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The Uniqueness of Christianity

[The following is a sermon delivered by The Rev. Dr. Derrick Hassert, the Curate at St. Andrew’s]

What makes Christianity special? What sets it apart from other faiths? Why is what sets it apart so important? These questions came to mind last month after reading a news story on the internet from the The Seattle Times. Here’s how the story opens.

“Shortly after noon on Fridays…Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf, preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.” You see, Ann Holmes Redding is one of a growing number of converts to Islam in the United States-that in and of itself is not surprising. Here comes the surprising part, and I’m quoting at length from the news story.

“On Sunday mornings, Redding puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest. She does both, she says, because she’s (a) Christian and (a) Muslim. Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she’s ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she’s also been a Muslim – drawn to the faith after an introduction to Islamic prayers left her profoundly moved. Her announcement has provoked surprise and bewilderment in many, raising an obvious question: How can someone be both a Christian and a Muslim? But it has drawn other reactions too. Friends generally say they support her, while religious scholars are mixed. Some say that, depending on how one interprets the tenets of the two faiths, it is, indeed, possible to be both. Others consider the two faiths mutually exclusive.”

“There are tenets of the faiths that are very, very different,” said Kurt Fredrickson, director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. “The most basic would be: What do you do with Jesus?”

The news article points out that “Christianity has historically regarded Jesus as the son of God and God Incarnate, both fully human and fully divine.” Here I’ll stop and add that they get it half right-to be Christian one must regard Jesus as the Son of God, fully God and fully man-without that you don’t have Christianity. There should be a bit of a clue as to why Redding found it acceptable to make Christianity and Islam compatible-she’d taken Islam more seriously than she’d taken Christianity. She didn’t believe in the sinful nature of human kind; she didn’t believe that Christ was sent as a Savior in the sense that this is taught in the Bible; she didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ.

The Reverend Frank Spina, a priest of the mainline Episcopal Church and also a professor of Old Testament and biblical theology at Seattle Pacific University, puts his response to the situation bluntly. “I just do not think this sort of thing works. I think you have to give up what is essential to Christianity to make the moves that she has done. The essence of Christianity was not that Jesus was a great rabbi or even a great prophet, but that he is the very incarnation of the God that created the world…Christianity stands or falls on who Jesus is.”

And here I must join my sentiments with those of the Reverend Spina and say “Amen.” Christianity does indeed stand or fall on how we view the person of Jesus of Nazareth. If we view him as only a good man, as only a powerful preacher, as only a great teacher or rabbi, then we have lost the essence of Christianity. And if that is what is being taught in many churches that still bear the title Christian, then it is no wonder that there are even those who are ordained who think they can be both Muslim and Christian. It is no wonder that the theology of the mainline churches has become muddier and muddier, bearing little resemblance to the teachings of the historic Church, to St. Paul, St. John, St. Augustine, the Church Fathers, the Creeds, Luther, Cranmer, or Calvin, or the confessions of the Reformation. Because of this you see people flocking to other faiths, to Islam, to Scientology, or to cults within Christianity that at least teach something—they’re wrong, but at least their teachings are clear.

As Dr. Frederickson from Fuller Seminary asked, “What do you do with Jesus?” when the Christianity you embrace allows you to join another religion and, with a seemingly clear conscience, still call yourself a Christian minister. What has your Christianity been reduced to? It has been reduced to something that doesn’t take Jesus seriously.

The thing that sets Christianity apart from all other faiths is its emphasis on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, who was both God and Man. I’m thankful that we still use the traditional 1662 Church of England liturgy, for in it we are reminded of these teaching again and again in a clear manner. The danger is that we read them so often that we may not think of what we’re saying when we read it. I’d suggest that you take the bulletin home and read through it sometime during the week, read it out loud, notice how it talks about Jesus and his work. Our liturgy does a pretty good job of presenting Biblical, historic Christian teaching. We need to be attentive and open to its teaching-it is worship that is centered on Jesus Christ. It is the Eucharist-a service of thanksgiving for Christ and in response to Christ.

