A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5 and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. She said, “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”
What would Jesus do? Who would Jesus bomb? “No pain, no gain” the muscularly ripped Jesus declares from the back of the gym T-Shirt. Jesus: the man who changed history and separates the pancakes and the millennia!
Jesus, whose followers turned this world upside down and whose church has spread to every nation, who has more adherents than any other religion, whose name has inspired great sacrifice and justice and goodness, and unfortunately been attached to very great evil… JESUS!
This morning Phuong was baptized. She is now a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. Jesus.
The new members all re-claimed their identity as members of the community of Jesus:
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?” And, “Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?”
Jesus is still a mystery. Like a shooting star, he appears for a brief time in the Galilean towns and Judean wilderness – he chases demons and calms the seas and heals and teaches about the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Yet, despite Matthew and Luke, we know next to nothing about his birth and upbringing. He was, perhaps, a John the Baptist “groupie.” He attracts followers, some who become very close but they don’t really understand. Soon all will leave him. Jesus attracts the attention of religious leaders and those in political leadership – mostly in a negative way and it is the combination of religion and politics that kill him. On the cross of wood, dying a common death of an agitator, a rabble-rouser – at the hands of the Romans, he dies.
He dies, and then he lives. And yes, I know that mythic figures die and appear again – but this is different – this isn’t a myth like Mithras or Persephone – Jesus’ resurrection is more than myth and more than metaphor (although his rising from the dead expresses the most powerful of mythic metaphors) this is history to those who follow him – an event, a real event to us. It changes everything, this life-transforming encounter.
I don’t know all the mysteries and I struggle to use the right language – but the reason I do what I do and look at the world the way I look at the world, and trust that I am beloved, and want to care more for the poor, and I need tell you about it weekly and hold myself accountable to it daily is because I have faith in, believe, trust the Jesus story. I put my stake in the ground of faith that what the church says about Jesus is true.
All religions share basic tenants – but Christians declare Jesus “God” – not just a messenger, or prophet, or teacher or a good guy that blesses you with athletic gifts and wealth.
And only Christianity lets the divine go the way of all flesh in death embracing all suffering, all horror, all emptiness and despair – because EMMANUEL – God is with us. It is confusing… I don’t get it, but it gets me. I can’t figure it out, but Jesus has reconfigured who I am.
And that doesn’t give me the right to be judgmental of those who do not claim Christ, or to be confident about who goes where after death. My love of Jesus encourages in me a universalism: there I said it. Jesus is to me the way, the truth and the life – it is how I understand who I am and how I live and how I treat others… As my brother Tom Zych once shared with me: “THEY (whoever “they” are) don’t have to be wrong, for me to be right.”
I hear all the time from many – “I believe in God, but Jesus?” or “I don’t get Jesus at all.” Sometimes listening to the televangelists, or wealthy athletes, or “Christians” who say the most hurtful things, cruel things … sometimes it is hard. You go through stuff: death, divorce, disappointment – it seems so silly.
Then there is the “human” Jesus vs. the “divine” Jesus. The “bad” Jesus who acts like us and the “good” Jesus, who doesn’t. The Jesus who curses the fig tree – has to be human because I get road rage too! The Jesus who heals the blind man and changes the weather, that is divine (I can’t do that!) But the split Jesus thing is weird to me and not helpful.
And then there is Jesus in Gethsemane – the doubting Jesus, the despairing Jesus, the “soul-crushed” Jesus, the alone Jesus, the Jesus who now “gets it”; who understands what he is being drawn towards. PLEASE DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN! PLEASE DON’T LET ME GET THE TEST RESULTS because I already know. PLEASE DON’T LET THE SUN RISE – PLEASE DON’T LET ME DIE. Abba! DADDY! Please, I am so alone. I don’t want to face it. Agitated and miserable, despairing and scared out of his mind – Jesus awaits the inevitable.
Val Flechtner who many of you know (a long time member who now splits her time between Cleveland and Chicago) once asked me this question: “Did Jesus know who he was?” She thinks he came to understand his identity. “It’s like knowing and becoming a Mother,” she said. “When you give birth you are a mother, but it is only as you ‘mother’ that you realize what and who you are and have become.” Jesus beloved child – but the meaning unfolded.
Makes sense to me. Jesus came to realize. What is the temptation in the wilderness but a time of seeking to answer the question “Who Am I?” I think it is not only OK but the right reading of the text to see Jesus’ self-understanding of his mission expand when the Gentile, Syrophoenician woman answered; “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:24-30)
And here in the garden – a final realization that all he has been teaching, all he has been doing will seemingly come to nothing – that the God he has given his heart to, has split… and yet… “not what I want, but what you want.” That line alone is enough to hook me.
Jesus will go on with the parade, and the charade, the betrayal, the denial. He will go on into the darkness not knowing for sure, wondering if it was all a mistake; “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus, “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)
I have faith IN Jesus – because I “trust” and sometimes I even REALLY trust, that as the Psalmist says: “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12) But man, are there times… really?
Faith not an intellectual certainty – but faith as in what I give my heart to, and how I am going to interpret the world in which I live, and who I am going to call out to when the darkness draws in. But not only faith IN Jesus, trusting Jesus… also the faith OF Jesus.
When you endure through the darkness, holding on to the hope of a glimmer – you have the faith of Jesus.
When the tears tarry through the night, but joy comes in the morning – you have the faith of Jesus.
When you are praying for a miracle and the miracle doesn’t come and you press on – you have the faith of Jesus.
When you struggle and then “damn it” – you let go and do what you have to do. When you stop fighting the current and let yourself go – abandoning control – you have the faith of Jesus. When you are going to cling to a deeper trust that evil doesn’t have the final word, and, in the words of the beautiful hymn; “Although the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet” you have the faith of Jesus.
Don’t worry about the questions that you can’t answer or what you don’t have or can’t intellectualize in your faith, acknowledge what you DO have and you do trust. Keep on keeping on.
In the garden of doubt – that doesn’t discount you as un-faithful. Jesus is there.
In the darkness of grief – you are right where Jesus was and is.
In the terror of the moment – Jesus knows.
In the wilderness of temptation, in the process of formation, in the endless journey….
But in the joy, the tenderness, the mercy, the grace, the laughter and the tears too….
Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. Jesus, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
“Enough! The hour has come… Get up, let us be going.”