Two summers ago I had the opportunity to hear Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of the Episcopal Church in Rwanda speak. He told the story of what he had faced in that country since taking office. Archbishop Kolini is in the unique position of being appointed to head a church in a nation recovering from one of the most heinous genocides, mass murders, in history. And while Im sure he was never guilty of preaching anything less than Jesus Christ, and him crucified, as Paul put it, He spoke of how he had been forced to repent of his easy gospel by the things he had seen there. When he started visiting his churches he said he was shocked one Sunday to be attacked (I dont know if he meant verbally or physically) by the retired priests at this parish who was from another ethnic group. After this experience he thought if this is the sort of anger this priest has, no wonder we had the genocide. After this experience he began preaching a focused message to his priests and people. One of the things he highlights is the fact that before the genocide, over 98% of Rwandans self-identified as Christian and they would have called Rwanda a Christian nation.
How are close to a million people murdered in a supposedly Christian country??
How do people who claim to know who Jesus is, do things like this??
The people of Rwanda werent new to the faith they were inheritors of a growing tradition of Christian profession in that country. Ever since a great movement known as the East African Revival had swept through that part of Africa in the 19th century like a wildfire, these people had been coming to know Jesus–had been hearing the message of salvation.
And then, in a matter of 100 days, it all went up in smoke
And the evidence of their profession became something other than hearts turned toward Jesus and lives transformed by the Love of God in the Gospel.?
It could be seen instead in broken hearts and lives ended, in ashes and in bodies through the streets.?
What had happened to their faith??
You might remember another Christian nation.. this one an inheritor of over 1000 years of Christianity
A history filled with the names of saints
With art and architecture created for the glory of God
Germany even after the first world war was a center of European culture and would have been considered the theological capital of the world even today, people who want to get doctorates in theology are usually required to have a reading knowledge of German.
But then there was the second world war, and the Holocaust, in which upwards of six million people were killed.
How did this happen in a Christian country?
What happened to their faith??
One of my favorite theologians said something that might shed some light on that question. Religious studies professors are like taxidermists he said they want to kill religion so they can study it
Unfortunately, I dont think religious studies professors are alone in killing faith
I think we all do it
What happened to their faith? They killed it. Their faith was dead and so, it resulted in death
Their faith was dead because they thought they knew who Jesus was…They believed they knew what he was telling them to do.
They knew Jesus so well in fact that there were no surprises for them
they knew a Jesus who would never tell them to do anything they didnt want to do or hadnt decided to do already
How easy it is to fall into that trap the trap of believing we know God that we know Jesus, so well, only to discover we havent been looking up at God, weve been looking down at a mirror.?
We learn to make God in our image rather than allowing him to remake us in his.
This is just what is going on in todays gospel reading. The people in Jesus home town, in the Synagogue, they thought they knew who Jesus wasI mean theyd grown up with him, or watched him grow up…So when they heard him teaching, they were amazed
they were really impressed
you can see that
listen to what they say to one another:?
Where did this come from? Howd he get so smart so wise? What powerful things hes doing!?
But rather than let the facts get in their way, the people in Jesus home town refuse to see whats in front of them and instead trust that they know all about Jesus .they know all there is to know about this carpenter Hes Marys boy ?
And what about his brother and sisters we know them too were not going to listen to him, we know who he really is
They took what they had always known about Jesus and allowed that to convince themselves he wasnt really saying anythinghe couldnt be who he said he was
This was Jesus they knew him or thought they did
And so they wrote off what was happening right in front of themthe authority and the truth of his teachingwith what they thought they already knew
They say you become what you behold
you might even say that you become what you worship
or at least you begin to resemble it.?
When the people in our gospel when the people of Rwanda or Germany or Winchester TN stop considering what Jesus says and instead begin to believe that they already know what Jesus said
When we replace his words with our own
We become idol worshipers
and the result is that the worst parts of our nature takes over
thats how the horrible events of Rwanda happened thats how Germany justified itself in the hearts of its people
with the worship of petty gods made in their own image.?
