February 14, Words That Spark: Jesus, by Morgan Schmidt
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February 14, Words That Spark: Jesus, by Morgan Schmidt
Friends, we’re in the midst of a sermon series called Words That Spark. And our word today, if you haven’t noticed it is Jesus.
If there ever was a name or a word that has sparked so much, Jesus would be my choice. Our scripture this morning actually could come from three of the gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell this story.
It’s the story of Jesus with his disciples there in Galilee and they’re about to head to Jerusalem. But before they do, Matthew says they came into the district of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, who do people say that the son of man is? And they said, some say John the Baptist, but others, Elijah and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Who do the people say that I am?
There are so many choices. There are so many words and names for the divine in our world. But who are the people saying that I am? How does Jesus juxtapose with the many, many things that people worship both then and now? So I was curious what the name Jesus would spark for friends of ours in the community or total strangers, and I thought I would pose that question on Facebook because so much of life, for better or worse right now, is happening on Facebook.
And I simply posed the question, hey, there won’t be any judgment. But when you hear the name Jesus, what’s the first thing that comes to mind for you? And I want to share some of those responses with you this morning.
Lisa says, The most Christian people I’ve ever met speaking as an outsider or the ones who acted like Jesus, not the ones who talked about Jesus, Julie said, right now, I imagine a benevolent epitome of love, weeping for his people.
Jade, just thought of control and manipulation.
And Mark says, I think of the people I work with at the homeless shelter. I remember him in them and I see him there. A homeless shelter is the only place one is guaranteed to meet him.
Holly, when she hears the name Jesus, just smile politely and move away. Really, any Christian reference makes me cringe.
Josh had a lot to say, but said when I hear the name Jesus or a depiction of him, whatever coming was coming next is probably something taken out of context to push an intolerant agenda.
Jose says, I feel he was a very special man who preached love and tolerance, but his teachings have often been twisted.
Stephanie says. He was always there for me as a kid that needed to know someone always had my back. Social justice, Jesus that tossed out the money changers, served the poor and hung out with sinners is my current religion.
Chawpec said I’m a Native American. When I hear the name Jesus, I can’t help but think of indoctrination driven genocide against indigenous people all over the globe. It is hard for me to see fellow natives who are Christians because I know that this was done on purpose and it was done to keep native people from practicing our own religions. So you could say that when I hear the name Jesus, it makes me feel sadness because more often than not, what comes with believing in Jesus is the further disappearance of my people’s beliefs.
And Tara says, at this point, I cringe and roll my eyes as I’m so sad and frustrated and angry about so many of the things already shared, the hypocrisy, the judgment, the lack of connection with social justice, Jesus and using Jesus as an excuse for intolerance. Big sigh here. I used to believe, but I also have a hard time with Jesus being the only way because it seems so narrow minded, judgmental and intolerant too.
Man, those comments really, really resonated with me, really broke my heart in some ways, maybe they surprised me a little bit. But there was something really beautiful about being able to share with each other, sort of an unfiltered and honest response to what the word Jesus, the name Jesus means.
Jesus name has been a lot of places lately, and I can’t help as we have this conversation be reminded of all the places that his name is used that don’t reflect who Jesus is. And I’m hoping as we go through our time together, we’ll have a clearer idea of who Jesus really is and what that name really means. Because I don’t know about you, but I saw a big, big banner out in front of the Capitol on January 6th on video that just said, Jesus 2020.
And people carried Christian flags and held up Bibles and even prayed as they were in the innermost sanctums of our government in the name of Jesus.
Violence has been done in the name of Jesus, and so I want to be really clear as we move forward that Jesus. Jesus is not an American. Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat, Jesus has no place in a Christian nationalist mindset.
Jesus wasn’t even white, Jesus wasn’t a Christian, Jesus was a person of color, Jesus was a Jew. He even spent some of his early years as an immigrant and a refugee. And so, to to commandeer the name of Jesus and portray Jesus as a white American, to champion that vision is a betrayal of who Jesus is. That is actually a heresy that is that is contrary to who we know Jesus to be, who we know God to be.
So if that isn’t a picture of Jesus, what is?
And our story continues with Jesus again, asking his disciples, who do you say that I am, Simon?
