On Being Christians: Living Differently from Others
The Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
January 18, 2015 - 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51


icon_listen_web  PDF_web


On Being Christians: Living Differently From Others 
1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51               

Dr. Baron Mullis
Morningside Presbyterian Church
January 18, 2015


Have you ever wondered what the Gospel writers left out of the story?  To be honest, I don’t think about it often because what the Gospel tells us about Jesus is intended to be sufficient for our knowledge of salvation, not exhaustive, but there are moments when I’m reading and wonder, “Now, really, aren’t there a few missing details here?”

I’ve always felt that way about those call stories for the disciples – that there must be some missing details because I have a hard time getting from Jesus just walking down the road or on the beach and the next thing you know these fellows have upended their lives, thrown it all over, and are off gallivanting around the Judean countryside.

There just seems to be a missing step. 

I have, in the course of my life, accepted three pastoral calls to churches – and I can assure you it didn’t go anything like this. 

There were interviews.

I sent sermon tapes.  (That tells you I’ve been at this a while – when I started we had actual cassette tapes.)

People got on airplanes to fly to Indianapolis.  People came to Charlotte. 

There were reference checks - me on the church, and the church on me.

It went nothing like this story from John. 

The whole thing strikes me just a little bit glib, to be honest. 

Jesus is sitting under a fig tree and the next thing we know the twelve have been added to. 

It makes me wonder what we’re missing – because I sort of doubt most of our calls to Christian faith went quite this quickly or quite this smoothly.

Because at the heart of these call stories is a change – life changes in consequence to following Jesus… and while meeting Jesus personally may have carried such an instant attraction to service that the disciples dropped everything and went on the way, I’m not sure there’s a modern corollary.  Frankly, I imagine more of our development in Christian faith comes in fits and starts, occasionally with great confusion.

Think of it – admittedly,  I’m not Jesus, but even if I quote him and say to you, “Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor,” there’s not going to be a mad rush from the sanctuary to make feverish calls to your brokers. 

Indeed, an older retired minister was once telling me of the counsel he gave someone who came to him in a crisis with the question, “Does Jesus mean for me to sell everything and follow him,” to which the older minister said to the perplexed Christian, “You could do that, but then where would you live?”

No, there’s a decided disconnect between the call stories of the Bible and how most of us live out the calling to be a Christian. 

I expect that most of us have developed a sort of unstated pragmatism to modern living of the call to be a Christian, haven’t we?  I expect that for most of us, our understanding of Christian calling now isn’t that we are called to sell it all and go on the road as it is that we are “called in place.”

Because by the time we get to Paul’s world, just a generation after Jesus called his disciples to go out on the road (and a generation before the Gospel writers wrote, incidentally) the disciples now are decidedly called in place.  They are called to be Christian people and do Christian works in place – in their particular place – in very particular ways. 

I’m sure there are a few of us who resonate with a call to go on the road with Jesus, but I also expect that most of us understand a call to be in place on behalf of Jesus. 

The purpose of this sermon series to start 2015, On Being Christians, was to be, above all else pragmatic about the practice of Christian faith.  We’ve spoken of making fresh starts, of worshipping God, and we come today to the topic of living differently from others.

If we’re being honest, for a long time, if you were a Christian, it made you more like the dominant culture in which you lived.  Scholars call this the Constantinian Era. 

Constantine was the Roman emperor who first decriminalized Christianity so that there were some minor but notable changes – chiefly that Christians weren’t fed to the lions anymore.  It was a good change.

Then he made Christianity the official religion of empire (and this is not like being the official airline of the NFL – you actually had to do it when the emperor said be Christian) and ultimately he himself was baptized on his deathbed. 

During the Constantian Era, we heard terms like, Christendom, to refer to the whole world, at least the parts settled by Europeans.  Being Christian actually made you fit in, not be different. 

The Constantinian Era stretched all the way from 325 CE up until modern times.  Stanley Hauerwas, in his rather acerbic way, posits the hypothesis that the Constantian Era ended in 1963 in Greenville, South Carolina, on an October afternoon when he and his friends went to a move on a Sunday.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember that there was a time when everything closed down in deference to the Sabbath. 

I suppose the last bastion was the opening of liquor stores on Sundays – that was just a couple of years ago here in Georgia. 

