I think many folks, church-going folks – Christians – have a problem with Jesus.
A belief in some great Creator, something beyond our ken – God – is easier. A sense of the spirit – that which animates, the creative intuitive, the conscience that guides and convicts – comes pretty naturally to everybody.
Keeping it to Divine Energy and Animating Power is safe, it brings most folks to the table. But start talking about Jesus and well, things get different. “Oh, you’re one of those.”
And the gospels are not biographies. Written 60 to 100 years after Jesus’ life, they are expressions of faith shaped by an experience of the risen Jesus – so we know only just a little bit, really, about his life.
Many have no problem with Jesus as a great man, a prophet – a forerunner of Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr.
But Lord and Savior of the World? “All knees shall bow and every tongue confess”? “Son of God,” “fully human and fully God,” “died for your sins” Jesus? Now we are into something else.
And the way Jesus’ name is used and misused makes me kind of agree with Gandhi who said that he loved Jesus,he just didn’t really like Christians. I kind of get that, don’t you?
Reza Aslan, the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth writes about the Jesus that was first described to him as a child:
Two thousand years ago, I was told, in an ancient land called Galilee, the God of heaven and earth was born in the form of a helpless child. The child grew into a blameless man. The man became the Christ, the savior of humanity… though he could have saved himself from a gruesome death, he freely chose to die. His death was the point of it all, for his sacrifice freed us all from the burden of our sins. But the story did not end there, because three days later, he rose again, exalted and divine, so that now, all who believe in him and accept him into their hearts will also never die, but have eternal life.
And while I basically agree with this narrative, I can also see how it raises lots of questions and wonders, and why it leads to so many interpretations and disagreements.
And then there are passages like the one we read today: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
These words have been interpreted through the ages in mostly a limited and prohibitive way by implying that all other paths are wrong! All other expressions of faith are lies! All other experiences of reality and truth lead to death!
And how about the verse: “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
What! God doesn’t hear prayers that aren’t asked in Jesus name? God doesn’t hear the prayer of the Jews?
It feels so formulaic – and I have tried and didn’t get what I prayed for.
We have limited time here, right now, and this is a subject for much study and conversation. So I encourage you to talk to each other about who is Jesus to you. Talk about why DO you call yourself a Christian?
But for a moment, let’s just stay in the text. These words were written at the end of the first century in Palestine, not the United States of America. They were written before Christianity was the dominant, institutional cultural religion that it is today. The Gospel of John was written when Christianity was in its infancy; a struggling community on the fringe of Judaism trying to find its way.
The first Christians were asking the same questions you and I ask today: Who are you Jesus and why do I follow you? Where do I see you, find you, feel you, “get” you? “Show me God!”
And notice that it was the disciples asking these questions; those who gathered worrying and wondering about their own lives and identities and futures – they were part of the inner circIe – they had been with Jesus! And even they don’t understand.
I find it comforting that real disciples are shaped more by their questions and the direction of their commitments then by their certainties or words; their willingness to trust and follow even without clarity.
Jesus’ first words are: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
I need to hear those words, as I suspect you do to0. We who carry so much and sometimes let our doubts and despair shape our life more than our hopes and trust.
“Don’t let your heart be troubled.” “Calm down, there are many rooms.” “You are going to make it, in fact you have already arrived – I am with you. You have a place – a home – a room with a large view. It is okay to be expansive and to see and seek and ask and wonder.”
Christians make the claim – indeed it’s what separates us from the other religions – and while it’s a bit absurd, while it is quite a leap, it’s also genius too – “You want to see God? You want to know what God wants and how God acts? Well, then look at Jesus.”
You want to know the extent to which God loves you and takes on suffering and pain and injustice and offers a redemptive twist to all of it? Look at Jesus.
God is more than a theoretical idea, more than a name for that feeling of awe. For Christians, God is Jesus, Jesus is God.
I don’t expect Jews or Muslims to see it this way. I am not troubled by that, I don’t have to be. But for those of us who are seeking and asking questions about life and hope and how to get involved and why – Christianity says: “You want to “get” God? Comprehend, catch a glimpse of the divine? Look at Jesus.”
Yes, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.it would be absurd for us, as Christians, not to agree with this. But it is not a zero sum game. The Jew or Muslim does not have to be wrong for Christians to have a true experience of God.
Jesus agitates me, and us – his disciples and followers – with his words: Walk my way, follow me, come and see, be in relationship with me and with each other, do what I do and you will show God to others.
In fact, Jesus promises: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these….” And in some ways the history of the church has shown this to be true every time we, as Christians, speak to the larger culture about justice, inclusion, compassion, peace, sacrifice.
And I love that Jesus says, “Look, even if you can’t get your mind around these things, see the works. The just work, the inclusive work, the hospitable work, the compassionate work, the suffering work. Direct your lives by what works. It really could change the world. Don’t worry about explaining – just keep my commandments.”
But this doesn’t mean rule-following. After all, what is Jesus’ one command that he gave to his disciples on Maundy Thursday? “To love one another as I have loved you.”
Faith is more than words, following a proscribed list of do’s and don’ts. It’s more than a statement of belief. Christian faith is action oriented, shaped and agitated by your relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus shows us the way – I claim Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Savior – and if we want the world to be more just, then we had better reflect the Jesus we do believe in, rather than run away from the Jesus we don’t.
I am one of those disciples who looks through a glass darkly, and wonders – “Huh?” But every once in a while I catch the glimmer of the higher power of love, of acceptance, of joy, of hope, of community in the midst of a crazy world and Jesus makes all the sense of world to me. And so I will try to follow – how about you?
If Jesus makes sense to you, go and live your life as if you believe it.
If this doesn’t make sense to you, go live your life like Jesus would anyway.
It will make a difference.