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The Rev. Susan Sparks The Rev. Susan Sparks
The Rev. Susan Sparks is a former trial lawyer who now serves as senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, NY.

Member of:

American Baptist Churches USA

Representative of:

Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York, NY


So You're a Christian? Whattaya Gonna Do About It?

Hebrews 12:1-3

August 07, 2011

I think we make Christianity way too much about Jesus.  Now wait, please, don't turn the dial quite yet.  Just hear me out.  Think about it this way:  Jesus has done the work he came to do.

  • Good Friday is over. 
  • The crucifixion is done. 
  • The resurrection is complete.

Yes, we should give thanks and praise for this gift.  But be very clear.  The second that stone rolled away from in front of that tomb the responsibility for the kingdom shifted to us. 

Now, I'm sure we all remember the words of President John F. Kennedy, who said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

It takes only a slight shift to put a Christian spin on those words:  Ask not what Jesus can do for you; ask what you can do for Jesus.

Or in the words of the great theologian Tony Soprano, "So you're a Christian ... whattaya gonna do about it?"

Now the way I see it, we have couple of choices:

We can do nothing and continue our lives the exact same way:  showing up in church when we feel like it, praying only when we need God, giving to the Salvation Army at Christmas, writing a charitable contribution at tax time.  And that's fine...if you don't mind completely dishonoring Jesus' life work. 

Now, our second option is to take the middle-of-the-road approach.  You try and live your life like a good person, you do a good deed here and there, you read a self-help book once in a while. And that's fine too...if you want to live a life that is "middle of the road," mediocre, vanilla.

Of course, when I hear the term "middle of the road," I can't help but think of what I heard a Texas radio announcer once say: "The only thing you'll find in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe and a dead armadillo." 

Now you could do nothing, you could take the middle of the road, or you could take option three, which is what I call the "all in" option.  It's like in poker where you wager everything, where you put everything you have on the table.

Now granted, I am the world's WORST gambler (and as a Baptist minister, I probably shouldn't even say I gamble), but let me tell you--this is a gamble I would definitely take.

If you go all in, if you put everything on the table, being a Christian can change your life for the rest of your life.

But don't just believe me.  There are a lot of famous folks out there who will tell you the same thing.   I'm thinking of twelve in particular.  People with names like Peter, John, James, Andrew, Simon, Thomas, Philip, Matthew, and Bartholomew.

They'd all tell you the same thing:  "Jesus said, 'Follow me.'  I said, 'Yes,' and my life was changed forever."

Now please understand, this may be a little more complicated than it sounds.  When Jesus said to them follow me, it wasn't meant in passive terms--you know, like when I say, "Oh, I follow American Idol."

When Jesus said follow me, he meant become like me.

Become like me?  What does that mean in modern terms?  What would a 21st-century Jesus look like?  Head of state?  A rock star?  The Donald?    

I don't think so.  No, I think a 21st-century Jesus would be something much different--much more unexpected. 

Like most clergy, I try and keep current on what's happening in theology, the institutional church, current research on biblical issues, and that is why last month I attended a conference given by clowns.  Yes, I did say clowns.

Actually, it was a conference on humor and healing, but many of the sessions were taught by clowns.  Not the creepy kind of clowns, like the ones that look like defendants of Judge Judy or like Krusty of the Simpsons.  These were healers--hospital clowns--many of whom were trained medical professionals, like Patch Adams with whom many of you may be familiar. 

Listening to some of the sessions, I was struck at how the goals and ethics of those clown doctors so closely dovetailed how Jesus lived.  Their approach to their patients came down to two very simple steps:

1. Meet people where they are;

2. Then do everything in your power to lift them up.

The clowns, for example, would meet people where they were--not where they wanted them to be or wished they were or thought they should be--but in their real places and real circumstances.  Places we don't always want to see, places like the Alzheimer's wing of a nursing home, a mental health institution, a prison, a battered women shelter, a homeless shelter, or even a pediatric hospice ward.

This is exactly what Jesus did.  He met people where they were.  He sat at dinner with tax collectors and prostitutes, he conversed with folks who were possessed by demons.

You meet people where they are; and then, most importantly, you do everything in your power to lift them up.  One of the clowns talked about hospitals being such intimidating places, especially for kids.  So they came up with things to make the experience a little less threatening.  Instead of a cat scan, for example, the clowns called it a kitty cat scan and gave the children a tiny Beanie Baby kitten to take into the test.  Or instead of hospital food, the clowns would help the kids make "rubber chicken soup."  

Of course, the gospels tell the same story.  Jesus lifted people up:  he listened to them, fed them, healed them, he made them whole. 

If we go all in, if we choose to become like him, then it's our duty--our responsibility--to reach out and lift each other up.

It's like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich... As long as diseases are rampant...I can never be totally healthy.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be." 

So you're a Christian...whattaya gonna do about it?

Being a Christian can change your life for the rest of your life.  But please understand this is a life decision.  It's not like going on Nutrisystem® where you do it for four months and you're done. Jesus didn't say follow me for the day or from 12:15pm - 4:45pm. 

You've either in or you're out.  And if you go all in, it means everything is on the table; it means you carry it through to your very last breath. 

One of the stories told at the conference was about a woman who had been a clown for many years (her clown name was Shoolu, and they called her Shoo for short), and the story involved a little girl named Belinda, who was in the final stages of leukemia. 

"The day I met Belinda," Shoo said, "I came into her room in full clown regalia.  Belinda smiled and reached out and poked at my nose and said, "Why do you wear that?" 

"I can't take it off," Shoo said. "I'm a clown, it's who I am, it's how God made me."

Belinda was quiet for a moment, then looked up with a rather sad expression and said, "When I die, what happens?"   

"You'll go to heaven," said Shoo.

After a moment, Belinda smiled and said, "Well, then where are you going?"           

Shoo said, "I laughed and said, 'Well, clown heaven, of course!'"

Belinda just lit up at that point.  "Where's that?" she said excitedly. 

"Well," said Shoo, "you know when you let a balloon go and it disappears into the sky?  Clown heaven is where balloons go."

"Oh, I wanna go there!" said Belinda with a huge smile.  "How do I get to clown heaven?"

Shoo paused and reached in her bag and pulled out a little red nose and put it on Belinda and said, "It's pretty simple, Belinda; all you have to do is go out with your nose on."  

Several days later, the nurse called Shoo and said, "I'm so sorry, but we lost Belinda.  However, Shoo, you should know...that she went out with her nose on."

Being a Christian is about deciding to go out with our nose on, to live what we believe to our very last breath.

About a million years ago I ran track in junior high and high school.  The event I found hardest was the 440 relay.  I was pretty fast, so the fear wasn't about the running.  The fear was in passing the baton.  Now while that may not sound like a big deal, please understand, if you drop the baton, the race is over. 

Brothers and sisters, we are running the race of our lives.  But the hard part has been done.  The baton has been passed.  Jesus' work is done.  The second that stone rolled away the responsibility for the kingdom shifted to us.  So you're a Christian, whattaya gonna do about it?

  • Well, I say let's go all in.
  • I say put everything on the table. 
  • I say let's strive to become like him, to meet people where they are and to do everything, everything, in our power to lift them up. 

As it says in our scripture from Hebrews:

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

Jesus who endured the cross,

Jesus who disregarded its shame,

Jesus who now has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him, him who endured such opposition, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart."

Let us pray.  Gracious God, we thank you for the legacy that has been handed to us by Jesus.  And we ask you for the strength to honor his work and his sacrifice each and every day of our lives.  Amen.

 


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