This is a recovery time when some appear more concerned to have a comfortable faith rather than one that costs any challenges. Listening to a service on Zoom was a great way to connect with Christians in far away places, but it was also so convenient and comfortable! We could do some emails Sunday morning, set up the computer for the service, and, at the end, after briefly chatting with a few people, begin cooking lunch right away. No coats to wear, car trips to take, late lunches, or special clothes to wear. Some people even froze their faces for the service and stayed in their pajamas! Yet, something was missing—that face-to-face contact and those asides that people say that imply a need for which we should pray, as well as creative conversations about ways to reach out to the local community.
Pew Research Center conducted a survey March 1-7, 2021, among 12,055 U.S. adults on the Center’s online, nationally representative American Trends Panel. They found that:
“while in-person religious attendance has begun to rebound, it still is far from normal. Most people who say they generally attend religious services at least once or twice a month (58%) say they have not attended during the past month. And just four-in-ten U.S. Christians (39%) plan to go in person to church services this Easter Sunday, which is sharply lower than the 62% who say they typically go to church on Easter….Overall, half of evangelicals who typically attend religious services at least monthly say they have attended church in person during the past month.”
It is now July, and some of those people have still not returned.
What does Jesus have to say about comfortable followers?
Jesus begins in Luke 9:18-26 asking a general question of his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Then he moves to asking a specific question: “But you yourselves, who do you say that I am?”
Then he follows the great confession by Peter that he is indeed God’s Messiah, with disappointing news: God’s Messiah is not going to set up a free state of Israel, rather he is going to be rejected by all the religious leaders (the elders and chief priests and scribes) and even be put to death. And not only that, his students or disciples will have to follow him daily in this depressing state of carrying a cross or dying every day! Who wants to do that?
But, to find oneself and to save one’s life, one has to lose oneself! What a paradox! What a puzzling passage!
Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be put to death and then be raised to life (Luke 9:22).
The apostle Paul explained in Galatians 1:3-4: Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age” in order to justify us (1:4; 2:16, 20-21). When Jesus the Messiah died for our sins, that was a perfect act.
Have we all indeed sinned?
For example, I never realized that I was brought to the heavenly court for breaking the Ten Commandments. But when I look at the Ten Commandments through the teachings of Jesus, and I am honest, then I see how God sees me.
For instance, “Honor your father and mother”—
When I was a teenager, at one point, I thought my parents were the devil incarnate. Now, I realize how much they taught me. They loved me and taught me to work hard and enjoy travel!
“You shall not murder”—
I’ve been angry at times at some people that I thought had mistreated me and I hoped they would disappear!
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house”—
Today, down the street where we live, they are building these huge houses and, I think, why couldn’t we have a big house like that? We’d have so much room! But, we don’t have the money and we really don’t have the need. I remember all the time my parents spent maintaining their big house in New Jersey. Instead, I wanted a small garden and just enough rooms for our small family, and I have that! Now, I am so thankful we even have a house in these times of housing shortage.
So why do I desire something I don’t even want? Maybe because there are no bragging rights for our little house. What do I mean? Once when I was in elementary school in the Dominican Republic, I was brought home by parents with a group of kids one of whom was a popular boy who never paid me any attention. But when they dropped me off and he looked up the long driveway, flanked by Flamboyan trees to my spacious Spanish colonial house in the distance, he exclaimed, “Wow!” in awe. And I felt so smug. I said to myself, “And he thought I was nobody!”
Well, I’ve been brought to the heavenly court and God has forgiven me in Jesus’s name so that I can live by faith through the Holy Spirit.
Why then do we too have to take up our own cross to follow Jesus? Isn’t Jesus’s sacrificial death enough?
And, how can we die daily?
Paul says he was crucified with Christ and he no longer lives, but it is Christ who lives in him (Gal 2:19-20).
In other words, WE HAVE TO IDENTIFY WITH JESUS IN ORDER THAT HIS DEATH FOR US BECOMES LIVING /activated/operative/animated/transforming!
Our faith is like leaven. Leaven is a substance as yeast or baking powder that causes fermentation and expansion of the dough or batter. Jesus’s death is the dough—perfectly prepared for us-- our faith is the leaven or yeast that causes the dough to rise or expand and come alive in our lives. When we identify with Jesus, we follow him, and as a result we too become crucified. So, eventually, we will rise as he did!
