American Christianity lives now in a time of upheaval and crisis. The gospel of Jesus Christ is being perverted by a “prosperity gospel” and by so-called Christian Nationalism which is, more accurately, angry and resentful cultural whiteness growing increasingly belligerent. The traditional Protestant churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) are fading. Fewer and fewer Americans identify themselves as Christian, and I find that being identified to newly met people as a Christian minister more and more frequently draws negative reactions ranging from suspicion and unease to visible disgust and even open hostility. I understand such reactions, unpleasant as they are to experience. When I read some of the horrid judgments pronounced by ministers upon large numbers of our fellow human beings, I can hardly blame strangers who find out I am, in their minds, one of that type.
I want to make a distinction but not one simply between tolerant and intolerant, respectful and rude, kindly and cruel, or magnanimous and judgmental. The needed distinction goes far deeper than differences in personality and temperament. The distinction is between Bible and Bible, gospel and gospel, Christianity and Christianity, and even between Christ and Christ.
Today on the church’s ecumenical calendar is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Eleven years ago I preached my final sermon as pastor of a church for the Sunday so designated. Today I reread it, and my own sermon nudged me to re-present it. The crisis in American Christianity was smoldering already those eleven years ago, but by now the anger and resentment have been stoked and fanned into open flames. If we are to be the church of Jesus Christ and represent him faithfully to people, we have choices to make, and those choices strike to the very heart of the matter.
Here is the sermon. I invite you to click the link on the word “sermon” and see what you make of “First Things First.”