03/24/2019 ()

Bible Text: Matthew 16:15-17, Acts 11:19-26 |

"X: We Are Xians"

Have you ever noticed that we simplify a lot of movie titles because the full name is just too cumbersome to say?  Last season’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald movie is the latest example. No one calls it by its full name, it’s too cumbersome. We just say Fantastic Beasts 2.  And no one ever called The X Files movie by its full title, The X Files: I Want to Believe.  Other movies with cumbersome names are: The Pirates Who Didn’t Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, or The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain, or Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes. But the granddaddy of them all is Doctor Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  All these movies ended up being called by a briefer name even in the movie business.[1]

In much the same way, something similar happened to the early Church in the dozen or so years following the resurrection of Jesus. There was a major name change from a cumbersome title to a simpler and more descriptive name. And it happened in the crossroads town of Antioch, in modern-day Turkey near the border of Syria. It was there that those Jews and Gentiles who believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah were first called ‘Christians’.

Early on, Jesus called his followers, sheep of his pasture, as he saw himself as the Good Shepherd.  Later, once the church started to spread out across Palestine, they were called the Sect of the Nazarenes by the religious authorities of the day, in hopes of diminishing their influence by naming them a sect whose leader was a failed, crucified, fake messiah from the uncultured region of Galilee.  The believers at first, called themselves: Followers of the Way, as Jesus was the Way to God, the Way to the truth and the Way of salvation. But Followers of the Way is a mouthful, a bit cumbersome of a title and it didn’t stick.

Instead, the believers started to be called ‘little Christs’ or Christ-ians, its literal meaning.  It was a derogatory term in the beginning, kind of like being called a Jesus’ Freak back in the ‘70’s. I was a Jesus’ Freak and didn’t like the term but it quickly became a term of endearment, a nomenclature adapted by the very people it was designed to put down. Christian, in a similar fashion, became shorthand for those Jews and Gentiles who followed Jesus of Nazareth, believed he was the promised Messiah, accepted his gift of grace, and dedicated their lives to living out the way of the Master. And when outsiders encountered them, they pointed and sneered, calling them Christians or ‘little Christs’.

But it didn’t end there. Today, we’ve shortened it even more by using an X, like in Xmas.   You may wonder why we do that. An X isn’t the x from our alphabet. It’s the Greek letter Chi.  Chi is the first letter in the title ‘Christ’ or ‘Cristos’.  So when you see the X it’s really Christ and we are Xians!  Or something like that.

Now, I’m sure there’s a list somewhere that charts all the qualities and expectations of what it means to live out the title: Christian, but today I want to offer just a few key factors that mark us as ‘little Christs’, Christ-ians.

First, there’s the understanding that we are the ‘called out ones’.  The New Testament word for church, literally means- being called out (ecclesia).  The called of God are called out of their old lives of sin and egocentrism and called together in community to experience grace, forgiveness and the empowerment of the invisible Presence of Christ. But the goal isn’t to remain here in church where we feel safe, loved and comfortable…we’re called out and into the rush and hustle of daily life with the good news of Jesus’ love and grace and hope. It is what Peter believed when he said that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. It is that confession that got the church going. “I will call you Peter, which means ‘rock’. And on this ‘rock’ I will build my church  (or the called out ones).” (Matt. 16:18) God’s calling you and me out of sin and selfishness and into the Body of Christ, and then back out into the world. Have you been called out of your old life and into the new? (See 2 Cor. 5:17)

Second. Christians share a common faith.  In the time of the OT Judges, an inter-community battle was fought between certain tribes of Israel. One tribe was known as having a slight accent. They were the Ephraimites who lived just north of Jerusalem. They had trouble saying the ‘sh’ sound (the Shin in Hebrew.  Visit New England and you’ll quickly see what I’m getting at.  A distinct accent marks them… Cape Cad instead of Cod, Bastin instead of Boston, bier instead of beer, caa instead of car…  When the tribe of Manasseh went up against the Ephraimites, they set a up a password: Shibboleth. Those within the tribe shared the ability to say the ‘sh’ sound, while the rebelling tribe would pronounce it: sibboleth. It showed who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’.  Today, Shibboleth is a term we use to describe what holds a group of people together.

We hold a core faith in common, marking us as Christians, even when we claim different denominations, schools of faith, or favorite preachers; we still have the same basic faith. We affirm that basic faith every time we say the Apostles’ Creed.  We share a common faith as little Christs, and we are identified by it.  Our Shibboleth is simply put: Jesus Christ is Lord.

Third. Christians have an assurance of grace and hope that sustains us even in life’s difficult moments.  The late Henri Nouwen, writer, pastor and theologian tells this story…

A few years ago, Bob, a friend of Nouwen died unexpectedly. His friend’s wife decided to keep her two young children away from the funeral thinking that it would be too much for them to handle. For years after their father’s death, the cemetery was a fearful and dangerous place for them.

One day, the widow asked Nouwen to visit the grave with her and she asked the children along. One said no, but the younger one agreed. When they came to the grave, the three of them sat down on the grass and saw the words carved on the gravestone: A Kind and Gentle Man.  Nouwen said, “Maybe someday we should have a picnic here. This is not only a place to think about death, but also a place to rejoice in our life. Bob will be most honored when we find new strength, here, to live.”  At first it seemed a strange idea; a picnic in a cemetery?  But, then again, isn’t that similar to what Jesus told his disciples to do when they broke bread: to remember him after he was gone?

Sometime later, his friend’s wife took both kids to the cemetery, the younger convincing the older one there was nothing to fear. Now-a- days they visit the cemetery and tell each other stories about Bob, a kind and gentle man.[2] Christians have this assurance of grace and hope that can sustain us even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because Christ is walking with us the whole way.

It’s this trust and faith that Jesus was and is and will ever be who he said he is and that kind of faith makes all the difference.  Peter saw that back then and we still have the same kinds of experiences today.  We can say along with Peter that, yes, I believe you are the Christ the Son of the living God.  CS Lewis said, “I Believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun; not because I can see it, but by it, I can see all else.”  Christians have an assurance of grace and hope that sustains us even in life’s difficult moments.

Fourth. And there’s one last thing that marks us as Christians, ‘little Christs’. It’s the command to be ‘Christ in the world’.  St. Francis put it this way… “Go into all the world and preach the gospel, if necessary, use words.” You see, these days, the mission field isn’t only off in the hard to pronounce names of countries in Asia or Africa. In fact, Christianity if growing fastest in these countries.  The new mission field for the American church is right outside these doors. A majority of our neighbors don’t have a church home. Not many have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Most of them believe in God, they are spiritual, but not religious. It’s crazy to think our coworkers, soccer families, neighbors who we talk with every day, those at the gym, or yoga class don’t have a place of worship to call their own. We don’t have to walk far to find an opportunity to be ‘little Christs’, to preach the gospel, using words if necessary. Look around, Hidenwood Church is strategically located for people of all ages to find the message of Christ preached, taught and lived out. This is holy ground, where our neighbors will know we are Christians by our love. I like what some churches do to remind worshipers of that. They have a sign at the parking lot exit that reads: You are now entering the Mission Field.  Go in grace. As ‘little Christs’, this is our calling and our marching orders. Amen.

[1] For a full list of such movies see

http://www.vh1.com/celebrity/2011-06-09/30-movie-titles-no-one-has-ever-actually-said/

[2] Fresh Illustrations, E. Rowell, pg. 20

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