Why Am I A Christian?
Easter Day (Year C) - April 21, 2019
1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (CEB)
19 If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest[a] of those who have died. 21 Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. 22 In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. 23 Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest,[b] then those who belong to Christ at his coming, 24 and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end. 25 It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet.[c] 26 Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end,
A few weeks ago, I was at a small meeting of church leaders. And as is often the case, I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade. It’s become a normal thing. The problem is that I’m getting used to it and before I know it, I’ll be the old guy.
Anyway, the topic turned to something that often worries older churchgoers: How do we get young people to come to church? So as the token millennial in the room, all eyes turned on me. “Speak for your people! Explain why they aren’t here where they’re supposed to be.”
Uh, I don’t know. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to it. You gotta get to know actual young people and find out why they don’t come. Some people don’t come because of their work or family schedules; some because they don’t think it’s that important; some because they have been personally hurt by the church or by other Christians; some don’t believe what the church preaches; and many, I’m convinced, don’t even know what the Church believes.
At first, I was thinking about all them out there. Why don’t they want to be here? What is their problem with church or religion or Jesus?
But after I was done running through all these so-called “answers” in my head, somebody asked me directly: “You’re young. Why do you go to church?” Instead of wondering about why they don’t come, let’s focus on why you do. Let’s look for the positives here.
All of sudden it wasn’t a sociological thought experiment; it was about me. And I had to think for a minute. It’s been a while since somebody asked me that. Don’t speak for anybody else. Why do I believe in God? What motivates me to do all the stuff I do as a priest? Ultimately, why am I a Christian?
The reason why I’m a Christian lies in what St. Paul talks about in this reading from 1 Corinthians. He starts out saying: “If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.” If we think that this life is what it’s all about, then we’re sorry fools. I don’t know if you’re paying attention, but the world we live in is horrible. 99% of the time, the news is more depressing than hopeful.
Life is precious but we are constantly surrounded by danger, pain, death, and evil. In an instant, the weather can turn and destroy our land, homes, food, and lives. People exploit, rob, and kill each other. The rich steal from the poor, and they pay politicians to make it legal so they won’t get in trouble. But they’ll lock us up for petty misdemeanors. People act selfishly to the point where they hurt others, and often don’t care. We’ll treat people worse than dogs if it serves our own interests. And again, I’m not just talking about them out there, the Powers and Principalities of the world -- the folks in the charge and the spiritual realities behind them. This selfishness lives in each of us too, most especially in me.
Over and over, prophets and sages rise up against these tides of oppression, preaching liberation and freedom. But more often than not, they get swallowed up by Sin and Death. They are murdered before their messages can spread too far. This life is too depressing as it is to be all we hope for.
St. Paul continues (CEB): “20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. 21 Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. 22 In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. 23 Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, 24 and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end. 25 It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet. 26 Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end.” Or more traditionally: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (KJV).
Life is bad. Life seems hopeless. Death and suffering are always knocking at our door. But if Jesus was really God become flesh; And if Jesus, the God-Man, really got killed for standing up for the oppressed and broken people of the world; And — this is the important part — if Jesus really rose from the dead, then there is hope. If God is Love and God is a Liberator and God beat death, then we have something to hope for. I have something to hope for.
The Resurrection is what makes everything make sense. Jesus only brings Good News if he is able to seal the deal. On Friday, it looked like Jesus got swallowed up by death and evil on the Cross. Jesus went head to head with Death, the world’s worst enemy. On the Cross, he seemed to lose the battle. But death can’t hold him down. By Sunday, Jesus has won the war.
By rising to new life, Jesus proves that God is greater. God’s Love, Grace, and Power are stronger than Death. God can overcome any obstacle we might face because God beat death, along with every other evil and injustice. Maybe those prophets died for something after all. They will have New Life too.
We may think that our world is awful, but God agrees. In Christ, God experienced the worst we have to offer. God knows suffering, pain, and death, and God is actively working to change it. Our lives may be filled with suffering and sorrow, but God can heal them. If God can change death into life, God can change anything. We aren’t stuck with the world the way it is.
Our God is the breaker of chains and conqueror of death. Our God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Our God brought Israel’s refugees back home after their exile in Babylon. Our God became one of us, poor and outcast, and brought Good News to all the poor and outcast of the world. Our God is on our side, and our God is Love.
I’m not a Christian because I believe other Christians are good people. Most of the time we’re not. But do we worship a good God. We worship a God who is taking our broken, upside-down world and flipping it back on its head with the power of Love and Resurrection. And by God’s grace, we can be a little part of that revolution.
Rejoice today that Christ is risen! Tell your friends and your neighbors about all the good that God has done in your life, about the hope that God brings you. And join with those who are speaking truth to power (like Jesus did) and trying to reshape the world with God’s Love. Amen.