Always be ready to make your defense . . . for the hope that is within you.
1 Peter 3:15
Last week I invited readers of my weekly reflections to send me their response to the questions, Why Christian? Why the Episcopal Church? The responses I’ve received thus far (more are welcome) are indeed testimony Rachel Held Evans’ assertion: “There remains no greater apologetic for the Christian life than a life caught up in the story of Jesus.”
Here are but a few excerpts (with personal details omitted);
— My husband retired from the ministry and we moved to Southern Maryland after 40 years serving in an evangelical denomination. Toward the end of our ministry I was feeling some internal struggles and not really understanding what I was feeling. It was when I visited a small Episcopal church in St Mary’s City, with my son, ( a millennial, and now an Episcopalian priest,) that I felt a sense of awakening and renewal… I felt like I had come home.
— The Way of the Cross — the story of Jesus’ suffering, dying and rising — tells me that we are never alone, never abandoned, even when it feels that way, in the hardest moments of loss and pain, of sinfulness and brokenness. . . Resurrection tells me that love ultimately triumphs, and has taught me to live in hope, even when hope might seem absurd as it often does.
— I am an Episcopalian Christian because this church’s emphasis on the sacraments and its observations of different seasons encourages me to live and honor the life of the body and nourishes my spirit at the same time, AND connects me to a much bigger community — those gathered for worship and also the whole body of people who are at prayer at any one time, on this side of the grave and beyond.
— One can never underestimate the formative impact of having been raised in a particular faith tradition. Christianity feels woven into the very fabric of my identity as a person. I had a very powerful, intimate, and personal experience with Christ as my savior in college (I literally fell in love with Jesus), and have “known” ever since that I belong to him. Jesus is my prophet. His outlook on life, and his vision for the world’s restoration — and how we can get there — resonates with me above any other approach or theory.
— I am a Christian because I cannot shake it off — and I have tried. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, wondering whether my name, George, had one, two, or even three syllables. Because I was a child, all of my early religious instruction was from women. Allow me to pause for a moment to lift Ruth, June, Buddy, and many other women for taking time from their busy lives to make sure that a few little boys and girls like me knew that Jesus loved us.
— I am a Christian because I so deeply believe that our human hearts are broken, that our human institutions and governments are hopelessly flawed, that God loves to perform miracles, and that those miracles are accomplished one human heart at a time.
— I was drawn to the Episcopal Church because there I felt a seriousness of purpose — I believed that people would fall down and worship Jesus if he appeared.
— I am a Christian because it was the faith of my parents and grandparents. I am still a Christian because my heart and mind have led me into the deeper mysteries of our faith. The mysteries of prayer, of community, of Resurrection, of Incarnation, of saints, of Word, of sacrament of Spirit, these nourish my soul. This is the living water, of which Jesus spoke to the women at the well. I am a Christian because I thirst.
— One of my early childhood memories is standing in the front of our “United Protestant” church with the children’s choir. The sunlight was streaming in through high clerestory windows, the dust mites were catching the light like little stars, and we were singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, and realized in that moment that Jesus loved ME. It was a lovely thought, caught up in the beauty of the star dust, and I have been a believer ever since. Looking back, I consider that to be one of God’s miracles, because my family of origin was not a loving environment.
— I am a Christian because Jesus Christ changed my life and continues to change my life. It took my breath away the first time someone said “if you had been the only person that ever lived, Jesus still would have come and died and rose again, just for you. He loves you that much.” I believe that and I repeat it as often as possible.
— For me the question why Christian is really, why Jesus? My answer starts with, because Jesus saved me, though I don’t mean that in an atoning sacrifice for sin kind of way. What I mean is that Jesus, and my faith in him, saved me from being the worst version of myself, what I could have been — bitter, cynical, judgmental. I still have those darker parts of myself to pay attention to, but because of Jesus I am a kinder, more compassionate person. . . Jesus’ way of death and resurrection, new life out of great pain, wholeness out of sharp brokenness has been the defining pattern of my life, and his journey has given mine language, and a framework, and a hope I wouldn’t otherwise have. In the worst times of my life, Jesus has been that voice in my ear reminding me that eventually, even when I can’t see it, the Good Friday I find myself in will give way to Easter, and there will be a way forward. When I am unable to trust that bigger picture, Jesus reminds me that all I have to do is trust in him, and keep going. For that, for him, for his presence in my life, I am profoundly grateful.
— I am a new Christian, baptized in 2017. I had long been a spiritual seeker, but I never seriously considered mainline Christianity because I thought it was homophobic. (I’m straight but a strong believer in equality.) But after Trump’s victory in 2016, I was so demoralized that I asked a friend if I could go to church with her. I was impressed because the day after Election Day, her church had held an emergency Eucharist. I don’t think I knew what Eucharist meant, but I appreciated the recognition that people needed something.
— For me, Christianity is experiencing everything being made new. . .
These are the stories we need to share with one another, and with others who might wonder why we follow Jesus and what difference it makes. As summer approaches, consider gathering with those you see in church every week or work alongside in service to others, and ask the question, “Why are you Christian?”
At the end of my sermon for the Confirmation service at Washington National Cathedral, I told part of my faith story that you can read here.