Rev. Michael Swartz
First Congregational UCC
Link to Texts | Bulletin
Today concludes the season of Epiphany. The theme of the season of Epiphany is moments when the nature and meaning of the birth of Christ is revealed. We have the visit of the Magi from the east, who recognize and worship Jesus as King and Messiah. We have the baptism of Jesus when words from heaven say “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus calls disciples and they follow. Jesus teaches, as in the Sermon on the Mount.
Transfiguration is when Jesus is on top of a mountain and glowing with light – like Moses and the Ten Commandments. And in the cloud he is with Moses and Elijah – he is hobnobbing with the greatest of the prophets. Talk about dancing with the stars! And again God’s voice recommends him, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Transfiguration emphasizes the divine and exceptional identity of Jesus.
Yet, with all that; exceptional, king, messiah, Son of God said, I say, “Give me Jesus.”
A. I became friends with one of my seminary teachers, and writing for a letter of recommendation some time later the letter was addressed to “The Very Reverend Doctor Robert so-in-so.” (It was very reverend because he had a special canonical degree.) And in the salutation I wrote; “dear Bob.” To a certain degree I wanted it both ways. I would not be asking for a recommendation had had he not been my seminary professor. But I asked a favor from “Bob.”
While lot of people fill special roles and have honorific titles and prestigious positions. We relate better on a human-to-human level. And often we want it both ways.
While we can talk about –
- Son of God
- Word incarnate
- King of kings and lord of lords
- Pre-existent logos
- Son of Man
But I stand with the Byrds and the Dobie Brothers – “Jesus is just all right with me.” Give me Jesus!
B. I have mentioned before that the way we speak of the second person of the trinity is called our Christology, and is either in terms of transcendence or imminence.
- Transcendence is up there with God.
- Imminence is right here with us.
The gospels have words that emphasize both aspects.
|Transcendent words||Immanent words|
|Son of Man||Teacher|
|Word made flesh||Healer|
|Lamb of God||Friend|
I connect more with the Immanent words – but isn’t that the point of incarnation? Isn’t that the point of Christmas? That God becomes one with us to redeem the human family, restore fellowship with God and us with each other? God enters history and our experience so that we can draw closer to God. And it is easier to relate to a person that a concept. I connect more with the immanent words – Give me Jesus!
Teacher. Teachers take the time to help us learn stuff that we need to know. They are able to teach because they know stuff already, and a good teacher knows how to make what they know come alive and be accessible. Teachers organize materials, have clear ways of saying things, sometimes have visual aids and help our interest come alive. They make the stuff relate to our life situation. Jesus teaches his followers how to know God and do what God wants us to do. The purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to learn to think like Jesus does, to have this mind in us that was also in Christ Jesus, so that as we meet new situations in our existence we can draw on all the sayings and stories of Jesus and get a clue.
Healer. I think the most amazing element in today’s world is that Jesus the healer made house calls. He went to where the suffering people were. Jesus singled out difficult cases, saw people that others ignored, did not disallow pre-existing conditions. Jesus would heal people who were considered so polluted and unclean that others simply would not touch them. This gives us confidence when we are feeling unworthy, alienated or hopeless. Jesus was also something of a social healer, associating freely with women and others who were disreputable in his time.
Friend. Jesus says, “I call you my friends.” Friends can tell us things others dare not say. Have you ever noticed that friends tend to look alike? I get benched in the mall sometimes, I am not a bad shopper but I do not have the stamina of the rest of my family. So I sit on the bench and watch other shoppers pass by as my family remains in a clothing store. Two women in tennis shoes, jeans and sweat shirts pass by. Two women in designer tops and big belts with tapered trousers pass by. Did they phone each other up to say how they were dressing? My guess is that they are simply in synch. At its best having Jesus as our friend can help us get in synch with the divine.
At its best having a relationship with Jesus as a teacher, healer and friend should produce a noticeable difference in how we behave.
There has been a lot of mileage with this WWJD, – what would Jesus do? (An idea from a 100 year old religious novel.) It may be fair.
One of the funnier questions recently was “What would Jesus drive?”
As I have mused on what might Jesus drive I have wondered if he would drive a Ford 15 passenger van, so he could take the disciples with him. I think the assumption was that Jesus would drive a very efficient car. But maybe not Prius or a Volt after all! The question is supposed to determine the answer, but maybe not. Nevertheless, it is a fair question. If we are supposed to be like Jesus, as best we are able, then it should make a difference in what we do every day, even in the choice of a vehicle.
A few years back a board of directors was challenged in a letter for not being kind enough to someone who had worked for the organization. I was detailed to respond on the part of the group. That is what happens when you are the minister on a community board. My response was, “we did the best we could at the time. And ‘yes,’ we probably fell short of the Jesus ideal.” I think it was both a fair question and a fair answer. And while we were an organization made up of Christians, we were not a church or explicitly Christian organization. But since we are Christians it should make a positive difference in how we treat people.
How much more would it be a fair question of a group that is a church or explicitly Christian?
The US Supreme Court decision concerning the demonstrations of the Westboro Baptist Church and their practices of demonstrating at the funerals of fallen soldiers saying hateful and obnoxious things, and carrying signs, gave me that sinking feeling of dismay. Yes, speech is protected. Should it take a Supreme Court decision to guide church people to act decently?
Whose funeral would Jesus disrupt? The only time Jesus disrupted a funeral was to bring a child back to life. But these folks are not bringing life but rather hate.
Identifying with Jesus and seeking to follow him should make us better people not worse people. What kind of a Jesus do these folks embrace to make them do hateful and obnoxious things? Maybe our Christology does make a difference. I would like to know the Christology of hateful Christians so I can avoid it. They make Jesus look bad, these folks.
The biblical witness, and especially the Gospel, gives a great many names and descriptions of Jesus Christ. While there may be a few, select intellectuals who start with high concepts and work down to particulars, it is my belief that most of us connect more fully with the personal Jesus: Immanuel; God is with us; teacher; healer; friend. And through the specific words of scripture and the particular elements of our relationship with Jesus we approach the wider ideas of God. We come to God through Jesus Christ. This affirms the notion of incarnation.
Most of us say, “give me Jesus.”
Amen and amen.