On Being Christian
Luke 14: 7-14
This morning, we’re going to talk about the work of being a Christian. I would’ve put all of that on the corner sign, but you might’ve thought twice about coming in. Most people don’t want to work on holidays and most people certainly don’t want to work on Sundays. If they come to church, they want to relax, maybe end on a high, and certainly not leave exhausted or weighed down by the challenges of life – even the overall challenge of life as a Christian. Yet you and I know that being a Christian can seem a lot like work.
– Still you’d think we could catch a time out for dinner. But just when we think we’ve found a perfect place to relax, our gospel reading this morning tells us that God breaks into the most ordinary moments to remind us that no experience is outside the realm of Christian life. We’re called to the work of the Christian every moment of our lives – even as we enter the dining room of a friend. Our goal is to get to such a level of understanding of and faith in Jesus that our relationship with Christ is what makes life worth living. Then being a Christian is not really work for us at all. It is who we are and how we live and what we strive for in this world of work that can feel so oppressively hard. It’s ultimately what connects us to who God is calling us to be.
A term I use for one who moves this level of fluidly with her Christian faith life is Flow. This stems from my understanding of the term Flow as a state of being identified by a social psychologist named Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi who says that flow is similar to a state of ecstasy that happens when we’re completely involved with something we love or are creating something altogether new. It’s like my mother in the garden or Julie Fiddick working on Western Word. All sense of time fades away. Next thing you know, it’s dark – or midnight – depending on which example you’re following. Once we enter a level of flow in our work, what we’re doing seems to unfold by itself as if we’ve entered into a different reality that’s absolutely effortless.
So it seems to me that the matured and disciplined Christian at some point achieves a level of flow. How he presents himself day in and day out has God as the starting point. What he says and does is clearly to the glory of God whether it’s implied or expressly stated. From Csikszentmihalyi’s experience, this is not an everyday thing. It can only happen when we truly know and believe in what we’re doing.
I want to believe that every Christian wants to achieve this sense of flow in our life with God. We want to achieve an enlightened relationship with God that gives a feeling of seamlessness to our experiences out in the world. If we accept that this sense of flow is realized out of depth of knowledge and strength of belief, I’m going to suggest that we have some work to do. Through an increased understanding of Christ’s expectations of each one of us, we can hope that our Christianity will more reliably permeate and guide our lives. Our work as Christians will feel as natural as it is sincere. Because being a Christian can seem a lot like work, but when we truly know and believe in what we’re doing and we enter into a state of flow, time and effort seem to fade away. As men and women charged by Christ to make disciples of all nations, I hope that our strengthened Christianity will become visible to others who will benefit from the connection of the church as much as we do.
In today’s gospel lesson, we learn that one of the spiritual disciplines Jesus would like for us to cultivate is humility. When Jesus charges us to be humble, he is not expecting us to become ineffectual weaklings who recant from what we know to be right in order for someone else to feel better about themselves. Humility is also much more substantive than polite self-deprecation, even of the sort when we dismiss a compliment that we know is well deserved. True humility, according to Frederick Buechner, is when we are not thinking of ourselves much differently from the way we’re inclined to think about someone else. It’s the capacity to be no more and no less pleased with our own outcomes and offerings in life over with someone else’s. When Jesus charges us to be humble, he is charging us with a mind for growing together as a body, learning from one another even when we might feel like we have got it all figured out. Deference to other people’s life experience then becomes a starting point for connecting with them and growing together in grace and love. Without humility, we will undoubtedly fail in our task of growing the church wholly and together.
An Anglo mother getting her daughters ready for the new school year in LA speaks of humility this way. She wrote, “I want my kids to know how to be the only white person in the room. I want them to know how to do this gracefully and without calling undue attention to themselves. I want them to know how to listen and observe and be a part of the action without feeling the need to dominate. I want them to know that what happens when there’s no other white person to witness is just as real as anything else they might experience. I want them to extrapolate that experience into the knowledge that all sorts of very real things take place that they will never witness. I want them to know that race and culture are real, and part of all of our lives….
Being the only white person in the room doesn’t make you “get it.” It doesn’t even make you special. But in my experience, over time, it does shift your perspective. It’s certainly a different starting place than never having been there. In our family, it has made…conversations about race and racism not only possible, but a part of ordinary life.
Being a Christian can seem a lot like work. Humility is a hard starting point that we would be well served to learn when we are young because it takes a lifetime of practice to get it right. Deference to other people’s life experience then becomes a starting point for connecting with them and growing together in grace and love. Without such a level of humility, we will undoubtedly fail in our task of growing the church wholly and together. I’m pretty sure we’ve got it figured out that that is ultimately our task.
One of the ways that this is possible is because you and I are physically present in the most ordinary places and situations. Just when we’ve found the perfect place to relax, God reminds us that there is no experience outside of Christian life. God is counting on us to break into the ordinary moment at hand, be Christ’s presence in the world to address the needs of humanity and strengthen the church together.
Seth Godin, the world-renowned author of all things motivating and marketing and high tech and good about business, reminded in a recent interview that we are marketing our story with every step we take down the sidewalk and every glance we make in another person’s direction. How we carry ourselves, what we say, what we write in our blog, the choices we make, tell a story of who we, what we know, and what we believe in. We live in a connectional world in which people find value in people and stories that resonate. The question we need to ask is what story are we putting out into the world? Is it a story that excites people? Is it one that they can believe in, too? Is the story you’re putting out there into each ordinary moment of life one that reflects the humility of Christ, present with us again and again to bind the woundedness of the world? Is our faith flowing through us that we’re presenting the story Christ needs for us share?
When we know that the love and mercy of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, the peace and the power of the Holy Spirit set us free from the labor of our day into the hope of eternity, we will feel quite tangibly that this lifesaving truth needs to reach all people. When we accept Christianity as something that holds meaning and worth for all people, it becomes the power through which we live. Internalizing this good news motivates us into a flow for our everyday lives such that we become walking billboards for the good news. Having humility toward people we encounter in our ordinary walk along the way enables us to make connections with them that become new creative experiences that strengthen the church of Jesus Christ at work in the world.
Humility is just one of the spiritual disciplines that enables us to live an authentic Christian life. Our challenge today is to look deep within our hearts and ask ourselves if there are ways that we live that are less than humble. How does our lack of humility steer people away from the good news of Jesus Christ? Does our lack of humility keep people away from the table that Jesus so bountifully sets for every living soul? How does our lack of humility lead to a sense that all are really not welcome in our hearts and right here in this very church? Discerning how we are less than humble enables us to address our hubris and come ever more closer to the person God is calling us to be.
Being a Christian is hard work. When we truly know and believe in what we’re doing, time and effort seem to fade away. Being a Christian will no longer seem like hard work at all, but the foundation through which we will experience eternal life and through which others will experience the good news today.
Thanks be to God. Amen.