Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” That is almost profound!
This ‘ian’ is where being a Christian is like being Olympians. I am not like an Olympian because I am going to be running, jumping, throwing or doing anything else in the London 2012 Olympics (although some of you might). I am like an Olympian because being a Christian shows what I am part of. It describes where I belong. It refers to my allegiance. For the non-latin scholars, the title of this blog entry is the Olympic motto: “swifter, higher, stronger.”
Emo Phillips has told the joke that has been voted the funniest God joke ever, which is about allegiance. I have used it before but it bears re-telling in this context. You can scroll down beyond it if you want (and remember this is set in USA):
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
Being a Christian is not first and foremost about which church you attend. It is about belonging to God. I often describe myself as a follower of Jesus because that shows my allegiance to him.
For the early Christians during the persecutions that began under Emperor Nero, being known as a Christian was a dangerous thing. It could quite easily cost you your life. The same is still true today in some countries. The amazing thing is that when these people were found and tortured, so many of them refused to say that they were not Christians. They knew that they belonged to God because of Jesus and nothing could change that.
A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting an old Chinese lady in an underground church in mainland China. She told me, through an interpreter, how she had been a nurse in a Christian hospital at the time of the Communist revolution and how soldiers had come and taken away most of the staff. Just a few nurses were left to care for all the patients and each week the soldiers came back and beat the nurses. They told them that if they said they did not believe in Jesus they would stop beating them, but the nurses refused to deny their faith. Then, with tears in her eyes, this wonderful old lady told me that on one occasion when the soldiers were beating her she had enough. She told them that she no longer believed and they left her alone.
As soon as they had gone she regretted what she had said and asked Jesus to forgive her. Then next week when the soldiers came back she went up to them and told them that she had only said she did not believe to stop them beating her. She still believed, she was still a follower of Jesus, and that would never change. So she told them they had better start beating her again. The soldiers did not know what to do so they left.
That old lady knew that part of what it means to be a Christian is to be someone who is known as a follower of Jesus. Our allegiance is with him. Nothing can change that. We are like Olympians because we are part of his movement.