Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit is three-in-one.
A young woman fresh out of nursing school goes to a concert where a madman starts shooting the crowd from a hotel nearby. Like everyone else her first instinct is to run but then something stops her. Behind her are people in need, people who have been shot, people who are dying. So, she turns and runs back into the danger zone in the chance that she might help those who are suffering despite the gunfire raining upon them.
A man who has just lost everything in a hurricane grieves over his loss, but instead of wallowing in his grief, he takes the only thing that survived, his boat, and he works to rescue others who have just endured a similar fate.
A fire fighter runs toward the one remaining tower at the World Trade center where people are running for their lives in the chance that the second tower might suffer the same fate as the first. Instead of running with them, the brave fire fighter runs against them into the tower doing all he can to save as many people as possible despite the danger.
I believe that it’s during these times of tragedy that we see God the clearest because, it’s during these times, people go against their human instincts because they have been overridden by their spiritual ones.
John 15:3, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
This morning we are going to talk about what it really means to be a Christian. What is expected of us? How far are we asked to go to live a life worthy of the calling we have received?
Some opportunities, such as those mentioned, are driven by greater things than us. On our own we would always preserve ourselves. We’re selfish people born into a sinful world. But in times of great need, something else grabs us, believer and non-believer alike, to do things we would never do on our own. I believe that’s when God takes control, especially when His people are suffering.
In Scripture we learn the rules for every Christian to follow if they hope to do what Christ has called them to do. Citizens are to submit to the authorities by giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Husbands are to treat their wives with respect and wives are supposed to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Parents are asked not to frustrate their children but rather bring them up in the Lord. Children are called to obey their parents. The young are to be submissive to the older. The widow is to put her trust in God alone and everyone is called to love their neighbor as themselves. Imagine what this world would be like if we were to follow these few simple rules.
Together we make up one Christian family with God as our Heavenly Father. This name we carry, is also a title. The title Christian should be one that warrants respect. It should be one that can be trusted and looked up to. Unfortunately, that title has been tarnished by too many who want to claim the name but not live up to the responsibility it carries.
I used to tell my kids on occasion when they would go out for the night with their friends to remember the name that they carry because something done in that name doesn’t only affect them, it affects the whole family. If my son chooses to lead the life of a thief, he tarnishes the whole family name. If my daughter decides one day she’s going to cheat someone else out of something, it affects us all.
So, it is with the greater family name we carry, that of Christian. God says in Revelation 3:15-16, talking to the church in Laodicea, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
God has no use for someone who is Christian in name only, who thinks it is enough to come to church on Sunday and forget about their role as a Christian the rest of the week. He would rather have you deny Him then lead someone astray by your actions while in your words you claim his family name.
So, why do you call yourself a Christian? Is it because you honestly live the life you have been called to live or do you carry the name because it makes you feel better about yourself. When people think of you with that family name do they see that it fits you or might they think you’re a hypocrite? There is a lot of power in a name, especially if you claim, based on that name, to have the higher moral ground. If you carry this family name, others will expect something greater from you. Are you prepared for the opportunity to claim that name in a righteous way?
Here is a little bit of trivia for you that even surprised me a little when I looked it up. The title of Christian is used only three times in all of Scripture. Then, it was defined as a follower of Christ and it had already become a name of power and responsibility.
The first time it is mentioned is in Acts 11:26 where it tells us that the disciples of Christ were first called Christians at Antioch. Antioch was an important city in the Roman empire about 300 miles from Jerusalem. It was the headquarters for the Apostles and for Paul’s missionary journeys. We can imagine all the leaders of the church discussing this very topic asking, “If we are going to call ourselves Christian, what does that mean?” I would think the conclusion would be something like we read in our New Testament lesson for this morning in Romans 12. Listen closely as I read it again:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This is how a Christian is expected to behave, but what really makes the Christian a Christian? Of course, it is because you have chosen to follow Christ in faith and truth. That means a Christian is someone with a personal relationship with the Lord. A life full of redemption and forgiveness. A life of purpose and praise.
If you truly live up to this family name it means you understand that you are saved by the blood of God’s only Son full of grace and mercy. It means that you trust in the power of Almighty God to guide you.
The second time we find the title Christian in Scripture comes in Acts 26:28 where Agrippa says to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
King Agrippa had Paul come before him to face the charge of treason for preaching the Gospel. But instead of trying to beat the charge, he did to Agrippa the very thing he had been accused of, he preached to him the Gospel message. Instead of giving a defense, he gives a witness. Paul shows us here that some things are of most importance. To him, the thing that ruled over every other thing in his life was to preach the Good News.
For many, the world tarnishes the message in a sea of speculation. How can someone believe in an almighty God when sin is everywhere?
They get angry with God and shout to God that life is unfair and because of that they hold back their belief. Many do this because they fail to truly understand sin and its effect on the world and, in doing this, they dampen the light that shines from the person who came to save us from that sin.
In truth, we should be shouting the message of our salvation from the rooftops. Paul had that kind of excitement for Christ. Even facing death, he could not help but share the Good News of Jesus Christ. That is an excitement we should all pray for.
Our final passage comes from 1 Peter 4:16 here it says, “Yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
We look at our world and we see the great family name of Christian being drug through the mud of unbelief and rejection and we do little to stop it. As Christians are persecuted and disregarded for their faith, we turn a blind eye hoping we will never be among their rank.
What have we become? What must Christ think of us when we do nothing? This last question is harder than the first because it urges us to go to those places we fear to tread. When we are called to defend our faith, our anxiety rises, our palms become sweaty and our stomach tightens. When we are called to go beyond our comfort zone to share the truth, we hide in our safe zones hoping someone else will do what must be done.
You have all been called to a holy family and you all bear the family name that is above all other names. As a member of this family, you have been promised forgiveness, grace and mercy from the Creator of the universe. Because you carry this name, your life will never end because sin can no longer claim you, Christ Himself saw to that on the cross. These are gifts that outrank any other gifts you could possibly receive. Don’t let this title be tarnished by your actions but rather glorify God in all you do and say.
Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Have you claimed your place at the family banquet? If so, be proud of the name you carry as you show that pride in everything you do. Our God is ready to give you the keys to the kingdom, if you are willing. Amen.