“I Can Christian Today”

November 10, 2019
Jonathan Rumburg
I Timothy 4:1-8, 16-18

Introduction

The English lexicon is always evolving, always growing, always expanding to adapt and incorporate the ever changing world we live in.

For instance, it wasn’t long ago the word “selfie” came into existence.  I recall the first time I heard it.   I had no clue what the person was talking about—but I did what we all do when that happens.  I pretended I did.

I didn’t know what a meme was until I had to use the word in a wedding homily.  Thank God for urban dictionary.com.

But the first time I heard the word “adult” used as a verb, I paused, but quickly figured out exactly what it meant, especially when it was used in the sentence, “I can’t adult today.”

“I can’t adult today” sounds clumsy with its unconventional use of “adult” as a verb, but it’s not hard to get what the saying means: “At the moment, I am incapable of being a responsible grown-up.   Don’t ask or expect me to do anything that will require me to be a grown up.”

This term has become a ubiquitous expression on social media; it has been stenciled on T-shirts, and kiln-fired on coffee mugs.   It is a term that gives example as to how nouns and adjectives can be turned into verbs—which maybe isn’t a bad idea, especially for certain nouns—like Christian.

Like the noun “adult” being turned into a verb, the noun “Christian” needs to become a verb also—but not in the way some are saying, “I can’t adult today.” I’d like to hear Christians say, “I can Christian today.”

Move 1

Pastor and writer John Pavlovitz played off the “I can’t adult today” when he wrote an article titled, “I can’t Christian today.” Only in his case, he wasn’t trying to be funny or sardonic.

In declaring, “I can’t Christian today,” this pastor writes, “I can no longer be tethered to this thing that is so toxic and so painful to so many. I can’t wade through any more bad theology and predatory behavior from pulpit-pounding pastors who seem solely burdened to exclude and to wound and to do harm.  I can’t sift through all this malice and bitterness masquerading as Christianity to try to find what of it is worth keeping.”

That’s a powerful indictment woven in there—and he’s not the first Christian I’ve heard make it.

He continued in that tone and it quickly becomes apparent Pavlovitz has had his fill of people who are Christian in name, but aren’t, in his view, demonstrating the love of Jesus in their actions.

He writes, “I find myself in two battles lately. I am simultaneously fighting both with and for my faith tradition; some days working passionately to convince disillusioned people to stay, and other days telling them to run because I know how much destruction it is causing, the way it is preying upon vulnerable people, the corrupt power it wields against the already marginalized.”

All if it builds to the crescendo where Pavlovitz asks a pointed question, saying, “I find myself asking a question that I’d like to ask of similarly frustrated followers of Jesus: ‘Is Christianity helpful anymore?’”

Move 2

The Apostle Paul knew how helpful Christianity could be, and would be.  He knew how being a follower of Christ would change a person’s life, and how the love of Christ made known to all would change the world.

Sure, he too was distressed with the behavior of some who called themselves Christians.  It’s why he gives the instruction to Timothy he gives,“…the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to truth and wander away to myths.”

These with itching ears were those who argued that Christians, whether Gentile or Jew, must observe Jewish religious customs, including circumcision.  But Paul countered that new Christians needed to do no such thing.  So, of course, he didn’t like that some other Christian teachers argued otherwise—and this was all the tip of the iceberg.  Not even Jesus’ resurrection quelled the religious corrupt.

Nonetheless, despite how Paul felt about those he was convinced misapplied the Gospel, he still freely and gladly and adamantly identified himself as a follower of Jesus.  Paul willfully went to places he knew he would get in trouble for sharing the message he was bringing.  Even after repeated arrests where he was shackled in prisons and beaten with a whip, Paul still kept sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ because he knew it was the faithful thing to do—the faithful action to take.

Every day, in some manner or another, Paul woke up and said, “I can Christian today.”  And he said it because he knew Christianity would be helpful.  He knew it must be helpful.

Move 3

All of this—Pavlovitz’s “I can’t Christian today because I don’t know if Christianity is helpful anymore”, and Paul’s “I can Christian today, I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith” presents a paradox—something that is both one thing and another.

It is certain that we get so troubled by how some people behave in the name of Christ that we don’t want outsiders to think these people represent what “Christian” means.  We may even ask, “Is Christianity helpful anymore?”

We see political figures, wanting our votes; claim to be Christians while espousing ideas that are far off from what Jesus would advocate.

Today, Christians are splintered into divisions and factions—and I’m not talking denominational camps.  We’re divided by political and cultural boundaries.  And for many, these boundaries are far more important than the denominational and doctrinal ones.