How then do we follow Jesus daily?
I think that v. 26 can help us: “for whoever might be ashamed of me and my words, this one the Son of Humanity will be ashamed of, whenever he might come in his glory and [the glory] of the Father and [the glory] of the holy angels.”
In other words, we need to be proud of Jesus and of Jesus’s words too.
Are we proud of Jesus?
Are we proud of Jesus’s words?
Or, do we have a comfy or convenient Christianity, instead of a costly one?
The opposite of Jesus being ashamed of us is Jesus being proud of us and commending us and glorifying us!
For example, Jesus asked us to pray: “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). Are we willing to thank God for our daily food in public?
Jesus asked us to pray: “hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). Are we willing always to set apart God’s name as holy?
Jesus asked us to pray: “forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Are we willing always to ask for forgiveness to those whom we sin against and to encourage others to forgive sins? Plus, are we willing to call “sin”—“sin,” or are we embarrassed to do so in public? Or, do we redefine “sin” so we can do whatever we want when we want?
Do we do what is convenient or comfortable even when it may not follow Jesus’s teachings?
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
To follow Jesus is to be willing to die to ourself and our own glory because of our greater love for Jesus and the glory he will give us. Jesus loves us more than anyone else does!
How do we start?
1. Of course, we need to make a commitment to Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, and ask him to forgive us our sins and guide us as we live in our new faith.
2. How do we live in our new faith? Read & study regularly the Bible to discover what Jesus teaches. Don’t guess!
Meet with other believers who can encourage us in our walk (and we can encourage them with our spiritual gifts).
3. Take up our cross “daily” so that Jesus’s model affects us every day, not just on special days or in special places.
Our goal should not be to have a comfy or convenient Christianity, but one that is costly.
Is our goal in life to become the richest Christian or the most powerful Christian or the most influential Christian? –no!
As a church, as well, our goal should not be to become the richest church or the most powerful church or the most influential church, but the church that models Jesus.
How does this affect my life?
We use our finances to support God’s kingdom.
Bill and I practice a graduated tithe. We begin, not end, at 10%, and increase the percentage depending on our income.
We speak on behalf of Jesus’s kingdom.
When I teach about the fully reliable Bible, some more liberal scholars have considered me to be ignorant. I may get upset at their criticism, but I don’t change my approach.
For example, years ago I was invited to New York City for a panel discussion on the Bible. I was surprised and disappointed to hear that the other panelists, scholars in their areas, all doubted the authority and reliability of the Bible and did not even believe Jesus was the Son of God. But they monopolized the conversation, and, as they did so, I became more and more scared to speak up.
However, I decided that I would speak up so that God would approve me, even if the panelists made fun of me. So, finally, I raised my hand to speak.
What do you say to educated people who have just said that we should approve all religions and not one of them is right??
I said, what if the God of the universe became incarnate at one point in time? Then, Jesus would be unique and to speak on his behalf is not a question of my belief or yours.
No one said anything, instead they seemed to respect me for sharing my view.
And, to my surprise, when the panel discussion was over, some of the audience thanked me so much for what I said and were glad that I was there to share my view (and their view). I had never thought that the audience’s faith might be affected if I had not spoken.
When we are with our family or work colleagues, are we willing to defend Christ’s teachings, not in an obnoxious manner, but in a loving way, even if we might be ridiculed?
We never know who might be listening! And, usually I find that people receive gracious explanations with respect, not ridicule.
The irony is this: even though we give away our life to Christ, our life in Christ makes our own identity blossom forth!
Sometimes not being ashamed of Jesus and Jesus’s words can affect our very lives adversely, but not always.
When we decide whether to worship God in public of course we must take into consideration safety and distance, but we should not decide simply on the basis of convenience and comfort.
 This blog is an adapted version of a sermon given at Pilgrim Church in Beverly, MA 7/25/21.
 “Life in U.S. Religious Congregations Slowly Edges Back Toward Normal” https://www.pewforum.org/2021/03/22/life-in-u-s-religious-congregations-slowly-edges-back-toward-normal, accessed 22 July 2021.
 E.g., read the powerful account of Polycarp, whose pure life helped him be courageous in the face of death in AD 156 in Eusebius’ Church History 4.15.