Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
It is often alleged that the renowned Indian lawyer and social activist Mahatma Gandhi once said “I like your Christ, but not your Christianity.” Although I find it difficult to trace the source of this quote, I did come across an article in the The Harvard Crimson from the late 1920s in which a Dr. Holmes, a professor at Swarthmore College, relates to a reporter conversations he had with Gandhi. Holmes relates the above quote and further states that Gandhi further criticised Christians’ lack of authentic faith when Gandhi told Holmes in a conversation that
The Christians above all others are seeking after wealth. Their aim is to be rich at the expense of their neighbours. They come among aliens to exploit them for their own good and cheat them to do so. Their prosperity is far more essential to them than the life, liberty, and happiness of others.
Whether Gandhi made this claim or not, the charge must be taken seriously. It is one that has been made by countless others over the past few decades. Perhaps Gandhi’s alleged claim might be right. Maybe we Christians simply identify ourselves with Christ without embracing his way of life.
Aside from the numerous wars fought in the name of God and King (or country) in the 20th century, Christian faith has been manipulated to provide moral justification for certain evils. Consider the justification of slavery, the oppression of indigenous persons, or even the subtle disregard for the poor when folks banter lines such as “God helps those who help themselves.”
In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the devastating results of our disregard for the poor, the homeless, and the elderly. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed our inadequate care for the most vulnerable in our societies, leaving hundreds — if not millions — of people susceptible to the virus’ devastating effects. Politicians who have long argued that their country is a “Christian” country funded on “Christian” principles now take little ownership for their lack of support or advocacy of adequate healthcare funding. Instead, austerity measures and underfunding have left medical systems in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States overwhelmed and overburdened by the surge of patients. If we think we are better off here in Ontario, let us not forget the serious cuts our current government was making to healthcare just a few a month’s ago. (For a review of the government’s most recent proposals and measures, take a look at this article from the Ontario Health Coalition.)
And if a crippling healthcare system wasn’t a great enough problem for us, our government’s slow response to the needs of the homeless community is even more appalling. Despite claims of some political leaders, civil and provincial governments have been slow to respond to the growing needs of homeless persons and those trying to care for them. Countless organisations, including Caledon Community Services and Anglican initiatives such as All Saints Community Centre and Church in Toronto, are in desperate need for funding to help them serve in this critical time. (If you’re not familiar with either organisation, I encourage you to visit their websites and support them. Or better yet, we can raise funds as a parish to help these and other organisations.)
Before dismissing all this as simple political talk, I invite you to consider our first reading today from the Book of Acts. While seemingly idealistic and utopian, Luke’s account of the early Christian community’s care and concern for all ought to challenge us to think more deeply about what it means to be a Christian. Being Christian isn’t simply holding onto a particular ideology or belonging to a club. In fact, the club mentality has largely led to the demise of the Christian Church not only here in Canada, but in countless other Western countries. No, being Christian is about entering into a relationship with the Living God, Jesus Christ, and his people. Sure we have beliefs and doctrinal affirmations, but those flow first from an encounter with Christ that compels us to “love one another” as he loved us (John 13:34-35).
Luke is clear about the primacy of forming a relationship with Jesus Christ and the Church. The early Christian community grounded their life in prayer and study and the celebration of the Eucharist (Acts 2:42). By prayer and study, the community allowed themselves to be nurtured and formed by “the author and source of our salvation, Jesus Christ.” The community came to know Jesus through their attentive listening of the stories of those who walked with him and they intimately encountered Jesus in prayer and in the breaking of the bread. Much like our friends in last week’s gospel lesson, the early Christian community met Jesus and saw Jesus in their study of the Word and celebration of the Sacrament of eternal life.
Their encounter with the Good Shepherd, the Lord of Life, compelled the early Christian community to a radical new way of living. No longer was their concern solely for their own good and well-being, but the good of the all. In meeting Christ in prayer and study, the early disciples saw Christ in those they met.
Our reading from the Book of Acts today challenges us to reconsider our discipleship of Jesus, and I suggest, our baptismal vocation. Each and every time we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism, we renew our baptismal promises. Among the several promises we renew are our commitment to a life of prayer and study, as well as to celebrate weekly the breaking of the bread, otherwise known as the Eucharist. These are the foundations upon which our Christian life is grounded. If we are to live as the Body of Christ, we must experience and be fed by Christ in Word and in Sacrament.
Moreover, like the early Christian community, our encounter with Jesus in Word and Sacrament compels us go out and love and serve all God’s people and creation. Our relationship with Jesus leads us into relationships with others. And not just a relationship like any other, but a relationship by which we give ourselves as gift to all as Christ gave himself to us as gift.
Although we may find the early Church’s life extraordinary and utopian, the early Christians couldn’t imagine living the life of faith in any other way. How could they love God if they didn’t fully love one another? The same is true for us: how can we claim to love God when we disregard God’s beloved people who suffer injustice?
This question is of particular importance to us if we further consider Jesus’ words in today’s gospel lesson. Jesus is clear that he has come so that we may have life and have it abundantly. As Christians, we believe that we are Christ’s body living and active in the world. Therefore, we share in his mission and ministry to proclaim life and life for all.
Whether Gandhi was correct in his estimation of Christians, his underlying point is one we ought to seriously consider and reflect upon. If we are to embrace the way of Jesus and walk in his path, we ought to be careful not to build up treasures for ourselves at the peril and demise of others. Moreover, Jesus’ teaching ought to inspire within us a radical commitment to the life and well-being of all God’s people. Moved by God’s holy Word, we are led to go to the impoverished and the suffering and to care for them as Christ cared for the suffering. Our faith is not simply a belief, but a way of life that seeks the good of all God’s people. Amen.