Summary: A contemporary rendering of John Wesley’s famous sermon illuminating the differences between one who is simply wears the Christian lable and one who is truly reborn.
There’s a movie out at the theaters now, and I’m wondering how many of you have seen it. Has anyone seen the movie “Elf” yet? Although I have yet to see it, I heard the basic storyline in a review of the movie and thought to myself that the storyline of the movie sounds remarkably similar to the topic I want to talk about this morning. Because I haven’t personally seen the movie, I run the risk of getting a detail or two incorrect, so if I do, please forgive me.
In this movie, Santa Clause is making his rounds one Christmas night and during a visit to an orphanage an orphan infant sneaks into Santa’s sleigh and ends up riding all the way to the North Pole. The child is discovered, and after realizing that he was an orphan from the orphanage, the elves decide to adopt and raise the baby there at the North Pole. They dress him like an elf, treat him like an elf, and raise him like an elf.
The more time passes, the more evident it becomes that he definitely is NOT an elf. One major clue is that he grows to be over six feet tall. With each passing year, everyone becomes more and more aware that he is not an elf, and no amount of artificial, outward elf-ness can make him truly an elf. Finally, realizing that he doesn’t belong, he goes back to the real world to try to find his biological family, fit in, and become a normal person. As difficult as it was to try to be an elf, which he wasn’t, it is just as difficult trying to be a normal person because he had been artificially shaped into a form of elfness, without truly being an elf. Though I have no clue how the movie ends, the previews I have seen show a person who is somewhere in-between, not fitting in anywhere. He is an “almost” elf. He is an “almost” human.
My message today is a 21st century adaptation of a message preached by our denomination’s forefather, John Wesley, back in 1741 called “The ‘Almost’ Christian.” I read this sermon as a class assignment. And I must confess that often times when I read a sermon or book from a culture so long ago and so far away, I read it skeptical of it’s ability to really speak well to us here in 21st century America. Not so with this sermon by John Wesley. As I read his words I was struck by how true and relevant his words are for us today. We live in a nation, a society filled with “almost” Christians. Many of our churches are filled with, even led by “almost” Christians. When asked why they don’t participate in a church family, many non-church people say that it’s because of all of the “almost” Christians who are there. It was Mahatma Gandhi who was almost persuaded to become a Christian, but decided against it saying, “I would become a follower of Christ if it wasn’t for those who claim to follow him.” In other words, he was turned away from Christ by observing the lives lived by “almost” Christians.
So what does an “almost” Christian look like? The first thing that we could say about the “almost” Christian is that they are good, ethical people. They know and understand the importance of a good social ethic. When I was in grade school, there was a place on our report card labeled “citizenship” for the teacher to evaluate our social ethic. Now how in the world you can determine if a five year old is a good citizen or not is beyond me. The “almost” Christians are the people who would always receive an “A” for citizenship. They don’t steal. They don’t cheat one another. Lying and slandering one another is totally unacceptable to the “almost” Christian. They view liars and cheats as the pests of society.
They don’t oppress the poor, in fact, they probably look after them; engaging in all sorts of charity work. When they see someone hungry, they feed them. When someone needs clothing, they clothe them. They are typically philanthropists, giving generously to social programs.
The “almost” Christian is a hard worker, not lazy, but working long, hard hours to earn a good income, provide a comfortable life for his family, be recognized and praised by his superiors as he is promoted up the corporate ladder. This is the person will lives by the credo, “God helps those who help themselves.”
The second thing we could say about the “almost” Christian is that they are good, moral people. The “almost” Christian is someone who works hard at observing and adhering to a code of morality in which it is wrong to kill, commit adultery and other sexual sin, or destroy one another with his words. They avoid moral vices such as drunkenness, drug use, and gambling. This is a person who is generally good to other people and could quote to you and try to live by The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”