Why I am A Christian
The picture on the front of the pew bulletin sums up the journey before us. There is the central image of the cross with several symbols of holy Week. The palms are for the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem as the King riding on a colt rather than in a chariot. The drape on the cross reminds us of the our Lord’s body. And yet the drape is not his body, it is a reminder that Jesus’ body could not be contained by the cross. The flowers at the base of the cross are, Jenny tells me, lilies - an ancient sign of resurrection.
Make this journey with freshness each year by asking yourself the question "why am I a Christian?". Some times this question becomes an imperative for us, either because as we have it, the great festival of the Church is around the corner, or because some life event throws the question right up in one’s face. Both are true for me. I had to prepare a sermon for today, and the events of the past week have made me ask in a deeply personal way, "Well, why am I a Christian?"
I’m sure that much of the answer to that question is shrouded in early nurture and the mysterious activity of the spirit, but as my memories emerge two profound images come to mind. That my father taught me how to pray, and that my mother ensured that we five children were at Church, Sunday School and were duly baptised and confirmed. As a matter of fact I remember that I might be the only person ever grounded for getting home late from the first confirmation class. I was in the company of the Rector’s son after the lesson and we were engrossed in exploring, as young boys do, that we forget the time - it was after dark when I got home. I thought the punishment rather harsh and made my feelings known, but it is interesting that I never needed any further disciplining about time keeping! No confirmation for me that year, but I duly fronted up the next year and was confirmed by Bishop Arthur. Ah confirmation or graduation from Sunday School meant I did not have to go to church if I didn’t want to - but I did for a while as a server.
Then came teenage years and all the influences of adolescence kicked in - peer group, sport and hormones. Peer groups are highly influential in adolescence and hormonal changes are a part of life whether we like it or not. Sport or some organised activity can be a great help in getting through those stormy years. Some play football, others tennis, cricket. I was a boxer. True. As all tough competitive sport does, it kept me safe from going too far down the party animal track. Boxing taught me a couple of other things. Usually we have little chance of winning if we are not properly prepared, and secondly, no matter how well prepared we might be we can’t always win!
My first fight was a great victory, the local paper said I excelled in my debut. Maybe I could do well at this game, I thought Australian Champion, Olympic Games, why stop there I could be world champion in a few years. Next week I put the gloves on again. As this fight progressed I noticed a strange numbness come over me. I never could remember much about that fight. After the referee raised the other fighter’s hand in victory I went back to the corner despondent but still a bit numb. Then my trainer loosened the golve on my left hand and tried to take it off. It would not come off easily. He tugged harder and harder until it gave way. We all quickly saw the reason for the difficulty - My thumb was stuck out at right angles to the rest of my hand, both broken and dislocated as it turned out. I was in plaster for the obligatory six weeks - a young fourteen year old with a big decision - was this a challenge to be overcome or a sign that other interests would be more profitable and more fun. I decided to continue and actually had twenty five fights all together. Incidentally, the person on whose head I broke my thumb did become Australian champion in 1974.But by the time I was 18 I felt an emptiness in my life that could not be filled with trophies. At the time I could not identify the need that this feeling represented but attempted to fill it up with social life, work and study. In my very early twenties one of my four younger sisters decided to get confirmed. She is number four in the family. Number one me, and two and three had been encouraged through the rites of passage of the Church. But the system must have loosened up a bit by the time Leanne came along and she was left to make here own decision - And she did. Leanne decided to become confirmed. Her preparation time was also a challenge to the rest of the family who had left. Returning to regular worship filled that void in my life. It was for me a real homecoming. I was the prodigal son. The priest who prepared me for confirmation was still the rector which added to the feeling of homecoming.
I am a Christian because of the mysterious movement of the spirit of God in my life, the encouragement and teaching of my parents and my response to the void that only conscious discipleship of Christ could fill. That is really the beginning of the story not the end. At the centre of this discipleship is a relationship with Jesus crucified and resurrected. We are drawn today to reflect on the place of the cross in that relationship as was the writer of John’s gospel when he wrote those words that have been called the gospel in a sentence "God so loved the world that he gave his only son, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
The cross or crucifixion was a Roman form of execution reserved mainly for criminals and political rebels. It was a particularly gruesome form of death. Around this time of the year I imagine there are many sermons being prepared and preached detailing just how brutal a form of torture it was. As well as being painful and drawn out it had the added humiliation of displaying the sufferings of the victims all through to death and beyond as many were left to the birds after their death. The victims were lifted up, just as Moses had lifted up the serpent in the desert. That lifting up would be a sign of healing just as the lifting up of Jesus would be. There are many explanations about what the cross means for we human beings.
As Jesus did so often in his life, with his very life he turns things around, and gives new meaning - captivity becomes freedom, death becomes life, and the unfinished is brought to completion. So too the cross, the instrument of torture and death cries to us of freedom, life and completion or fullness.
In Christ we are free. So literally did the early Christians take this truth that leaders such as St Paul had to reign them in. "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.
In heralding the Kingdom of God Jesus brings a in a new way of living. he calls out a community of faith hope and love, (known sometimes as the Kingdom ethic) for which there is no rule book in the strict sense of that word. Each of us would have a different expression this kingdom ethic.
During the week I was told that we need to be prepared to be doormats for the gospel. The only reference I could find in my NRSV to ’mat’ was the one belonging to the paralytic man. Jesus told him to take up his mat and walk. The Christian life is not the simpering cowering false humility that some preach, but joyous and courageous. I know this - if we allow ourselves to be treated as door mats that’s how we will be treated.
In Christ we have life. Not just existence, not just a way of life, but the essence of life with God. It is a life that is filled with joy and sorrow and sometimes we might feel more in control than at others. We may endure personal crises of faith and argue about how we do things in the church, but we are called to fullness of life which we can grasp now until that time when all is brought to completion.
In Christ we have completion. Among the last words Jesus spoke from the cross were these: "It is finished". It sounds completely desolate and defeatist. Another way to look at those words is as a completion. The work of Christ is completed on the cross. We have an inkling of what that completion is like in resurrection - neither the cross nor the tomb can hold Jesus. The Easter message is not as some would have "Jesus came back to life." but rather that God raised Jesus from the dead. There is a difference, rather than returning to this life as Lazarus did, Jesus was raised to new and eternal life at the right hand of God. We live in the faith of being brought to completion with God and each other.
We lift high the cross this morning and as we do we reflect on our answers to the question, "Why am I a Christian?" It is a question to be pondered in Lent, but it is a question to which we might be driven by life experience. When life drive us to ask that question we must choose whether to go on or to give up. When I was fourteen I remember a decision I had to make about going on or giving up - I chose to go on and feel richer for it. I believe an honest searching of this question will lead us to know Christ in a deeper way and we shall be eternally richer for that.