Authenticity Breeds Relevancy

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
December 29, 2019 ● First Sunday After Christmas
Gospel: John 1:1-18

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, December 29, 2019

As a religious figure I am often invited to give the invocation at public functions, which of course include people of all faith traditions and none. Recently, I was invited to return to a group to offer a message for a memorial. The invitation told me that my message needed to be “more generic towards spirituality and positive vibes than religiously grounded.”

I was offended that a religious leader had been invited with the directive to not be religious. My reaction was visceral and I was offended.  After stewing about the audacity of the invitation, and deciding to reply with a respectful declination, a friend of mine offered simple, yet profound words: “Adrienne, there are people who need to hear about Christ’s light and his hope, even if they don’t yet know it. If you say, ‘no’ what about all the souls who need to hear the message?”

In our gospel passage today, we are introduced to a man sent from God whose name was John (we know him as John the Baptist), whose only function in this text was to testify to the light coming into the world so that all might believe through him. John’s human testimony is the means by which people came to believe in Jesus Christ.

When the true light that enlightens everyone was in the world, the world neither knew him nor accepted him. According to this scripture, not all people rejected Jesus. Those who received Jesus and believed in his name, were given power to become children of God. For it is the belief in Jesus’ identity as God himself, existing before all worlds, that is the non-negotiable for one to be given the power to become a child of God. God’s power is bestowed through belief.

11th Century theologian, St. Anselm of Canterbury, is best known for his spirituality summarized by the phrase, “Faith seeking understanding.” Anselm said, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.” This is not the mindset of the world around us.

Understanding this, our function as evangelists, bearers of the good news of God in Christ, is a very serious call-to-action which demands courage. We must function with the intention to live authentically into our function as bearers of Christ’s hope and bringers of his Light.

It can be hard to function as a child of God with integrity when the world “out there” says to the Church, “We’ll allow you to be in the world, but you need to abandon the doctrines of your faith and neutralize your message. We’ll allow you to be seen and not heard, unless spoken to, and even then, you must not cause discomfort for anyone.”

In her book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Dr. Brene Brown, a public figure who preaches about authenticity, shares how her speaking engagements started to come with compromising strings which directed her to keep quiet about her faith, publicly known as one of her guiding values.

She said, “I learned how to say the right thing or show up in the right way.  I became an expert fitter-in, a chameleon. And a very lonely stranger to myself.”[1] I am struck by how that statement can be applied to the Church.

When the church exchanges the gospel language for the language of the world, learning to say the right things and showing up in the right way that doesn’t cause discomfort to anyone, in order to desperately belong or have access to the secular world, the Church becomes an expert fitter-in—a chameleon, and a very lonely stranger to herself. This is a dangerous threshold into the danger of irrelevancy.

The Church remains relevant only by rightfully taking its place in the world as its authentic self. The price of assimilation, Christians stripping down the doctrines of their own faith in order to make it relatable, easy to understand, and even entertaining, is too high. We cannot sacrifice the church at the altar of the world. Authenticity breeds relevancy, and the church belongs in this 21st Century world standing firm in its authenticity.

We are to walk, not in the footsteps of the world, but in Christ who modeled how we are to show up in this world. Jesus’ message of repentance, among other things, certainly made some people uncomfortable. And, as followers of Christ, it is a given that some people will be uncomfortable around you, too. Remember that your purpose, as the body of Christ, is not to make people feel comfortable by watering down the gospel and denying the identity of our Lord.

The Spirit of Christ is present in the world today, and as we witness to the layers and rich textures of experiences embedded in the light of Christ, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to testify, as John did, to the truth that “…the Word became Flesh and lived among us…” (v.14). People need to hear that very message, even if they don’t yet know it. If you, who know Christ already, and are entrusted with taking the Gospel message to the ends of the earth, don’t authentically speak and show up in the world, who will make Christ known?

Like John whose only function was to testify to the Light coming into the world, we are to focus on functioning effectively as bearers of the gospel who testify, by word and by our very presence, to the light that came into the world—and remains in the world—so that people may come to believe in Christ.  This work that God calls us into is God’s divine action that began before all time and certainly before the dawn of human history. We must pray for courage as we go about this mission to authentically be the body of Christ, the Church, of which Christ is the head.

God is counting on his faithful—YOU—to participate in his ongoing work of reconciling all people to Himself, and to each other, through Christ—the Word who was in the beginning; the Word who was with God; the Word who was God…and the Word who became Flesh and lived among us.[2]

On this First Sunday after Christmas, when the world “out there” has already moved on to Valentine’s Day, let us give thanks for the gift of the season of Christmas in which the Church calendar makes sacred space for us to ponder the gift of God with us; to ponder who Jesus is for the world; who he is for the Church universal; and who he is for you, the individual believer.

So, Go and tell of the birth of the humble Christ born in a manger. And, go and tell how God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere that Jesus Christ is born![3]

Amen.

 

[1] Brown, Brene. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (New York: Random House), 2019, p. 16.

[2] John 1:1, 14

[3] “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Hymn 99. Hymnal 1982.