi found everything about Jesus compelling.
But he rejected Christianity, he said,
         because of Christians.
The humility, the compassion, and the beauty
         he read about in Jesus, he did not see in Christians.

Instead of leading people to Jesus,
         Christians blocked his path.
Like the disciples telling the parents
to keep their children away,
Christians discredited Christ in Gandhi’s eyes.

The business of Christians is simple.
We show Jesus to people
     not just tell people about Jesus.
We show people Jesus.
If we show them a true picture of Jesus and they say
         “count me out” – then that’s on them.
But if we don’t show them Jesus – or worse yet –
         if we show them a false picture of Jesus,
                  then we have a lot to answer for.

The vast majority of people in Nevada have no ties to any faith community.
Christians make up a small minority.
Episcopalians are less than a fifth of 1% of the population.
Nationally the number of Christians is decreasing
         while the number of people with no religious convictions,
         not even atheism, is on the rise.

The Jesus we are showing people isn’t getting much traction.
And that’s ok. If people say “no” to Jesus, that’s ok.
But only if we have told the truth about Jesus.

St. Paul says that we as the Church
         are the Body of Christ on earth.
We are the continuing incarnation.
500 years ago in Spain, St. Theresa of Avila said,
         “Christ has no body now but yours,
                  no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
          Yours are the eyes through which he looks
                  compassion on this world.”

The saying goes:
“You may be the only gospel someone ever reads.”
 When people see St. Paul’s, Elko,
         what each of you does in daily life,
         and especially what all of you do as a group in this community,
                  that’s the picture of Jesus you are painting.
The picture of Jesus most of us are painting isn’t popular
and that’s ok -- so long as it’s true. 
But if we have misrepresented Christ to the world,
         that’s a big problem.

So who is this Christ we are to represent?
The more I study about the historical Jesus,
         and the more I study the Gospels,
         the clearer it gets that Jesus really and truly meant
                  what he said in today’s lesson.
After this Baptism, as he began his mission,
         he told us straight out what he was doing.
It isn’t subtle or vague. He said:    
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
                  because he has anointed me
                  to bring good news to the poor.
         He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
                  and recovery of sight to the blind,
                  to let the oppressed go free,
                  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

We are the Church because the same Spirit
that filled Jesus at his baptism filled the Church on Pentecost,
enters our hearts at our Baptism,
and is renewed in our lives
every time we receive Holy Communion.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us
                  because he has anointed us
                  to bring good news to the poor.
         He has sent us to proclaim release to the captives
                  and recovery of sight to the blind,
                  to let the oppressed go free,
                  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ on earth.
That’s our mission in the world.
If we are not doing that mission in the world
and in our local communities,
         if we are not helping and speaking out
         for the poor and hurting, the outcast and lost,
                  then we are not telling the truth about Jesus.

Recent surveys asked16 to 29 year olds the top words
         they would use to describe Christians.
         91% said ant-homosexual,
         87% said judgmental,
         85% said hypocritical,
         76% said old fashioned.

Does that sound like the Jesus in today’s lesson?
Does it sound like the Sermon on the Mount?
Does it sound like the Jesus who fed the hungry,
         healed the sick, forgave the guilty,
                  and stood up to the rich and the powerful?

After my mission trip last year,
I met a young man at the luggage repair shop.
He asked me what I had been doing in Kenya.
I told him about our church’s work to save young women
         from genital mutilation and forced marriages.
He said, “Where is your church? That’s a church I’d go to.”

When I went to help clean up a community center in Las Vegas,
         several young people said, “Where is your church?
                  If you’re here, we want to be there.”

I went to community organizing training in Texas this year.
All of us trainees who were over 50 were church folks.
The ones under 30 were not.

But two of them said, each in their own way,
 “if I’d known Christians like the ones here
         I’d still be in the Church.
         In fact, I’m going to give it another try.”

Last year, I struck up a conversation with a young sales rep
for Cox Communications.
I told her about our work with Nevadans for the Common Good
         to combat child sex trafficking.
She said, “I’d like to get involved.”
So I sent her to one of our churches to help.
I told them she was coming.
I asked them to help her get involved.

They ran her out of there in no time flat.
They thought she was trying to take their money from fellowship dinners
and use it to rescue children from modern slavery.
So they ran her out.
Is that telling the truth about Jesus?

On the other hand, last Monday,
         St. Catherine’s congregation visited a homeless shelter
         to teach people how to use crock pots.
The homeless people saw that. But they weren’t the only ones.
The next day, it was in the Reno Gazette-Journal,
         because when Jesus shows up, that’s news.
If we show people the Jesus we see in today’s Gospel
         and they reject him, that’s on them.
But if the Jesus we show unchurched people
 just goes to meeting on Sunday morning
         for feel good worship and fellowship,
         and they say “I’ve got better things to do”
                  then, brothers and sisters, that’s on us.

Today we are baptizing and confirming.
We are making Christians.
They are taking vows and we are taking vows with them.
We are making a serious life commitment.
We are undertaking to be the Body of Christ on earth.
We give our hands to be his hands,
         our feet to be his feet,
         our eyes to be the eyes with which he looks
                  compassion on this world.