When you leave church and drive through the Pitch and Putt and get your booze without even getting out of the car on a Sunday afternoon, I think we can definitively say that the era of Big Church controlling the culture was over.

I’ve told you before, I’m not convinced that is a bad thing either – what good is a witness that is legislated? 

Now, if you’re a Christian, presumably you’ve chosen this path.  And it is a path of difference. 

And you can be different right where you are. 

The Corinthians were called to be different right where they were. 

There were a number of issues that were addressed by the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth as they were just starting to find their way – well before the state takeover of the church by the Roman Empire – and one of those issues was sexual morality. 

It’s a little hard to do an apples to apples comparison between Corinth and Atlanta for those of us seeking to emulate what Paul was teaching because there is not, to my knowledge, a house of ill-repute on every street corner here.  There are a few spicy signs here and there, but this isn’t Corinth.

For that matter, even Corinth wasn’t Corinth by the time Paul was writing – it had gone respectable – but Paul didn’t want there to be any confusion about what sort of behavior constituted Christian behavior where the Corinthian Christians were concerned.  Corinth had a reputation for being a town with broad sexual license and Paul wanted none of it for the Corinthians. 

So he gave them a pretty straightforward metric: why would you ever do anything deliberately that dishonors God?

I’m trying to make sure I’m pragmatic in this series, so here is your pragmatic carry-away for today’s sermon.  It’s a question to order our lives: is what I’m doing (or what I’m about to do) going to make God happy? 

Is God going to be pleased?

Or, is what I’m about to do going to  - in the inimitable words of Anne Lamott, “Make Jesus want to drink gin straight from the cat dish?”

Not everything we do is pleasing to God.  I realize that can be hard to hear in a world of participation ribbons and endless concern with self-esteem, but sometimes we need to be self-critical.

Being Christian doesn’t mean fitting in so much anymore.  It means being different.  It means being different in place.  It means being different where we are. 

There are things in life that we will face about which we will have no choice.  Sometimes things happen to us and we just react. 

But sometimes, we have a choice. 

When we have a choice, we need to ask that question, “Will this make God happy?”

Here’s a really silly example – I’ve never put a fish on my car because I don’t like car art, but even more, I’m a horribly impatient driver.  I tend to go too fast.  It would not be a good witness for me to put a fish on the car, but I’ll leave that for Drew for next week.

But once, many years ago, I was driving a friend to the Newark airport.  We were on the New Jersey Turnpike, and I was foaming at the mouth as usual – and my friend said to me, “You’re not being very nice now.”

I almost offered to let her walk the rest of the way to the airport.

She went on, “You’re so nice the rest of the time.  You’re a very kind individual.  I think it matters to you what people think of you – but you get behind the wheel and it’s Jekyll and Hyde.”

As annoyed as I was, I knew she was right.  I had a choice – to exercise self-control, or to let my annoyance get the better of me.

Today, when I speak of living differently from others, I’m not talking about those circumstances that are beyond your control. 

I’m talking about when you have a choice.  How are you then? 

There are a lot of circumstances in which we don’t have choices.

But there are also a lot where we do.

We have choices how we spend our money.

We have choices about sexual license.

We have choices about truthfulness.

We have choices about kindness.

Did you know that the number one thing Jesus talked about was the kingdom of God – and within that he was mostly talking about how we relate to the people around us?

The second common thing Jesus talked about was our money.

I’ve always thought that the two are related, to be honest.

And what’s more, as I’ve thought about living differently, and money, and sexual license, and the New Jersey Turnpike, and baptism, which we’ll celebrate soon enough, and Season of Service and whether we’ll choose to participate and give of our time and our substance, and really across a whole manner of ways we can live differently from others, I think we can refine that question about please God just a little bit further – does God love others as much as God loves me?

A lot of what the church needs to be doing now is convincing people that God loves them as much as God loves the folks who are already in church. 

And God uses us for that.

If God loves others as much as God loves me, it means that God loves the person annoying me as much as God loves me.

We have choices how we spend our money - does God love others as much as God loves me?

We have choices about sexual license - does God love others as much as God loves me?

We have choices about truthfulness - does God love others as much as God loves me?

We have choices about kindness - does God love others as much as God loves me?

Don’t worry about what you don’t have a choice about – worry about when you do.

And live so God can use you. 


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.  

Last Published: January 28, 2015 11:56 AM