What it Means to be a Christian
Sermon by Frederich Buechner preached by Rev. Steven McClelland on John 14: 1 – 14. Focus on what it means to be a Christian and what it does not mean.
Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and theologian, tells this story that gets at what it means to be a Christian. And this is the story he told:
A friend of mine told me about a Christmas pageant he took part in once as the rector of an Episcopal church somewhere. The manger was down in front at the chancel steps where it always is. Mary was there in a blue mantle and Joseph in a cotton beard. The wise men were there with a handful of shepherds, and of course in the midst of them all the Christ child was there, lying in the straw.
The nativity story was read aloud by my friend with carols sung at the appropriate places, and all went like clockwork until it came time for the arrival of the angels of the heavenly host as represented by the children of the congregation, who were robed in white and scattered throughout the pews with their parents.
At the right moment they were supposed to come forward and gather around the manger saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men,” and that is just what they did except there were so many of them that there was a fair amount of crowding and jockeying for position, with the result that one particular angel, a girl about nine years old who was smaller than most of them, ended up so far out on the fringes of things that not even by craning her neck and standing on tiptoe could she see what was going on.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among men,” they all sang on cue, and then in the momentary pause that followed, the small girl electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked, “Let Jesus show!”
There was a lot of the service still to go, but my friend the rector said that one of the best things he ever did in his life was to end everything precisely there. “Let Jesus showl” the child cried out, and while the congregation was still sitting in stunned silence, he pronounced the benediction, and everybody filed out of the church with those unforgettable words ringing in their ears.
Let Jesus show in these churches we have built for him then – not just Jesus as we cut him down to size in our sermons and hymns and stained-glass windows, but Jesus as he sat there among his friends with wine on his breath and crumbs in his beard and his heart in his mouth as he spoke about his death and ours in words that even the nine-year-old angel would have understood. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” he said in the midst of his own terrible troubles. Take it easy. Take it easy. Take heart. “Believe in God,” he said. “Believe also in me.”
Well, we are believers, you and I, that’s why we’re here – at least would-be believers, part-time believers, believers with our fingers crossed. Believing in him is not the same as believing things about him such as that he was born of a virgin or even that walked on water. It’s not about giving up liquor or tobacco or dancing with them that do.
It’s not even about going to church or reading your Bible, though you can learn a lot if you do. It’s not about being good or nice. It’s not any of these. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” He does not say the church is the way. He does not say his teachings are the way, or what people for centuries have taught about him. He does not say religion is the way, not even the religion that bears his name. He says he himself is the way.
It’s not about what’s in our minds it’s about giving our hearts to him, come hell or high water the way a child believes in a mother or a father, the way a mother or a father believes in a child. It is his way that leads to a true life full of abundance. A way to be truly human as he was truly human and thus at the same time truly God’s own. And in this life we are dazzled by him, haunted by him, nourished by him. It’s a life so full of abundance and light that not even the darkness of death could prevail against it.
Thus it is possible to be on Christ’s way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of him. You see a Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has a least some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank. A Christian isn’t necessarily any nicer than anybody else. They’re just some what better informed. Amen