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  • Writer's pictureRev. Kati Collins

Religionless Christianity

Sermon from Sunday, June 24th

"The church's one foundation

is Jesus Christ, her Lord;

she is his new creation

by water and the Word:

from heav'n he came and sought her

to be his holy bride;

with his own blood he bought her,

and for her life he died."

Earlier this week I was reading a commentary from the Belief series about these letters from Peter. Catherine Gonzales started out by reminding her readers that the Bible itself was not written for individual readers, it was written for congregations and mostly read along with stories told to groups of people. There wasn’t such a thing as personal study of the scriptures unless you were a prophet, a priest or the son of God. People rehearsed and learned and listened as one.

“The Bible is not a book of good advice to the world in general,” she says, “It is God’s word to God’s people. It has authority because the people to whom it is written believe that God has called them and made a covenant with them.” Jesus may have spoken with individuals and called them to specific callings, but our call to service is united in one faith, one calling, one love.

It’s easy to fall back on our culture of individualism when we read the letters in modern English, because you don’t hear the plural you as different from the singular you.

So for today’s scripture reading, I’m going to piece it apart and include a few personal translations. You could call this the New Revised Texas Version.

1 Peter 4: 12-13

Beloved of God, don’t y’all be surprised at the fiery trials takin’ place among y’all, as if something strange were happenin’. Instead, Rejoice, y’all, for these trials make y’all partners with Christ in his suffering, so that all y’all will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to the world.

As strange as the last 8 weeks have been for church goers, we have ironically been living in the space of the digital Christian.

For those of us who have grown up in the church, we see the essential presence of a faith community within the walls of an institution. But even before this pandemic, the 21st century digital world had already created a new church community, the digital church. From televangelists to church radio personalities and blogging podcasters, the average Christian can choose when and where they worship God or seek daily encouragement. They can watch videos of Hillsong and other worship bands as nourishment for their faith and they can google any theological question and get answers from different denominations and different faiths for that matter.

We have been been discovering the challenges and benefits of worshiping from home and accessing worship and prayer when we want.

As we make due without in-person gatherings we are joining in the suffering of those who have not been able to go to church because of health reasons, too many children to dress, too many sports commitments, weekend working schedules or exhaustion.

Become partners with the digital community in their suffering and partners with Christ who has already been suffering with them and with us.

1 Peter 4: 14; 5: 6-7

If y’all are insulted because y’all bear the name of Christ, y’all will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon y’all. So humble y’all selves, under the power of God and at the right time, he will lift y’all up in honor. Give all y’all’s worries and cares to God, because God cares about all y’all.

While Bonhoeffer was in prison in Germany for speaking against the Nazi party, he wrote letters to his friends and family to record his experience. For many of them he consulted them on some of the existential questions he was dealing with during his isolation.

He writes to one of his friends, “What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience—and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving toward a completely religionless time: people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more.”

He talks about how Ancient Greek Theater had this characterization of God which dropped down onto the stage with wires attached to pulleys. Anytime someone had a problem, they would call for God, and God would descend and resolve their conflict. Then the god figure would disappear back into the shadows once the need has disappeared. Bonhoeffer declares that “religious” people worship a God on the boundaries of existence, leaving this space to separate humanity and God until the need arises.

Basically, he proposes that An Essential Christianity puts God at the center. So, if “Religion” puts God in a box or on a string, waiting in the wings to come and answer our prayers, Religionless Christianity recognizes a humanity which has the capabilities to survive on it’s own but finds satisfying joy, peace in healing and strength of perseverance by living with Christ at the center of our existence rather than on the boundaries.

“I should like to speak of God not on the boundaries but at the center, not in weaknesses but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in one’s life and in goodness.” He writes.

1 Peter 5: 8-9

Stay Alert! Y’all watch out for y’all’s great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a lion, looking for some-one to devour. Y’all stand firm against him and be strong in the faith y’all have together. Remember that y’all’s family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

Catherine Gonzales states that, “The original readers of 1 Peter would not have understood how one could be real aged to Christ and not related to the church, nor would they have ever thought of the church as a hierarchical body, an institution through which one reaches Christ.”

On the one hand they saw faith as something we do with one another and not for our own individual growth or gain. They were part of a movement and were trying to survive in a world of oppression and failure. They literally could not grow in their faith without a group of believers, they could not read the holy scriptures on their own, they could not read the letters from Paul during their break time, they could not listen to songs of faith on their headphones. The church was their only portal to the kingdom of God through Jesus.

Bonhoeffer looks at the early 20th century and sees how individuals had found ways to answer their daily challenges through science and technology, and he didn’t even have a calculator, let alone a mobile phone or computer.

Now here we are in the twenty first century. Who needs a savior in today’s world, who needs to be part of a church, who needs a relationship with a pastor?

Peter reminded the early church that the devil seeks out those who are without connection and without support. The entry prowls around like a lion, looking for the one who is isolated and alone, without protection.

If the true essential religionless Christianity follows the work of Christ in our lives, Christ leads us to one another, so that we might be partners through our struggles, so that we might walk through the valley of death together, to stand firm with one another in the fiery trials of our lives.

1 Peter 5:10-11

In his kindness, God called all y’all to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after y’all have suffered a little while, he will restore, support and strengthen y’all and he will place y’all on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.

When we choose to participate in a fellowship of believers, we share in the glory and eternal life of Christ. This is how we can find new life in the here and now. The good news of the gospel is that we do not have to wait until our death to enjoy the benefits of eternal life. We can experience the presence of Christ, the power of God, and the peace of the Spirit right now through faith.

This prophetic message is meant to us as individuals, to us as a community of faith, and to us a part of God’s amazing creation.

God will restore us, to enable us to produce and create again. God cares about our physical economy and our spiritual economy. Closing our doors to protect physical health can be a reliance on faith in the God who promises to restore us after the fiery trials are over.

God will support us: God will stand by us and hold us up, causing us to become stronger and more firm in our belief.

God will strengthen us by making us more capable and more able to stand up to the challenges placed before us.

This period of growth will become a foundation, a strong foundation, on which to plant and establish our faith and new self identities.

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