Vision: What is it to be a Christian?

Vision: What is it to be a Christian?


By the Rev. Kerlin Richter, St. David of Wales, Portland

The world is full of all sorts of answers for us.

But please, for the love of our dearest Lord and Savior, do not read the comments.
Because really we are nothing but broken and beloved children of God, standing in desperate need of healing, and love.

I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
– No pressure. Isaiah.

We are all individuals –
Each one of us has been formed in the heart of love to bring whatever glimmer of hope and truth and light we can bear. Even on the days when we feel like we will be crushed by the weight of that hope.
Each one of us has been called by God into this odd and precious life of being Christian.
As Paul says “we proclaim Christ crucified – which is a bunch of foolishness if you care what this world thinks.”

But we are also a community and God’s call is to us as a people, as a church to be the collection of fools.
We are not fools alone, we have whole communities of foolishness which we call “church.”

If the absurdity of what we believe has begun to seem normal to you, step back –
This is madness we proclaim.

Love – real eternal world forming, life breathing, wave-crashing, heartbreaking, love that made all things, the stinkbug and the octopus, the coyote and the heron. That same Love, came here into the world where we stub our toes, and blink in the sunlight, the person of Jesus, inhaled whole lungfuls of air in this world. AND we proclaim – this tender and precious man, with dust on his eyelashes, and calluses on his feet, was that same exact Love breathing out light before time was time.

And love came preaching love. Proclaiming that liberation was at hand, that all that binds us and keeps us captive to brokenness was falling away, that this world already is the kingdom of love come true. That we are infinitely precious in the eyes of love, and so are our enemies.

And so we killed him.

Because honestly who can believe in a love like that?
But it didn’t work.

Death came unraveled and Love walked right back out again, shaking our disbelief and our fear from his shoulders like a wet dog.
That’s what we proclaim,
This is the biggest news in the world, otherwise why would we spend any time in any church.

And so if this is what we are giving our lives for let us give them with such utter abandon that we have nothing left.
The way to not burn out isn’t holding back.
It is not keeping part of ourselves safe and closed off from this world – troubled and tattered as it is.

Love with your whole hearts, and minds, and strength. That’s what it is to be a Christian.

Not because we are special, we aren’t.
But because God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise;
Because God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
Because God chose what is low and despised in the world,
so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

We Love like this, not because we are special, but because God is.

At our baptisms we make impossible promises.
And if you were too young to make them we re-promise the impossible multiple times a year.
If we rely on ourselves, our own awesomeness alone, then it is utter foolishness. If we think that for one minute we will save anyone or solve all the problems of the world we are deluding ourselves.
We stand up in front of God and everybody with our own brokenness on full display and point to the one who is all our hope

We are nothing and that is great news.
And our churches aren’t that special either.

If what we are doing at church is taking care of the church, taking care of the institution, then we are the most to be pitied.
If we are preserving an old collection of rituals, then what have we come to do?
But if we are spilling our lives out in service of the living God, then yes!

Those who love their lives lose them, and we who are losing our lives in this church,
we most of all should not fear death.

We are a house of fools and what we proclaim week after week is so impossible that we should not let it get watered down with repetition until it seems reasonable.
This is not reasonable –
What we are giving our lives for is sheer madness.

The world can do anything the church can do better: feeding people, clothing people, fighting for justice. The gospel demands compassion and justice, but justice does not require the gospel.
The church is also not for self-improvement. Good therapy, and more sleep can do that.

We have one thing.
One broken and beaten thing, one glorious and resurrected thing.

We have the Good News.
We proclaim Christ and him Crucified.
We administer the sacraments and forgive sins in the name of Love.
That’s what the church can do.
When the deacons proclaim it from the midst of the people, when priests break it in a moment of silence, when bishops press it gently against the question-filled head of a teenager, when the people sing it out with joy, when children rush to altar for a taste of it, then we are doing our one thing.

This church is not yours – It is not mine.
This church is God’s –
What we do is real, we are not play-acting or dramatizing. What we do is ancient but it is never old.
Our liturgy is real and powerful and alive, it can mend broken hearts, and break open proud ones.
And we who are trusted with it should bow in honor of that trust.
And hold gently the light we are called to bear.
We do not need to idolize the church to walk while we have the light.

You know what to do.
Proclaim the good news,
Be gentle to those you meet,
Give with joy and delight,
Let prayer flood every corner of your heart,
And for the love of God – be filled with the joy of the spirit.

This world needs you, the church needs you, and I need you.

We need you whole and joyful,
we need you present,
we need you as stupidly in love with Jesus as you can bear to be.

It is all we have, this gospel.
Thank God it is enough.


This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of In Conversation, the semi-annual magazine from the Diocese of Oregon. Click here to read more stories from In Conversation online.

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