Believe. Belong. Behave. Believe in God. Belong to a church. Behave ourselves. Do that, and we’ll go to heaven when we die. Pepper in a bit of self-sacrifice and we’ve got the Christian religion in a nutshell. We’ve actually got every religion. Believe in God, belong to a congregation, behave ourselves, and do what we can to earn heavenly rewards (and avoid divine punishment), isn't Christianity. It's the basic structure of every religion. But, that’s what many people were taught in Sunday School. Confirmation just reinforced it. Glue it all together with sermons, and hymns, and bible studies about how to please God and we end up just another religious person. But instead of Moses or the Buddha, or our ancestors, we dress it up with Christian Jesus.
But Christianity isn't a religion. Christianity, or specifically Jesus, is the end of religion. Christianity isn’t about our faith. It’s about God’s faithfulness to His promises. It’s not about our church membership, as if God cares whether we’re a Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Muslim, or an atheist. God comes to us and claims we belong to Him for Jesus’ sake. It’s not about our good or bad behavior, whether we’re a righteous man or a solid brass bastard. Jesus was obedient, even unto death, for righteous men and bastards. And, believe, belong, behave? Jesus shut up that kind of religious nonsense once and for all two thousand years ago about a twenty minute walk from downtown Jerusalem.
In fact, everything the Christian church does is grounded in Jesus’ doing for everyone what is impossible for any of us to do: believe in Jesus, belong to him, and behave ourselves when we're around Him. We believe what we want to believe, not what God reveals to us about Jesus. Belong? We come and go from one church or another as we please. And behave ourselves, well...
What God opens up to us in the Gospels, what all Scripture reveals to us, is how to distinguish everything and everyone from our Savior; the difference between personal faith and Christ’s faithfulness; human love and our heavenly Father’s limitless, measureless love; self-salvation and God’s saving grace that comes to us on account of Jesus; our churches from Jesus’ body; human life that’s nothing more than trying not to die, and Jesus’ life which promises that even though we die, we will not die. Everything done that we may walk in Christ's faithfulness and love our whole life long.
Maybe, though, there are hundreds, even thousands, maybe tens of thousands of life-long Christians who've decided they don't want to walk in Christ's faithfulness and love. They don't want to trust that His faithfulness creates faith in them. They don't want His love to change their hearts so they may love others with the love with which Christ loves them. Instead, they'd rather be just another religious person. Maybe, they prefer to believe in whatever god they choose to believe in. Maybe, they like the idea of joining a temple or an ashram or going on a pilgrimage.
And what’s the point of believing in a god, anyway, if we can’t judge the sheep from goats by their behavior? How are we supposed to keep score if there’s no scoreboard? And maybe, scoreboards are just the kind of thing we need. There’s plenty of religious people who’d love for us to join their game, if that’s what we choose to do next.
If that’s what they choose to do next, maybe there are no more Sunday morning services. No more worship. No more congregation. No more church for them. What then? Did their Sunday School teachers plant seeds that never blossomed? Maybe their baptism just didn’t take. Maybe the whole business about Jesus’ body and blood being “the thing” is just too much science fiction mumbo jumbo for them. Whatever the reason they don’t come back, and there are so many reasons, best to blame it on the pastor. It’s okay. If anyone can take it, he can.
But know this. What makes a Christian "Christian" is that he is baptized into Christ. What makes a Christian "Christian" is that he is a beloved child of our heavenly Father. And, our heavenly Father will suffer Himself to be rejected by us, because that’s what unconditional love looks like. Limitless, measureless love suffers itself to be rejected, and our heavenly Father will suffer Himself to be rejected by us again and again. But He will never turn His back on us. He will never reject us. We go along through life covered in the saving blood of Jesus our Savior. It doesn’t wash off. God's baptismal promises don’t wash off. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, because He loves us. He’s put His name on us to prove it, and He cannot betray Himself.
Believe, belong, behave? This kind of teaching can be found in any religion. But, Jesus is the end of religion. Jesus has already done for everyone what is impossible for any of us to do: believe in Jesus, belong to Him, and behave ourselves when we're around Him. His faithfulness faiths us. His baptismal promises keep us in the Christian Church. His love for us will change our stony hearts to hearts of flesh. He's done it all so that we may walk in Christ's faithfulness and love our whole life long without anxiety, or shame, or guilt about whether we've done enough to believe, belong, and behave our way into the resurrection.
Instead, the Resurrection and the Life comes to us to say, "What are you worried about already, it's finished!"