Sermon: Seeing Christ in Each Other’s Faces.
“And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” [John 17:26]
One of the things we, as Christians, need to decide is how we are to let the world know we are Christians. And as Christians in California, this question is very timely.
When I speak with my brother priests from the South, I realize how very different our parishes really are. Our issues are not theirs. When I speak to someone from Florida especially, I discover that, for them to start a church, it seems as easy as opening the doors, and the next thing they know, they have five hundred parishioners. The people who move to Florida to retire know their faith, know the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and know why they go to church.
In California, it is a little different. One study estimates that 85% of the people in the bay area do not attend any church. They may consider themselves “spiritual,” but they want very little to do with organized religions. Coupled with this is an apathy and lack of interest in Christianity.
Christianity is not a new message to our society, and many people, though woefully ignorant of what Christianity entails, think they know what it is all about. In fact, in one sense it is easier to proselytize in areas of the world that have never heard of Christianity than it is to proselytize in our own jaded part of the world. Yet, I must also add that as California has gone, so will the rest of our society – eventually.
So, now the question must be, how do we let others know we are Christians? Do we scream it from the street corners? Do we knock on doors? Do we hand out flyers in the airports? The answer is in our Gospel lesson for today:
“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
There is a mystical union between all Christians. God is in Christ and Christ in God, while Christ is in us, and we are in Him. This should unite us all and make us one, but this is not what has happened. Many Christians are split along denominational lines. And this is precisely to what those who say they are “spiritual” but eschew organize religion will point.
Therefore, the first thing we must do is “bury the hatchet.” We must recognize what we have in common, as well as acknowledging our differences. But we must emphasize our shared faith. Only through our unity, our being one, will the world see that God sent Jesus into the world to save mankind. And, although we are just a small part of the greater whole, this does not mean that we are powerless, and that there is nothing we can do.
It is human nature to say that something is too big for us to affect. We will believe we are powerless, and then are comforted by this powerlessness. If we cannot affect anything, we may say, then we can do as we please and not change. But this is not true. We can all agree not to engage in “denomination bashing.” We can agree not to criticize our brothers and sisters who belong to other Christian faiths. This includes Baptists, Roman Catholics, or even Episcopalians. And just with this small act, we will then move closer to presenting a more accurate image of Christ’s Church here on earth. But this is not all; there is more.
Christ, while praying that we all will receive the glory He received, also states:
“And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Again we come back to that ultimate Christian concept: LOVE. The nature of Christianity is love. It exudes love; it nurtures love; and its main mission is to spread love. In order to show the world we are Christians, we must grow love within each of us.
Now of course, the love of which I speak is much deeper than romantic love and much more self-sacrificing than filial love. The love of which I speak is the same love that God has for His Son, Jesus, and the love that Jesus has for all of us:
“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
In our First Lesson, we have a very unique story. We have Saint Paul and Silas thrown in prison. While there, they start worshipping God and singing hymns. Soon, the prison is shaken by a huge earthquake. All the prison doors are shaken open so that anyone could escape.
Now, as I read this story, I couldn’t help but put myself in their position. If I were they, as soon as my prison door was opened, I would have high-taled it out of there! It would have been my belief that God had done this great act to save me and to set me free. But this is NOT what Saint Paul and Silas thought. They STAYED in their cell! This is NOT what I expected.
This reminds me of the story of the woman who invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” “I don’t know what to say, Mommy,” the girl replied. The woman smiled to her husband and guests and said, “Well, just say what you hear Mommy say,” said the woman. The daughter thought for a moment, bowed her head in great reverence and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”
I am sure that this poor mother didn’t expect her child’s prayer, and I was astounded as to why Saint Paul and Silas stayed in their prison cell:
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.”
Saint Paul remained in prison to save the jailer’s life! This is the epitome of Christian love. It is self-less; it is anticipatory; and it is unashamed of its nature. Saint Paul and Silas stayed in prison, sacrificing their freedom for another man’s life. And not just any man’s life; they stayed to save the life of their persecutor and jailer. They anticipated, by the grace of God, what the jailer would do and what he needed. And they were unashamed:
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
So the second thing we must do is love. And we MUST start right here, right now with those who are in this room. On the back wall behind the organ is the spiritual goal of this chapel which, I believe, was drafted by some of the original parishioners and founders of this church. It states:
The most important mission of a church is to present to the world a true image of Jesus Christ so that outsiders can see Christ reflected in the life of the congregation; to show forth Christ in a real love for one another; the kind of love that is willing to share suffering, to accept each other’s failings. It’s a kind of love you can feel when you are among people who have it. It’s infectious where people who enter the congregation want to stay and be a part of it. Christian love simply does not happen unless we are centered down in our faith, studying the Bible and praying.
Never have I felt the power and the truth of this statement until I read them in conjunction with our Gospel lesson for today. But, that being said, there is one thing that is missing.
We need to cultivate our love for one another. We need to reach out to each other in our own church. We need to move beyond being a bunch of people who share a church to being a family. Now, does this mean perfection? No. Until we lose our fallen nature, every family will remain in varying degrees of dysfunction, and that includes our church family. But, that does not mean we are NOT to become a family.
So, I would like each of us to reach out to one another, to get to know each other, and to fall in love with each other. Only when we can love one another as we are supposed to love each other will God fill us with His Holy Spirit. And when this happens, then He will guide us, nurture us, and bring us to full fruition of our faith. And then all those people who have lost their faith, or who dismiss us and our faith, will start to see Christ in our faces and believe.