Whatever position we take on immigration policy, a border wall, same-sex marriage, presidential politics, Supreme Court nominations, abortion, welfare, or legalization of marijuana, there will be Christians who will immediately call into question our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Hear that again…  Whatever position we take… on anything… there will be Christians who will immediately call into question our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is that helpful?

When this happens, some might say, “Well, if this is what it means to be a Christian, I want no part of it.” Or, they might simply say, “I’m done. I can’t Christian today.”

But then there are times when we experience a person of faith keeping the faith, putting faith in action, lifting others above themselves, going to those on the margins, being fully present and judgement free in ways that give dignity to all God’s children.

*******

          Unfortunately it is too easy these days to see the “us versus them” mentality to which Pavlovitz alludes.  It surfaces everywhere as followers of Jesus squabble over what serving him should look like and how the Bible should be applied.

On one side are the evangelicals, generally labeled as conservative and reactionary; and the other side are progressives, generally labeled as bleeding heart liberals who throw out doctrine to make everyone happy—all clashing against each other in the name of Christianity.

With such rabid partisanship in play, it’s not surprising that some would endorse the conclusion Pavlovitz suggested, and agree, it’s not helpful for followers of Jesus to identify themselves as “Christian.”

Move 4

So what do we do?

One thing might be to take a clue from how that odd phrasing uses “Christian” as though it were a verb.

While in standard usage “Christian” is a noun or adjective, in practice it’s a verb— a word used to identify an action.

So what do we do?  We do some “Christian-ing.”

While there are millions of Christians who don’t want to be associated with Christians of questionable views, politics and practices, those same millions are out there nonetheless “Christian-ing” day after day, serving God faithfully in our troubled world.

They are building hospitals and schools…Developing programs to lift the poor and help the needy…Helping out at their local church…. Working with refugees, helping them to get housing and to learn English… Tutoring teens who need help with academics… Delivering meals to the elderly… Leading Bible studies at nursing homes.  Those who are “Christian-ing” aren’t going to let their work be derailed by those who are misguided, immature Christians blabbering nonsense in the public arena.

So the remedy for those who say, even understandably, “I can’t Christian today” is to go to a homeless shelter and ladle soup; volunteer with our church for our Family Promise support; visit any of our homebound members; get involved with Stow Bulldog Bags; adopt a family for our Christmas In-Gathering program; and the like.  Take some intentional steps to “verbize” the term Christian and do some “Christian-ing.”

Or, as Paul put it to Timothy in the letter before us: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed” (2:15).  For when we do, we are fighting the good fight, and keeping the faith.

Conclusion

Yes, there are times when— as faithful Christians— we must rebuke those whose views and actions discredit Christianity.  Prophets are needed to speak truth to power.  The thing is, currently there’s no shortage of prophets.  The prophetic word is out there already.  In fact, today we have competing schools of the prophet.  And their shouting back and forth to each other in the public square is hard not to miss.

So the rebuking, the standing against, the warnings and so on— pretty much covered right now.  That could change.  But right now, we’re good with the prophetic ministry.

It would be better to close our mouths and open our hands to be the hands of Christ reaching out to a world who needs less talk of who is and who is not a Christian, and more actions that actually reveal Christ.

*******

          We don’t need more squabbling Christians in the world.  We need more Christ in the world.  And that’s up to us, with God’s help.  It’s what enables us to say, like Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Christ calls us to be people who say, “I can Christian today.” Amen.

Pastoral Prayer, November 10, 2019

Gracious God, we dream of a world free of poverty and oppression, and we yearn for a world free of vengeance and violence.  We pray for a world where your followers truly follow you.

When our hearts ache for the victims of war and oppression, help us to remember you healed people simply by touching them.

Give us faith in our ability to comfort and heal bodies and minds and spirits that have been broken by violence.

When the injustice of this world seems too much for us to handle, help us to remember you fed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish.

Give us hope that what we have to offer will turn out to be enough, too.

When fear of the power and opinions of others tempts us not to speak up for the least among us, help us to remember you dared to turn over the tables of money changers.

Give us the courage to risk following you without counting the cost.

When we feel ourselves fill with anger at those who are violent and oppressive, help us remember you prayed for those who killed you.

Give us compassion for our enemies, too.

When we tell ourselves we have given all we can to bring peace to this world, help us to remember your sacrifice… and give us the miracle of losing a little more of ourselves in serving you and our neighbors.

Walk with us, Lord, as we answer your call to be your followers.  Increase our compassion, our generosity and our hospitality for the least of your children. Give us the courage, the patience, the serenity, the self-honesty and the gentleness of spirit that are needed in a world that needs your followers to truly follow you.

We ask for you to hear now the prayers we have to offer from our hearts to yours in this time of holy silence.

All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”

 

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