Two questions and this messy sermon
May the Holy Spirit be with us in this moment to open our ears in and our hearts. In the name of the one undivided Trinity, Amen.
Good morning! I'm glad to see all of you here at this 11 oclock service and I'm happy to preach to you today. First time, actually, that I've ever preached from this place, not at the pulpit, and not looking at anything. First time. Here. I say that as a disclaimer, I say that as a small bit of pride... not too much. This is church.
As many of you know, I'm in my last year of seminary. And I travel to Colorado to Iliff School of Theology once every trimester for on-ground classes, and then the other part of the time – the majority of the time – I study from here in online spaces. So, I'm in a class called "Lectionary Preaching and Christian Doctrine," and in that class this week my teacher posed [to] all of us two questions:
- Who is Jesus for you?
- How and why would you preach Jesus Christ?
So the first question informs the answer to the second question. And I looked at that first question – who is Jesus for you? – for a very long time this week. I sat with it. I thought about it. I thought about all of the ways I'd answered that question after the last 40 years of this life. How many ways have I answered it?
I have said... A great teacher. A wise sage. Jesus is the ideal human. Or, every December, this squishy little baby that's right up here, adorable in the Christmas pagaent.
But the way that stuck out most – the response that I rarely every bring up in church – is, I don't know. I'm not perfectly sure who Jesus is... for me.
So John the Baptist, with his messy hair and dusty feet, his throat soar from all that calling out and all the baptizing... I mean, y'all know how long baptisms take. They make Sundays long. They push back coffee hour. Keep us from the game. But you know, John could care less. He is dedicated to his work. And for good reason. John needs the world to know that the age we are in, the age we have been in–this age of smart weapons and war, this age of global poverty and unrestrained consumerism, this age of undrinkable water and unquenchable fire– this age is almost over.
And the new age–the age of unending peace, the age of fellowship, the age of creature and creator connected more closely, the age of abundance, the age where there is no poverty, there is no violence; the age where the things we know: racism, bigotry, injustice; they are no more. That age is almost here.
Just as he says that, he looks up and Jesus is coming toward him. And John claims, without a hint of hesitation, "I know him!! I know him! God told me who he is. And I proclaim here that he is the Son of God." He is so enthustiastic about this he says it twice in two days, and on the second time two of his own disciples follow Jesus.
The first one, Andrew, is not sure who Jesus is. But he trusts the testimony of John. And he goes and follows Jesus, he follows him to where he's staying, and whatever that experience is for Andrew leads him to go to his brother and say, "I know him!! Now, I know him. And he's the Messiah. So I am going to bring you to him."
So, Andrew and Peter go to Jesus. Andrew is now sure of who Jesus Christ is, and Peter... not yet; he's still Simon. But he trusts Andrew. So he goes to Jesus. Jesus looks up, and he looks at simon like he's looking at a sculpture of clay that he made with his own hands. And Jesus says,
I know you. I know you. And you will be called by a new name.
I won't pretend that I'm not just a little jealous of Andrew and Peter. John? Eh... not super jealous of John. He's got it pretty rough. But jealous of those people who are one or two degrees of separation in the Kevin Bacon game of Jesus. They're right there.
How do they know? How does Peter or John? Or Paul? Such certainty. How do they know. And how, after all of this time, are we supposed to know?
When you know something that you've seen, or that you've touched, or that you've heard, or that you've tasted like a kiss of hello or goodbye, you know that with you body. With your senses. Not just your mind. And I say that knowing full well where I am. This is an Episcopal church. We love our mind, don't we? You don't have to call out like you're Baptists – you're Episcopalians. You're thinking about what I just said!
We use our mind in all sorts of ways. We feed it with great books. We explore sermons. We read editorials. We trouble things with our mind. We use our minds in this way, I think, because we put our faith in reason and imperical deduction. And, frankly, those two things have a lot to offer. I don't know how many of you have flown in a plane, but you don't get into a plane hoping that the person who built it based the plans on an ancient text. You like to know that engineers have been trained well and used the proper specs just to keep you in the air. When you go to the hospital, when you go to see a cardiologist to fix your broken heart, you feel a sense of comfort knowing that they have been trained in science. Modern science. Very much now science.
The mind can take care of the body. And the body is this storehouse for the mind. The two are parts of one whole.
But the mind can't always be trusted. Sometimes it leads us places where we find ourselves in confusion or in pain. We may not trust that part of ourselves. The body and the mind, both, can hurt when overworked. With the mind, we search out a problem–live gravity or heart disease, or Christianity, religion, or Jesus–and we work to construct a solution to that problem.
We may have very good reasons that we hesitate to answer the question, "Who is Jesus?" or "Who is Jesus for us?" There are those among us here who come from churches that did not cultivate our faith, but that demanded allegiance. There are people with bruises from bible verses. There are people who were shamed in sermons like this, and carry that inside of them. There are good reasons to hestitate to leaning into Jesus.
Sometimes this very question, talking so frankly about Jesus, just makes us uncomfortable. It causes a kind of pain. And yet, here we are. And this is the question: who do you say Jesus is? Each question demands an answer.
But I'd like to just say that maybe, maybe there are questions that can't be answered with just the mind. Maybe there are ways of knowing that will never stand up to reason. And maybe that's ok.
There are plenty of people in the Bible, plenty of holy people, who are one person away, one Kevin Bacon degree of separation away from the living, breathing Jesus who raised people from the grave, who fed people in these miraculous ways. They were there and they didn't know what to say about Jesus. So, we are in good company.
Mmm.. This is that point where everything that I wrote is gone, and the only thing that has to remain is the gospel. Right? What's the good news?
In this midst of this uncertaintty, what's the good news? If we find ourselves unable to say, "this is who Jesus is" how do we lift up the good news? Especially if we feel like doing so is just not sensible. It's not really rational. It's not something you do in mixed company. And here, though, we are the church.
I admit that when I stand in this place and I say that the God who made all that is, and who is the ground of all being, took the shape of this squishy little baby, took on this body born of Mary and God's own Spirit, and lived and walked in this world, and did things that people did not understand. But it stirred something in them; that reconnected them to God in a way that they had not anticipated. And that this person lived, died, went down to whereever dead people go and he broke death, and ended it, and came back in the flesh [wounds] showing and shared a meal with people, and then shared God's Spirit with people, and that Spirit is living in me and in all of you, and that Spirit is working right now in the midst of this messy sermon, trying to bring about the new era, the new world that John proclaimed, the world that is always already almost here.
Does that sound foolish?
Maybe. And maybe it's ok if it does. Maybe making perfect sense isn't really the point to start with.
The question I leave for you today is, Who is Jesus for you? Why would you preach or proclaim or even just lift up the name of Jesus Christ? Or how? Would you be like Andrew? Would you do it like John? Is God calling you right now into some new way, to declare the Good News about Jesus Christ? I don't know. I'm not sure.
And maybe in that uncertainty Jesus is calling me. Maybe I can't know. Maybe we can't know until we first admit that we don't know. And in that uncertainty, the call is present... maybe. That's why we show up here.
Share your uncertainty with one another. Take a risk and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. And then see how that feels in your body. Talk about it with people here. Talk about it with James, with me, with Chris, with the person sitting next to you in the pew. Becuase we are all part of this Body.