KOH2RVA: Day 54

Today is All Saints’ Day, and I’m thinking about that song: “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching in.” Do you remember the part that says, “Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number,” meaning the number of saints who go marching in? Well, how could you be sure that you would be in that number?

As a Christian pastor I can tell you that the very best way to be sure is to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John assures us in various ways that Jesus is the way to life abundant, overflowing, and eternal. “For God so loved the world,” John says, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). At the Last Supper Jesus prays to the Father, “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And when Thomas asked the way to the Father’s house Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).

So, if you want to be in that number, put your faith and trust in Jesus. I know of no better “Way.” But this morning I’m thinking about that parable in Matthew’s Gospel where the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats. It’s in Matthew 25, and it’s not so much about believing in Jesus as it is about showing compassion.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

While some of us at First Baptist Church are trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, by leading people to believe in Jesus, many of us are doing it by showing acts of compassion—by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. We believe that it’s not enough to help people find life in the next world; we have to help them find life in this one, too. We can’t leave off that first part (otherwise we become just a bunch of secular “do-gooders”), but we can’t leave off that second part, and Jesus tells us why:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Ouch.

On All Saints’ Day, if I want to be sure that I’m going to be in that number, I’m going to put my faith and trust in Jesus and then get out there and do the kinds of things he did: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and welcome the stranger. Because as surely as I do it for the least of these brothers and sisters of his,

I do it for him.

A Christian Way of Being Human

On the first Sunday of every month I climb the stairs to Room 243 to teach our newcomers class.  My assignment is to talk about “a Christian way of being human,” and I like to begin with an emphasis on the word way.

Some people will tell you that to be Christian you have to believe certain things.  You have to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.  You have to believe that he rose from the dead.  You have to believe that he’s coming again.  But have you noticed that, when Jesus called those first disciples, he didn’t mention any of those things?  He just said, “Follow me,” and those fishermen dropped their nets and followed. 

Christianity begins with a commitment—not to a set of beliefs, but to a person—to Jesus.  It starts for us when we drop whatever we’re doing to follow him.  Those first disciples were able to do that literally.  It’s harder for us, but it’s not impossible.  One of the best ways I’ve found to follow is to read the four Gospels closely—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—to look at the things Jesus does there and to listen to the things he says.  In this way I learn who Jesus is and what he’s up to, and the word disciple, at its root, means “learner.”  A disciple is a kind of apprentice who watches the master, who learns his craft and studies his moves.  As we follow Jesus through the Gospels we can do the same. 

One of the things we will notice if we do that is that Jesus spends a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of God.  In the four Gospels combined he makes reference to the Kingdom some 120 times.  And when his disciples ask him to teach them to pray he says, “Pray for this: pray that God’s Kingdom would come, and God’s will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).  Being a disciple in our time means being an answer to that prayer; it means working alongside Jesus to bring heaven to earth.

How do we do that?  It’s simple: we look around for anything that doesn’t look like heaven and we go to work there.  And the good news is that we get to look through our own eyes.  The thing that breaks our heart may be the very thing God is calling us to do.  That was certainly true for Jesus. 

I think this is the “Christian way of being human.”  It’s not just believing things about Jesus (although I find that the more time I spend with him the more I believe about him).  It’s believing in Jesus.  It’s following him so closely and so passionately that you begin to do the things he would do, and say the things he would say, and love the things he would love.  It’s becoming more and more like him until people—even some of the people who know you best—begin to say,

“You know, you remind me of someone…”