Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9 Sermon (1 Epiphany)

What does it mean to be a Christian? What comes to mind? How do you define it? How do you live it? As I sat with those questions, on that quiet, snow filled Friday night, I thought of Christians living in Egypt.

There was a bombing on New Years Day that killed 21 worshippers at a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, who were getting ready to celebrate their Christmas on January 7. Those Coptic Christians, living as a religious minority in Muslim Egypt, were trying to follow their faith, nearing the end of their 40 day fast & preparing for their annual Christmas celebrations. Their understanding of their faith, their identity called them to live and worship as they did. Sadly, someone used evil against them.
“This devastation is a result of blind extremism that has taken hold of our country,” said Father Maqar Fawzy from the parish in the attack.
But it had an unattended effect,
“Muslims turned up in droves for the Coptic Christmas mass Thursday night, offering their bodies, and lives, as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community.” (a news report)

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon.
In a world so fraught with violence (think also of the shooting in AZ and a high school in Omaha this week), with hatred and division, such acts remind us of the kindness we need to give and the real unity we have in our common humanity. Such is also the unity we have in Christ, whose baptism we celebrate this day, and just like Jesus, we were baptized. All of us, whether Copts of Egypt or Episcopalians in Monroe, our baptism brings us into one family. And that baptism is a calling for us to live lives of meaning, to put meaning into the word Christian by our lives today, to be a witness today of our faith.
“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” (Cardinal Suhard)
To be a Christian is to live our lives in such a way that our lives would not make sense without Jesus.
One Christmas many years ago, a missionary was traveling through a coastal city in Asia. A group of Jews were stranded there; they had been denied entry to every country in the world and were forced to sleep in a deserted barn on the outskirts of the city. The missionary went to the barns to see what he could do to help. He greeted the Jews, "Merry Christmas!"

The Jews said they meant no disrespect, but they were Jews and did not celebrate Christmas. "I know," the missionary said, "but it's Christmas." "But we don't observe Christmas. We're not followers of Christ. We're Jews." "Oh, I know. But what would you like for Christmas?" The Jews tried again to make him understand, "We don't keep Christmas."

"I know, but what would you like? If somebody gave you something for Christmas, what would you like?" They thought for a moment and said they missed the bread and pastry of their German homeland. "Good!" the missionary said.

After much searching, he managed to find a bakery in the city that made German pastry. The missionary used all the money he had to buy boxes of the pastry and brought them to the surprised and grateful Jews with wishes for a Merry Christmas.

The missionary was later asked by his superiors, Why did you do that? They don't believe in Jesus! But the missionary said, "But I do. I do." [From Craddock Stories by Fred Craddock.]
Today begins the work of Christmas: On the banks of the Jordan, Jesus begins his ministry and in our own baptisms, we took on that same work. Our faithful witness is rooted in gratitude for the love of God we have experienced in our lives and in responding to that love with our own to mirror that love for others.

How will we witness to our faith – to those Coptic Christians, or those mourning loved ones in AZ or NB, of the blood in our streets, or our Russian orphanage we are supporting, or our neighbors just down the block from us? What does it mean to say I am a Christian? When will we say, “I do” when it comes to our faith?

Today we begin to answer those questions, for our faithful lives make no sense without Jesus. Amen.

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