I wish I could say this was hard to do that it was easily avoidable but its not Its too easy to fall into that rut to believe that we already know what the word of God is for us and to stop allowing Jesus to shape us To stop allowing the gospel to knock off our rough edges To become deaf to the living words of the gospel.
And when we do that, weve become something like those taxidermists of religion the theologian mentioned
Killing our faith
Most of the timeand we can thank God for thisour every mistake, our failures, dont result in something as dramatic and heinous as a genocide
but there are a lot of little things we do
or at least that I do, and I think you probably do toothat arent very noticeable on their own
but when taken together… they really add up
there are all sorts of times when I take a small step off the path only to look back a while later and discover I’ve wondered much farther than I ever thought I would or could in such a short time.?
And if faith could be compared to a (good) virus for a moment something that someone gets and carries until they help to inspire it in others
Then what do you get when you kill a virus whats made out of dead viruses?
Thats where we get vaccines
When we allow our faith to die
when we believe we know all about Jesus
a Jesus who is one dimensional and wouldnt ask us to do anything that clashes with our own desires
Weve created a vaccine something that makes us less susceptible to the reality of the Gospel something that, when shared with others ?
Inoculates them against seeing Jesus as he really is
This is a danger especially for those of us who live in the Christian culture who grow up in Church..
Were in the Bible beltwe should be especially aware of it and on guard for it
Im sure you all know people who know the language of the church, who speak as though theyve heard the gospel but for whom its never really taken root its never become a living part of their lives Its never made them question or change a behavior, or expand upon something good they were doing
We might even feel that way
Its probably good to ask ourselves periodically, have I been inoculated against Jesus , have I hardened my heart
I think there are times when wed all have to say yes to that question
Maybe not to the same degree, and maybe in different ways in different aspects of our lives
But there are times when its easier to hear what Jesus wants us to do in relation to one thing than it is in another
So we constantly have to reexamine the way we live
The way we treat one another, and ask Am I really living my life like I believe in Jesus Christ and what he did for me?
And really believing it is the key not just knowing the stories
Not just knowing about Jesus
But really believing in him in our hearts
If we do that
If we begin to experience Jesus Christ,
To feel him in our hearts, moving in our lives and doing the unexpected
Well, if we do that, well be able to look around and see all the places where God is at work in the world in the midst of all the screwed up stuff that goes on
Because, if you notice in our gospel, it says that Jesus could do no work of power there in his home town
Its interesting though, that it says that after it describes the folks in the synagogue talking about Jesus works of power they obviously saw something impressive
And of course, in a piece of classic understatement, Mark finishes the line he could do no deed of power there with except heal a few people by laying hands on them
Its hard to be sure, but I think Mark is making a joke here
I think hes poking fun at the folks in NzarethHe knows that they saw Jesus deeds, but that they refused to believe them
they thought they knew Jesus, and so they couldnt see it
even healings didnt mean much to them
so Mark says he could do no deed of power there, except he healed a few people
Cant you just hear the sarcasm??
But this is important for us this is good news
Because it shows us that Jesus doesnt stop performing miracles in places where the people dont believe in him like they should
in fact, he just might be healing people right here if we open our eyes
Have we been inoculated against Jesus?
Probably at times
But I dont want to be
I want to know Jesus as he is
I want to see him in action
And from being here with you, I know thats what you want too
So this is our homework for the week
To try to think about one thing in our lives where we havent really thought about what Jesus would want us to do where weve sort of short circuited the process and believed we already knew what God would say
And then, we should think of one example where weve seen Jesus at work in our lives, and share that with somebody with a friend, with a family member even simply with God in prayer
If we start by doing that by seeking God in our lives then we wont have to worry about giving people vaccines, or spreading a dead faith well be spreading a living faith in a real, living Christ Amen