Ungodly Christians

23 02 2008

Texts:  Romans 5: 1-11; John 4:5-42

We all go through life comparing ourselves to others.  There’s always someone who is better or worse off than us, someone we wish we were like or are glad we’re not like at all.  There are those we feel superior to.  Our tendency as a race has been and still remains to divide, to put ourselves into boxes and categories.  Jesus did not do this.  In fact, he was so good at NOT putting people into boxes that it got him into trouble, especially with religious people.

Many people in the United States feel (wrongly) that we are, or are supposed to be, or were founded as, a Christian nation.  If that were so, we would not have our first amendment to the Constitution as it was written.  However, I would say that America does have its own religion of sorts.  Its gospel is enshrined in the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” something that was actually said by Benjamin Franklin but many people think is in the Bible (or should be) somewhere.  We see this type of gospel sneaking into the pulpits, especially in the sermons of many televangelists.  “God wants to bless you,” they say.  Their idea of blessing become a siren song for our desires for material comfort, a comfort which the God who revealed himself through history and Scripture does not guarantee.  Their message gives birth to the idea of a God who is nothing more than a genie in a bottle and yet another person to whom you can say, “What have you done for me lately??”

Televangelists and other mega-church pastors will often point to their material possessions as God’s blessing in their lives, and in some instances it could be.  But, as find in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, we should not boast or brag about our worldly possessions.

Now, Paul does say we who call ourselves Christians do have a right to boast and brag, but they are in very different things.  It is totally different than the idea of “God helps those who help themselves.”  Our bragging rights are found in God’s actions, not ours or our work ethic. Our boasting comes in the form of proclaiming hope, our suffering, and reconciliation.  Some points of clarity are called for here …. when I say hope, I do not mean a wish or a preference for a given outcome, but a certainty that a future will be realized.  When I say suffering, I do not mean giving in to a martyr complex, but knowing that God gives us strength to endure tough times and hard challenges.  The crux of the matter is we can boast in our reconciliation, that because of Jesus Christ, we are united and reconciled to God, each and every one of us, not because we have helped ourselves to the bounties of God’s blessing, but that God has done it all.  This is the real Gospel … “While we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly….”  each and every one us.  We are all ungodly and immoral Christians.

Think for a moment of what this means …. “Christ died for the ungodly.”  Maybe .. just maybe… says Paul, someone might lay down his life and die and suffer torture for a good person or even for a friend.   But Paul is saying here that Jesus died not for good people, but for all the miserable, fallen people on this planet.  And who are those people?  Each and every one of us.  This death is so powerful, the love which knows no bounds, that out of this darkness come light and life.  And not just any old life, but new life. God saves and reaches out to those who don’t deserve it, and when we recognize that, how much greater is our ability to boast!

In our Gospel story this week, Jesus mets a very ungodly woman.  In fact, Jesus has many strikes against him and they just keep on coming as the story progresses.  1) He is in Samaria, the “bad neighborhood” of Palestine, the wrong side of the tracks.  2)  He goes to the well, a place of “women’s work” as it was women who drew water in those days (mingling with the sexes is out).  3)  He actually SPEAKS to the lone woman who comes to draw water. 4) The woman, unsurprisingly, is a Samaritan.  5) She is coming to draw water in the heat of the day because she is not polite company even among Samaritans.  She is an outcasts among outcasts.  Out of all this, Jesus breaks every gender and racial barrier and says “Give me a drink.”  The woman is astonished and probably gets embarassed as things continue.  She had too many men in her life.  She was not a good wife or mother.  But Jesus has made it a point to reach out to those that no one wants anything to do with.

Just like Nicodemus from last week’s Gospel, the woman is confronted with the radical newness of the what Jesus says and does.  He does not put her in a box according to nationality or gender or means, but acknowledges and respects her humanity. However, unlike Nicodemus, she grows in understanding about who this guy is who said, “Give me a drink.”  She remains engaged in the conversation even when Jesus begins revealing embarrassing things about her past.  “Salvation is from the Jews,” as Jesus says, and indeed, Jesus comes from a Jewish background, but in him something new has happened. In dying for the ungodly, all barriers have been broken. We are no strangers to the concept of dying for someone.  We honor those who die for their country, their loved ones and their friends.  But Paul says that Jesus didn’t do that.  Jesus dies for his enemies.  Which of us would be willing to do that? For all of the evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to stop smoking, end our excessive drinking or spending habits, overcoming our racism or homophobia, we are still ungodly sinners … ungodly Christians.

Where is the good news that I can share out of this revelation that we are ungodly?  The Good News is that Christ justifies us and makes us right.  We believe in a God who calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4) and this includes bringing goodness out of ungodliness.  This isn’t a God who comes in and makes things look right, but makes them right down to the core.  In the death of Christ, we are transformed.

One thing I have always said is that Christianity is not a religion.  Religion is about many things, not the least of which is our vain attempts to get closer to God or find meaning in our lives or even to control others to be “just like us” so they can fit in all of those boxes.   Christianity is and always has been about the God who comes looking for us.  Even in the garden of Eden shortly after Sin came into the world, the first thing God says is “Where are you?”  He knows we are lost and he has come to find us.  There is no need for us to compare ourselves to each other for we are all in the same boat.  We are all fallen.  We are all Ungodly Christians reconciled to God not by anything we do or any box we put ourselves or anyone else in, but because Christ died for us all.  And in that is our hope.

Amen.

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5 responses

23 02 2008
Grandmère Mimi

So, RB, I’ve had my sermon – and a very good one. Does that mean that I don’t have to go to church tomorrow? Are you preaching these?

24 02 2008
Doorman-Priest

Very relevant in the context of my recent brush with the evangelical right wing.

24 02 2008
Reverend boy

Mimi I’ll leave that to your own conscience of whether or not you go to church 😉

I’m not preaching these but I have thought about trying to drag out my microphone, record them and post them on here along with the text.

24 02 2008
Grandmère Mimi

RB, you could do a video, I mean, with you being such a looker and all, that would be nice.

25 02 2008
Grandmère Mimi

Rev. Boy, email me to see what we can work out as to meeting in NYC. I did not realize that you had my address.

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