We talked last week about what it means to be a Christian, to be adopted, acquitted, and apprenticed by Jesus Christ. And I mentioned that this is one of the basic orientation choices of your life, which sets the course for how you will approach any number of things. So whether or not you allow Jesus to adopt and acquit and apprentice you is an important decision. However, as we continue with our sermon series, we'll see that it's also a generic choice, a choice that always ends up taking on some further shape, depending on the community you enter to flesh out your commitment to Christ. C.S. Lewis, whom the first evening of our Lenten program focused on, has a great image of this. He says that becoming a Christian is like stepping into a hallway, out of which doors open onto several rooms. The choice to be a Christian is like standing in that long hallway, but it's only a place from which to try the various doors and see which one seems the best fit for you. You can't just stay there; nobody lives in a hallway. If you want food and company and chairs to sit down on, you need to move into one of the rooms.
So what we’ll talk about today is one of the rooms, the Episcopal or Anglican one, and where we came from and what kinds of things are emphasized here. All the rooms have their own style, so one of the ways I'll approach this is to contrast a few things you'll find in this room with things you'd find in a different one. By doing that I am not in any way saying that other styles of being a Christian are bad, or criticizing people who feel called to a different room. I know I am called to this one, and in the way anyone who really loves something would say this, well, I just think it's the best. But others disagree, and we need to have an attitude of appreciation for our brothers and sisters who do things differently, while also being, as Paul says, "thoroughly convinced in our own minds."
As we look forward to Holy Week, Easter, and our visit with Bishop Martins in April, we’ve been focusing on spiritual basics, the kind of bedrock stuff where the actual energy for Christian living comes from. Many of you have taken part in the Sunday or Wednesday sessions on the Creeds, and we begin another set on the Bible today. Today also starts a four part sermon series. Today’s topic is being a Christian, and the next two are going to cover being an Episcopal Christian, being an Episcopal Christian here at Emmanuel, and then finally being a practicing Episcopal Christian here at Emmanuel.
Now these are not, of course, four options to pick and choose among. They’re a chain of developments. Being a Christian is the central identity God gives us... being an Episcopal Christian is choosing a mode in which to live out that central identity... being an Episcopal Christian at Emmanuel is choosing a local group of Christians to live it with... and then practicing it is inviting God to shape your way of life to reflect those choices.
But so often we can get distracted from the central thing by some of the details of our subsequent choices. This is a bad habit the church fell into especially during the Establishment era, when Christians spent lots of energy talking about our disagreements with other Christians, or tweaking details of programs or governance – all of which has resulted in decades of decline. If we’ve proved anything in the past 50 years, it’s that the more you bypass the heart of the matter in favor of focusing on secondary internal issues, the less energy and joy you will have and the worse things will go.
One of the basic truths that is unveiled to us as we walk the Christian path is that we are both far worse off than we ever thought, and far more loved than we ever dreamed. On Ash Wednesday, as we begin Lent, there is always a focus on the first of those truths, on the reality of sin, on our own experiences of brokenness and failure. But in the middle of this first focus, we always pause for a reminder of the second one, when we proclaim Psalm 103 together. This Psalm grounds us in the truth that in spite of our sinfulness, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed.
Understanding and experiencing the love God has for us sinners is the heart of understanding and experiencing the Christian attitude to sin. Often the default human attitude to sin, to wrongdoing, is either to hide it or to try to make up for your guilt. The default response to change and loss is to keep a stiff upper lip. The default response to failure is to try to win next time. In other words, when you face darkness and brokenness of whatever kind, that attitude says dealing with it is your problem. Any answer there will be lies with you, with who you are and what you do. Whereas the Christian response to the places of darkness and brokenness we encounter in ourselves and others is all about who God is and what God has done.