Sermon – No One Should Want to Be a Christian

Joshua 24:1-24; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Farmville Presbyterian Church

June 9, 2024

– The reality of following in Jesus’ footsteps


Ben Franklin, long before he began his political career in early America, was a young publishing assistant.  To help boost sales and himself, he wrote a number of articles on controversial things.  One of the most controversial was a letter under the name of Silence Dogood about who is more dangerous – a religious hypocrite or someone outright against faith.  His argument was that the hypocrite is the most dangerous person between the two, especially if he be in government.  The very good of the public is at risk.  This, you might imagine, created a considerable hubbub.

He might have had someone in mind to poke at in his day, but I think most of us here just might agree with him in general.  Someone who claims to be of the faith, who claims to be following Jesus, or who claims to be on the path to sanctification but acts very differently would be a more dangerous person to the public good than someone who might even be opposed to the faith.  At least you know where the opposed unbeliever stands.  The fake Christian is the one who creates the greater scandal or stumbling block.  We have most certainly witnessed the fall of Christian leaders over the decades, and the stories of priests or pastors who have abused their positions are deeply distressing.  No one comes to the church, the one place where they should be able to receive help, upon hearing news of scandal.

Of course, the even more pressing question in light of this insight is who among us is not a hypocrite to some degree?  Hypocrisy is a standard tool in the human toolbox.  I have known at least a few people who have left the church over ugliness and mean-spiritedness by “so-called” followers of Jesus.  There are probably countless that I have never met.  Hypocrisy originally meant making a show of our faith to impress others, but it has broadened even to those who fail to be as devout as others think we should be.  Having a bad day and being a little snappy with someone can give you the brand of hypocrite.  Who can live by that standard?  We all have hypocritical moments.  I don’t imagine anyone here pretends to be perfect or advertises that they are Christian and therefore perfect.  I do not see any “show Christians”, but we also all slide more easily into the practices of the world in which we still stand – just like those followers of Christ in Corinth who could not figure out how to live better together.

First century believers instructed by Paul himself went whacky with who was baptized by whom.  Like sports teams, they began picking sides based on whose baptism they enjoyed and competition ensued.  Too many in the Corinthain’s church were competitive with one person trying to outdo another in different practices.  That sounds idiotic when we read this passage today, but is that really so different from how people pick this church over that church and brag about how great their church is?  I cringe whenever someone on Facebook asks for church recommendation.  Inevitably, it becomes a contest.  We even vote for the best pastor around in the paper.  The first time I saw that my jaw dropped.  Unless all of this sounds like a Christian thing to do.

Here is where I am: actually following Jesus is one of the hardest things AND one of the easiest things we could ever do.  I know that does not make sense.  Being a disciple of Jesus also does not make sense.  Who really wants to commit to conforming their life to a first century Jewish rabbi who was murdered for being a heretic and a political scandal?  On its face, no one should want to be a Christian.

This is a difficult life insofar as you MUST live differently.  You simply CANNOT look, live, sound, or be like the rest of the world.  There is a great deal of freedom and liberty in Christ.  Paul has pointed out how free we are from the Law as long as we take into great account the needs of those around us.  If our liberty ever causes another to stumble, then their needs will always come first.  This is why so many churches have gone to serving just grape juice for Holy Communion, for instance.  Just having wine in church can be a trouble for some, so we have to carefully consider the greatest good.  It is fine to have wine, as long as we are especially mindful of all our sisters and brothers.

Living for Jesus makes life harder in that you must live differently, and that difference means you cannot just live for yourself.  You take on the suffering of others; you are willing to walk into the brokenness of others; you are willing to forgive the wrongs you have received from others; you are supposed to love those whom people fear, those whom people despise, and those whom people hate.  Please put a pin in that: we MUST love the feared, the despised, and the hated.  We must love Palestinians and Israelis the same, Russians and Ukrainians the same, Taiwanese and Chinese the same, those trying to cross our borders and those protecting our borders the same.  We MUST love as we have been loved, says the man who died on a cross for those who killed him.  That is HARD.

I have always been keenly aware of Joshua’s challenge for the people of God.  You cannot worship God AND carry around the little idols you grew up with.  God will be furious to be made second fiddle to anything.  God is a jealous God and will suffer no backseats.  This should sound very similar to the themes we have already been considering.  Joshua knows human nature, how our desire is to commit to being God’s wholehearted people, but our actions may not follow.  He is so abundantly clear: there is no halfhearted lover of God.  There is no fair-weather faithful of God.  There is no God-fearing once-a-week believer.  There is no world in which “seesaw faith” is good.

He even confirms to them the impossibility of their true commitment, but they refuse his warnings.  Joshua is one of the TWO people still around who actually came out of Egypt.  Only two people survived the entire wilderness journey as a testament to their faith.  He knows how hard being faithful is, but they insist, “Please make the covenant for us, Joshua.  We will be responsible for this relationship.”  Of course, they failed abysmally.  Eventually, the people and their descendants worshipped all kinds of other gods, enjoyed all kinds of pagan ways, and even sacrificed their children to idols.  To bring them back to a place of greater faithfulness, they lost all that they held dear as they were hauled off into captivity several hundred years after Joshua’s stark warning.  At face value, no one should want to be a Christian.

And yet people are and want to be.  Even though according to the wisdom of this world and the rule of reason, Christianity does not seem to be the best route for people – it will not make you successful, powerful, smart, or rich, there is something going on here that makes it the easiest thing to do when we allow ourselves to do it.  Jesus said to take his yoke because it was so light.  His yoke is the yoke of love.  His burden the burden of grace.  While being a follower of Christ is not something the world should want to do, it is the most important thing for us all to do.  It is the greatest thing we can imagine in the world to do.

Think about this.  We are willing here to stand in an impossible place.  Our path is the path of resistance.  We cannot be like everyone else, and the world should resist us.  It always has.  There is no Christianization of America or any nation because following Jesus has always been about saying “no” to power.  Remember, we have our hypocritical ways.  Being invited into the back room makes it very hard to keep our love in the right place – not impossible, but Christians in positions of power are held to a higher standard, so they must understand what they are getting into.  Jesus had the same kind of response for people of wealth.  Following Jesus is not about wealth or power because they do not fit that well in his life and are a struggle.  So much of the world does not fit well in the life, and we all struggle to be different.  But it is a struggle worth having.  We must keep to the better path – the path of Christ’s love.

It is not easy to be a person of faith.  No one should ever tell it is easy.  On the one hand, it should be the last thing we should want to do because it means loving God with everything we have AND our neighbor (whomever that neighbor is) just as much as we love ourselves.  Nowhere in there is loving ourselves first.  Not even our family first, even the world does that.  That is hard.  We can love them all, but we love them all.  Treat everyone like family.

Because THAT is spectacular love!!!  That is a love that delights.  That is a love that we love to receive.  It is incredible to imagine being loved that way.  When we share true love, it changes us and the world.  It brightens life and gives hope.  It is easy to rejoice in the kind of love that comes from Christ Jesus, the kind of love he gives us to share.  It is the best love in the world, and it is the reason we are still here, living our lives against the resistance of this world for a love that cannot and will not stop until everyone knows how precious they are in God’s heart.  Yes, while following Christ may be the hardest thing we can do, it is also the best thing we can ever do.  An unloving world needs our best.  To God be the glory.  Amen.