The importance of the person and work of Jesus is that our religion is based solely on God’s initive, God’s love, and God’s mercy. It isn’t that we can work our way into God’s favor, it is that we acknowledge our dependence on God, our unworthiness before Him, and essentially throw ourselves at the mercy of the court. We acknowledge what God has done for us in the Person of Christ, God has provided the means of salvation. Christ has lived the perfect life and provided the perfect sacrifice. Can we become perfect and satisfy God’s justice? No, but we can live our lives in thankfulness for what God in Christ has done for us in His mercy, for in Christianity the mercy of God and the justice of God are tied together. Christ has freed us from the bondage of sin. As Saint Paul reminds us in this morning’s epistle: “now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Christianity is a personal religion, a religion based on a relationship between God and man, where God has taken the initiative. It is a religion where God humbles Himself, becomes one with Creation, becomes incarnate within creation, and redeems creation. A religion like Islam cannot fathom this-God becoming man, suffering and dying like a common criminal to bring humanity back to the purposes of God through the Resurrection-this didn’t make sense to Islam, so they teach that someone else died in the place of Jesus, thereby allowing them to keep their belief that Jesus was a great prophet. The important aspect here is that Jesus fully reveals the very personal nature of God. Many other religions cannot fathom the idea that God is personal, that He cares for His creation, enough to send His only begotten Son to live and die as one of us, to reconcile the world to Himself. They may teach that there is no difference between good and evil, or that God started the universe running but then walked away. Recently I heard an atheist on a talk show say that “God doesn’t exist, but even if He did exist, He doesn’t care.” Well, first of all it is odd for an atheist to give up the first tenet of his faith, the non-existence of God, to then say that He may exist and then follow that up by saying that if He does exist He doesn’t care! But this is one of the problems that so many have with Christianity, and this is what makes Christianity unique-it asserts that God cares, God loves, and that God shows His love through the actions of the Incarnation.

Our Prayer Book has an excellent summary of the Christian faith and a prayer that enjoins us to seek after it by the grace of God. It is found on the bottom of page 71.


A Prayer for Christian Faith

Almighty God and heavenly Father; Open thou our eyes that we may see ourselves to be sinners in thy sight, partakers of a fallen nature, and actual transgressors against thee. Enable us to realize our continual need, both of thy pardoning mercy and of thy quickening grace, and to receive Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of our souls. May we trust in his atonement, and rely on his intercession, as our only hope. Rejoicing in thy free salvation, and renouncing our own righteousness, may we walk in the way of thy commandments, serving thee faithfully, and striving against every sin; through the grace that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Missionary of The Month

Bishop Oommen Samuel Family (Oommen & Mary) Susan and Brian. Reformed Episcopal Mission. Lalitpur, India.


Preschool

St. Andrew’s Preschool will resume classes on Tuesday, September 4, 2007. Pray for a successful year.


Sunday School

Sunday School resumes on September 9, at 9:30 a.m. Classes provided for all ages.


Rally Day Picnic

Come to Sunday School and Morning Prayer and stay for the picnic following church.


Choir

Choir rehearsals resume Sunday, September 9th at 9:00 a.m. & Thursday, August 30th at 7:30 p.m.


Episcopal Visit

The Rt. Rev. George Fincke will be with us on Sunday, October 7, 2007. The Vestry will provide a luncheon following the service.


Homecoming Sunday

Homecoming will be held in conjunction with Bishop Fincke’s Episcopal visit on Sunday, October 7, 2007. Invite others to come. Luncheon following the service.


VISIT OUR WEBSITE
www.andrewrec.org

 

 

 

Happy Birthday!

Sept. 1 – Nancy Toomey
Sept. 17 – Elizabeth Domato
Sept. 20 – Franklin H. Sellers, Jr.
Sept. 23 – Steve Horosinski
Sept. 28 – Brian Sutton
Sept. 28 – Debbie (Novak) Gilman
Sept. 30 – Dennis Domato

 

RICH REWARDS
by Helen Kitchell Evans

Fall brings us rich rewards;
The harvest of abundant grain,
A lingering warmth of feeling
Across the valley and the plain.

In this season we recapture the
Abiding love of our friends;
The wonders of God’s world;
His greatness never ends.

Today let’s go out for a stroll
And call upon someone in need;
Gladden the hearts of the aged or
Go wherever our Lord might lead.

 


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The Very Reverend Frank M. Levi, M.A., Rector    Bishop Franklin H. Sellers, D.D., Rector Emeritus    The Reverend Derrick Hassert, Ph.D., Curate    18001 94th Avenue   Tinley Park, IL 60487    (708) 614-7404    FAX (708) 614-7435 AndrewREC.org Home Contact the Webmaster Sign our guestbook View our guestbook

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