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Oct 10, 2021

Test Yourselves

Test Yourselves

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: October 2021

Category: So-called Christian Values

Today's Scripture: John 8:48-59, 2 Corinthians 13:5-10

Today's Sermon


"Test Yourselves"


2 Corinthians 13:5-10

          5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to pass the test! 6I hope you will find out that we have not failed. 7But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have passed the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect. 10So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

“Test Yourselves”

            “Test yourselves.”  Paul says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).  How many of you cringe a little at that challenge?  What measurements would we use to examine if we’re living in the faith. Judging by the way people often greet me in the grocery store, Sunday attendance would rank high.  “I’m sorry I haven’t been to church!” comes out before we even have chance to say “Hello.”  Just so you know, I don’t carry an attendance record into the store.  I leave it in the car.  Coming to church is good, but it’s a means to a deeper end of growing in the faith and community.  If you’re worried about a divine scorekeeper, then I think we need to talk.  Seriously, let’s find a time to talk. 

          What other poor measurements have we misplaced at the center?  Whether or not you can agree with a set of abstract theological propositions?  A superficial list of dos and don’ts, that have little do to with what Jesus truly concerned Jesus, and even less to do with real transformation?  So much of so-called Christianity isn’t bound up in learning to love, serving one’s neighbor, and working for more just communities.

            In the encounter you heard in our first reading, Jesus gives us one example how living in the faith can look.  Notice the verb is “living.”  It’s ongoing.  This is not a one-time test.  This is something you live.  Jesus is challenged, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 

            “I do not have a demon;” he responds, “I honor my Father, and you dishonor me” (Jn. 8:49).  The back and forth continues and the tension escalates.  Jesus says those who follow him will not taste death. His challengers retort that he must have a demon because even Abraham died, and he was the patriarch of their shared faith!  Jesus accuses them of not knowing God, and says, to their confusion, Abraham “rejoiced” when he saw my time.  Baffled they remind Jesus he’s not yet 50 and Abraham lived hundreds of years before, not grasping this mystical notion we see in the beginning of John, that Christ has been around since the beginning of time. 

            There’s a lot to unpack, which is mostly what we do—unpack what’s there.  However, I want to point your attention to something Jesus does notsay. They accuse Jesus of two things, but he only responds to one charge:  I do not have a demon.  What was the other charge?  Being a Samaritan.  To understand how significant that is, we have to remember the Samaritans were bitter enemies of the Jews.  This is why the Parable of the Good Samaritan is such a powerful tale, because it features a Samaritan crossing enemy lines to help a Jew, while so-called religious leaders passed on by.  The Samaritans and the Jews shared a lineage, and some common sacred texts, but we know sometimes the toughest fighting happens within the family.

            To call Jesus a Samaritan was surely an insult, perhaps related to the charge of having a demon.  As one commentator reminds us, there was a “Jewish belief that Samaritan prophets were possessed by demons” [1]  When Jesus merely responds to the charge of having a demon he either assumed his response addressed both charges, or, more interestingly, he intentionally refuses to recognize “Samaritan” as an insult.

            My father had a colleague, a professor, who was a Sikh.  Sikh men are recognizable by their turbans and long beards.  For that reason, they are often confused in the West for being Muslims.  Shortly after September 11, 2001, my father’s friend and colleague was driving cross country to his new home in Arizona.  Shortly after entering Kansas, a state trooper pulled up alongside him and proceeded to stay with him across the entire state.  He was not there to escort him.  He was there to watch him.  It was eerie and frightening.  When he finally reached his destination in Arizona, he was welcomed home by having his windshield smashed.  Even though President Bush had spoken out quite strongly against anti-Islamic sentiments, we know that there was a heightened level of threat against Muslims, and by extension those who looked like Muslims, those such as Sikhs.  The irony is that Sikhs and Muslims have a very contentious history, with significant blood spilled between the two groups. Sikhs were not behind 9/11 (nor were many Muslims, for that matter).   

        Despite all of this, there were movements within the Sikh community after 9/11 not to try and distinguish themselves from Muslims. Rather, than wear shirts that said, “Not a Muslim,” some chose to bear the burden of their enemy’s (by some definitions) plight.  Dr. Simran Jeet Singh a Sikh author and professor of Islamic studies, of all things, wrote this:

Over the years, many have asked why we don’t just tell people that Sikhs aren’t Muslims and leave it at that. “Why don’t you let Muslims deal with their own problems?” is a typical one. Or, “Wouldn’t it be easier and safer for you all to just tell people who attack you that they got the wrong person?”

