The Question of Religious Pluralism
There have been great questions about Christianity: why should I believe in Christianity versus other religions?
This is the great question of religious pluralism. Is there only one path to the truth? Is believing in Jesus the only way?
These are great questions that I encourage you to continuously think about and grapple with. There is no easy answer to this question.
One thing I want to share: we must always approach matters of faith with great humility. We are only human, and our human knowledge pales in comparison to the God who created us and this universe. We must always acknowledge that our own knowledge is limited, and that is why it’s called faith – we can never know anything with certainty, but we trust and have faith in something.
What I do believe is that there is always something to learn from others, and that includes other faiths. That is why dialogue is a great thing, where we can share and learn from each other.
But in order to engage in dialogue, we must have something to contribute to it! To enter into dialogues with other faiths, we should first know what our own faith is all about.
So today’s talk is exploring the question: what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
“If any want to become my followers”
The essence of being a Christian is following Jesus. That is at the core of our Christian belief.
Jesus tells us:
“If any want to become my followers”: here are the criteria.
- Let them deny themselves.
- Let them take up their cross daily.
- Let them follow me.
Let them deny themselves
What does it mean to deny yourself?
To deny yourself means to take yourself away from the center.
You are no longer the center of your thoughts, actions and choices. But rather, it is now the will of God that is center.
In all of your thoughts and actions, you ask yourself, what is God’s will?
That is what it means in the Lord’s prayer when we say: “may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
May God’s will be done.
Before Jesus was captured, he prayed to God that God may remove the burden he had. But then, he finished with: “yet not my will, but your will be done”.
It is making God the center.
Why is it so difficult to make God the center?
I believe that it is because we have so much fear in us.
We have a fear of self-preservation.
We fear how others will think of us. We fear whether we will survive. We then let this fear dictate our thoughts, our actions and our choices.
To deny ourselves, then, is to no longer allow fear to drive our thoughts, choices and actions.
Take up the cross daily
What does it mean to take up our cross?
What did the cross symbolize? Ultimately, it was the symbol of death. Jesus died on the cross.
It was also a symbol for suffering, loneliness, rejection and abandonment.
Jesus was so lonely in the moments leading up to the cross. He asked his disciples to stay awake with him while he prayed, but they all fell asleep. He was left alone. On the cross, he felt completely abandoned. He yelled out: “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
The cross is the consequence of following a truthful life.
Jesus, by being faithful to his calling in life – a calling to love, heal the sick, be with the poor, and stand up for justice – led to the consequence of the cross.
When we are faithful to our real calling in life, we too will at some point have to carry our cross.
Jesus did not meet the expectations many had of him. Many people expected him to liberate the Jews from Roman occupation. But Jesus did not exercise political or military power. Rather, he gave up that kind of power for the sake of love. This led many to abandon and reject him, and even mock him when he was on the cross.
When we are true to ourselves, many people may not understand us. Being faithful to who we are might cause others to question us, laugh at us and even reject us.
If we choose to stand up for someone being bullied or marginalized, if we speak up against something that’s not right, the powers that be might reject us and isolate us.
These are all what it means to carry our cross.
Finally, we are called simply to follow Jesus.
When we follow someone, what does that mean?
We learn from that person. We have a relationship with that person – we get to know the person we are following deeper. Through this relationship, we learn more and are changed
And when we follow someone, we trust that person and have faith in that person.
This is what it means to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is not an easy path: it means we have to confront our fear, rather than just ignoring it and brushing it aside.
It means we confront that fear, acknowledge it to Jesus, and no longer give that fear its power over us.
It means that we have to carry our cross – the cross of suffering, loneliness, rejection and abandonment.
It means trusting in Jesus even though we may go through those hardships.
Why would anyone do this?
Why would anyone do this?
Why would anyone want to suffer or be rejected?
There is a deeper truth here. When we “deny ourselves”, we are denying the fear that controls us.
When fear no longer controls us, we live with freedom.
So really, to follow Jesus means to live with freedom – the freedom to be ourselves, who we are, who we’re meant to be.
Being in relationship with Jesus and following him really means that we become more and more the person that God created us and intended for us to be.
Isn’t that such good news?
That is the secret and joy of being a follower of Jesus. As our relationship with him grows, as we learn more about his teachings, our life becomes more enriched.
Because the world is driven by fear, living such an authentic life will indeed face resistance. Others may cause us hardship and try to stop us. But this hardship pales in comparison to the joy and peace we find as we live in freedom.
Example from a Movie
I watched a movie a long time ago called “Tap”.
It starred an actor and tap dancer named Gregory Hines, who died in 2003 from cancer.
It was about a man who grew up in the hood. He grew up in a tap dancing household, and it was in his bones. He was a supremely talented tap dancer, but he never thought it was cool. It didn’t earn him street cred, and he found his desire for acceptance elsewhere.
He got caught up in the criminal underworld, where he thought he could be more of a man. But he never completely abandoned tap dancing – he continued on his own, because that’s the only space where he could really be himself.
The whole movie is about his back and forth inner conflict between being himself and what he thought he should be. It resonated with me because that is what so many of us go through.
The Path of Discipleship
Because of our fear, we think we need to be something or someone other than who we really are. Because we’re trying to survive and be accepted, we start to lose a sense of who we are and what our natural gifts are.
Following Jesus means that these fears lose their grip, and we come to see more and more clearly who it is that God has created us as.
Following Jesus means we come to see our identity more clearly. We come to see our uniqueness and individuality.
That is the good news for us today.
The journey of following Jesus is a lifelong journey. There will be many ups and downs, but Jesus has sent us the Spirit to be with us along the way. The Spirit will guide us, lead us and strengthen us. And with our community, we share our lives, our joys, our struggles, and with love encourage one another along the way.
Thanks be to God for this freedom and truth.