Peter answered, You are the Messiah, the son of the living God. And Jesus answered him. Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my father in heaven. You are the messiah, the son of the living God.
What did Peter mean in that moment?
In the first century, Jewish belief about the Messiah was deeply rooted in the political context of the day.
Of course, throughout the first Testament, what we call the Old Testament scriptures, you have all these kind of glimpses into who the Messiah would be, what the Messiah would be like.
And Peter has been educated in this way. He’s grown up in this and it’s the air he’s breathed. And so as he’s watched Jesus, he’s like, “yeah, this this could be the guy”.
This could be the one that we have been waiting for. But in that time, Israel was under Roman occupation. It was an unjust rule where Roman citizens were treated as a level above and all others were treated as “less than”.
And so the messianic expectation in the first century in Israel under Roman occupation was that the Messiah would come and free Israel from the Romans and this would have to be a leader of incredible military and political might that would overthrow by sheer force, by violence, if necessary. Roman rule. The Jewish people were longing for this, for this freedom, longing to be released from this occupation. And this was this was all their hopes were pinned on. And so, Peter, as he has watched Jesus and who he is and the power that he has within himself says this could be the guy. “I think I think he’s the one that’s going to do it.”
And not only is he going to overthrow the Roman Empire in Israel, but he’s also going to he’s he’s also going to set up the kingdom of God here.
The Messiah was was said to be the one who would usher in the kingdom of God, the presence of God with God’s people, to bring in a rule that was just in a land that was theirs, in the land that belonged to God. Where God would be with God’s people. And the Messiah would bring that rule would be that good king, in the line of David. All the way down that would reconnect the people with their God and with their land.
This is probably why, as Jesus ministry continues, the Jewish leaders at the time wouldn’t get behind him.
His actions weren’t the actions of a violent, powerful military leader who was going to overthrow part of an empire. Why would they get behind a messiah like that? We’re inclined to do the same thing, aren’t we? How do we answer the question, who is Jesus, we’re likely to, just as we confessed, build up God and Jesus to be just like us. We recreate them in our own image to love who we love and hate, who we hate and believe what we believe.
And so maybe the more important question for our day and age is to return to some of that that basic core of our faith and wonder together about who who is Jesus really who who is God incarnate in this person of Jesus. As we read throughout the scriptures, as we experience God in our lives, who does Jesus reveal himself to be?
Jesus is God incarnate, God in human form, we read in the very first chapter of John.
That he was with God in the beginning, in some mysterious way that threw him, all things came into being, and so that Jesus in some mysterious way in relationship to the creator, in relationship to the spirit, was part of creation and included all of creation and called it all good. The Messiah throughout scripture in the Old Testament was viewed not as a conquering hero, not as a military warrior, but as a suffering servant. As someone who would come and pour themselves out on behalf of their people who would suffer and eventually die, and that that would be their way of faithfully leading God’s people into the kingdom of God, of showing God’s people what the kingdom of God looks like.
The Old Testament talked about when the Messiah comes, it’ll be like God is with us. It’ll be like we’re seeing what God looks like here and now in our midst. And I love that translation again from the first chapter of John that says… In Jesus, God moved into the neighborhood, and dwelt among us. Jesus, even in one of his debut sermons in a synagogue in Nazareth, would cite Isaiah, 61, talking about his calling, which is a messianic text, he’s essentially saying, “I’m the guy you’re waiting for”.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to release those who are imprisoned, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who are grieving and give them a garland of joy instead of the ashes of despair. And on and on and on. And this is the kind of messiah Jesus is claiming to be even later in in this glimpse into the story of the scene at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus goes on to predict his death.
He says to them that the son of man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again. The account in Mark, says that he said all of this quite openly, and then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Jesus, this is not what the Messiah is like. That’s not who the Messiah is. That’s not your calling. But turning and looking at the disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, get behind me, Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.
So one second, Peter is so wise, naming Jesus as the Messiah, seeming to understand what Jesus is about in the very next moment, Jesus calling him out and saying, you have no idea what you’re talking about.
That’s not the way it’s meant to be. And so we see Jesus showing himself to be not not a presence of power. Not the kind of power you would expect from someone who would overthrow an empire anyway, but a different kind of power.