The problem with this response is that it just deflects the hate onto another community. That’s not right, nor is it fair.[2] 

            Singh acknowledges that not all who share his faith stand in such solidarity with Muslims.  He’s been criticized for the work he does, but he grounds his commitment to the other in his religious tradition.  He says, “My faith teaches me to engage in authentic solidarity, to see others’ oppression as our own.  It’s just not an option to throw another community under the bus—even if it might make our lives easier or safer.”[3]

            When Jesus opts not to clarify that he is not a Samaritan, he positions himself between the Samaritans and the slanderous stereotype about them.  That is quite a non-statement state from the one who would one day be called “King of the Jews.”

            Why do I pair this with Paul’s invitation to examine ourselves to see whether we are living in the faith?  I put them together because what better test of our faith than the willingness to be confused for one’s enemy.  For whom are we willing to be confused and with whom are we willing to stand?  Christ, time and again, preaches with his feet, putting himself with those under attack. 

            The other day, I was at a larger gathering of families at a park (not a church gathering by the way).  One child was poking and hitting the other children with a stick. I stepped in and stopped it, though the kid was still clearly annoying the other kids before he finally he walked away.  I looked up at one point and noticed him just wandering around on his own, as friendless in that moment as I feared he would be for many in his life.  I was hit with this incredible wave of sadness.  Often those who need friends the most push them away. This child doesn’t know how to relate well to others, doesn’t have the tools.  What’s it like being him?  What does the future hold for a kid like that?  So, next time made his way near me, I decided to try and connect.  After reprimanding him, I wanted to have a positive interaction. I noticed he had a shirt with characters from the Star Wars series, so I thought there’s my opening, “Hey, I see your shirt, do you like Star Wars?” I said.

            His response: “No, I hate it.”


            And that was that.  Sometimes trying to stand with someone doesn’t work and you’re not hailed as a hero for it.  I’d like to think, though, that I wasn’t doing it out of a desire for my own recognition, but more out of my faith and my recognition that he was alone.  It was probably hard for his peers to stand with him; maybe I could in small way.  It’s an impulse I’d like to believe comes out of my faith and one I’d like to exercise more.  

            Too often, what we’ve been taught about faith, while well-intended, has us focusing, even obsessing, over other the wrong things, or maybe sometimes the right things in the wrong way, which can be harder to detect.  I was talking to a woman the other day (again not here) who said she had been a mean child and teenager.  This was hard to believe because this is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  I mean, thenicest.  She said was mean not only to her siblings but to her friends.  The conversation kind of meandered as conversations do and she revealed something else – she feels guilty all the time, for everything.  It’s not just things she’s done or not done.  Things many people would never notice haunt her.  Interestingly, other women in the conversation mentioned having similar feelings. 

            Then, the woman asked something that made an interesting connection for me.  She said, do you think this has anything to do with religion.  She is a person of faith and knows my vocation.  My answer was yes, of course.  Sometimes religion gets measured, and therefore practiced, in the wrong ways.  That mean girl became a nice woman.  She lived the faith, right?  Well, probably yes to an extent, but if we keep the measure such a simple one as outward facing niceness, we may have missed something.  That woman is nice to everyone…else, but she hasn’t really cast off the meanness, she’s just turned it inward.  That’s all guilt is, at least when it’s run amok; it’s self-directed meanness.  I’m not blaming her.  I think people are taught this, especially women, are taught this.  I’d like religion to have taught her to be good to others and herself.  Rather than seeing suffering as the only measure of our faith, it’s recognizing it’s part of the Christian path but not the point.  Love is the point.  Love in all directions. 

            Paul says test yourselves.  Individually and communally, do that work of reflection and introspection, examination to see how we’re doing.  Jesus holds up a righteous measure, how willing we are to be recognized as an “other” even if the label isn’t accurate, to love across lines and accounting of who “deserves” it.  This child and the woman I described demonstrate how in need of solidarity and love much of the world is, and together they invite us to step into that breach.  If our religious practice doesn’t pass the test of helping us love in these ways, then our religious practice has failed the test.  If that’s the case, it’s time to find a new one, to find a way that has us truly living the faith.



[1](cf. Bauer, Johannesvangelium 130-131) as cited in Francis J. Moloney, Sacra Pagina:  The Gospel of John ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville:  The Liturgical Press, 1998), 286.