Summary: A Christian is someone who has been changed by his or her encounter with the risen Jesus
What is a Christian?
In a few funeral preparation talks, I have people who have described their lost loved ones in these terms
“He didn’t believe in God
He didn’t go to Church
But he was a good Christian”
That isn’t a very useful definition of what is a Christian
So what is a Christian?
In Acts 11:26 we read:
“…and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (NASB)
Story: A few years ago I went on a week’s summer course at my old Theological College, Wycliffe Hall in Oxford.
The Sunday (08-07-2012) I was down in Oxford, I went to the church I used to attend when I was in Oxford - St Aldates.
As I walked in, I looked at the bookrack and saw Simon
Ponsonby’s new book “Loving Mercy”
I decided not to buy it - as I was sure would never read it. After all I have so many books on my bookshelf that I have not read that this would simply join them
As I went into Church, who would I run into - but Simon himself.
“ Have you got a copy of my new book?” he said “ It’s free for clergy”
“No” I replied and he vanished off to get me a copy.
He gave it to me at the end of the service – I thanked him - and I thought no more about it.
During the service I was triggered to think about a discussion that I had recently had with one of my churchwardens who had asked “What is a Christian?”
As the new Curate preached, it suddenly dawned on me - and although he didn’t say it
A Christian is someone in WHOM GOD DWELLS
God lives in me – and you - if you are a born again Christian.
Have you ever thought of that?
GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT dwells in you
No other religion claims that God comes to live in them
And suddenly, in the middle of that sermon, my mind went back to part of our reading from John 20 this morning where Jesus said to his disciples:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
So there you have it
It is when we receive the Holy Spirit that we receive Jesus’ peace.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, said something similar when he said, speaking on behalf of God:
“I will give you a new heart and will put a new Spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will pour my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ez 36:26-27)
When the Spirit of God – The Holy Spirit - comes to live within us he changes us – he gives us a new heart
As St Paul put it : The Old has passed away, behold the new has come (2 Cor 5:17)
When we encounter God, He wants to change us
In our Gospel reading this morning when Jesus encountered his fearful disciples – he spoke words of peace to them – and they were changed from fearful to OVERJOYED.
When Jesus encountered Thomas he changed from being a sceptic to being a believer
Encountering God will change us if we allow him to do so.
As an old preacher, Alun Morris once put it:
The HOLY SPIRIT is a gentleman,
He does not force himself on us.
Story: I’d like to leave you with a story from Simon Ponsonby’s book - Loving Mercy, because it really spoke to me of how the Holy Spirit can radically change us if we will allow him to do so.
Simon tells the story of Judson Cornwall, an American Pentecostal preacher who, after the war, was invited to speak at a renewal conference in Germany.
But Cornwall had a deep seated grudge against the Germans and simply threw the invitation into the bin.
Remarkably, when his wife emptied the bin, she spotted the invitation, pressed it out and put it on his desk again.
It haunted him for days as he shuffled around it.
Finally the Spirit won and he reluctantly agreed to go.
Arriving in Germany he was not relieved of his dis-ease and the Conference centre turned out to be in the former headquarters of the SS, Hitler’s elite guard, which aroused all sorts of images and old hatreds in him.
He spent two days before the conference praying and fasting and preparing – and avoiding the Germans.
On the first night of the Conference he went down to speak and took umbrage at his translator, a somewhat stereotypical Aryan Ueberfrau – giant, buxom, blonde hair in a bun.