We see Jesus over and over being inclusive of those on the margins of our of the social fabric of their communities on on the margins of of economics.
In that day and age, on the margins of the political landscape, you see Jesus over and over going to those who society forgot, seeking them out and always seeking them out, but reaching out and sometimes even touching them in a way that would have been scandalous. In a way that was not fit for the Messiah they had in mind.
We see Jesus over and over moving towards the oppressed, talking about justice. We see Jesus over and over, moving towards the hungry and feeding them and not just feeding them, but actually eating with them, joining with them in community, saying, I want to be with you.
This is what the kingdom of God looks like.
We see Jesus over and over again, healing the sick. With a touch with a word, with his presence. And in none of these instances do we hear him say only if they deserve it. Never in any of these instances does he do any background research on these people and see if they’ve worked hard enough. If they qualify.
Jesus never once talks about bootstraps.
Which actually, as an aside, is an impossible thing, that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps used to be a way that people talked about doing the impossible because you literally cannot pull yourself up from the ground by your bootstraps.
Jesus walked through our world, walked through his world alongside people, showing them what it meant for God to be in their midst, announcing over and over the kingdom of God is here. It’s on the way. It’s it’s right in front of you. And it doesn’t look like the Roman Empire. It doesn’t look like brute force and an economic abundance all the time. It doesn’t look like military might. It looks like loving your neighbor. It looks like coming alongside those who are in pain.
It looks like comforting them and setting people free where they feel imprisoned. It’s in really tangible ways that feeding the hungry and healing the sick and insisting that there’s a new way, there’s a different way, there’s a better way in the kingdom of God. I love that again, John. John’s gospel misses out on this. There’s a story that is covered in the other three, but he talks about Jesus and says Jesus came as a light in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And when I think about Jesus, I think about Jesus as a light that allows me to see. Jesus as a light that opens my eyes to the reality that is in my midst and allows me to see things as they truly are and people in a way that maybe I couldn’t see if I had a different image of who Jesus is.
This Jesus who is light challenges me to be a person who walks in love, to be a person who recognizes the dignity and humanity in everyone I meet as I walk in this way of Jesus and as I see by his light, I cannot help but see systems that are broken, systems that are biased, systems that cost some people more than others. I can’t help but see, and it causes me to want to follow even more closely this Jewish rabbi from Palestine.
And finally, if we know anything from scripture, we know that God is love. And so whatever imagery we are given of Jesus, wherever we see Jesus name used, that’s my litmus test friends.
That’s where I look. And I say, is love there, too? Am I seeing Jesus name associated with love?
And if I am, then yes, yes.
That that is a glimpse into who God is. That is a glimpse into who Jesus is. And if I see Jesus name and there is not love there, if there is only hatred, racism, violence, selfishness, greed, injustice, and the name Jesus is attached to that… Friends, that has nothing to do with the Jesus we are seeking to follow.
Follow the love Friends, that’s how you know. You follow the love and you find Jesus. May we remain faithful to this journey of following Jesus. May this name…. My dream would be that this name, if we asked a day in the future, would cause people to say other things. That maybe when people would hear the name Jesus, they would think… They would think of love. They would think of justice, they would think of equality.
They would think of anti-racism. They would they would think of economic justice. They would think of stories where people had enough to eat and where people had a place to live and where people had a job to go to with a a living wage. They would think of people being able to get the care that they deserve when they feel sick.
What if… What if we were together with Jesus on the move, working toward a world where people would give feedback like that, when they heard the name Jesus. And they would immediately say, I know Jesus is love. When I hear the name Jesus, all I have to do is follow the love. And so friends if that feels too pie in the sky, too big to wrap our minds around this morning…
What I do and this is honest, what I do to kind of practice seeing Jesus in the every day, seeing Jesus in our midst, paying attention to who Jesus really is. Is that if, if scripture tells us that God and Jesus are good, are loving are true, are life-giving. That I just look for where there’s goodness and truth and life and love, and there I find something of Jesus. I find something of who God is.
And so friends, may you be on the lookout constantly for Jesus, and may you follow the love until you find the work of love that is yours to do in his name.
And all God’s people said, Amen.