Who is Jesus Christ and how do we proclaim him?
The Gospel for this week is new to Sunday mornings. We have not read nor preached on this Gospel on Sundays before. It is a very interesting Gospel in the way that it is formed. King Herod heard about Jesus and what Jesus was doing. He also heard that some believed Jesus must be John the Baptist. He assumed that John, the person that he beheaded must have been raised from the dead. And then the Gospel tells us about what he remembered; the story of John and how Herod came to kill him. When I first read this Gospel my first thoughts were “what can I possibly preach about”? Most of the Gospel is a flashback. It is a story of what happened.
In the lesson from Ephesians we hear Paul’s words to one of his favorite churches, the church in Ephesus. He really likes them and you can hear his love for them throughout this letter. It is a very different kind of letter than he wrote to Corinth or Rome. In this letter you can hear his love and passion for the people. What sets them apart? I believe that it is the power of Jesus Christ to transform God’s people. It is about the power of Christ and what that power does to those who confess him. The people in Ephesus got it. They understood that Jesus could not be summed up by one person’s experience. Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord could not be contained in the mind and experience of one. It was and is found in the body of Christ, you and me.
As I read these two lessons together, one question continued to come to mind. Who is Jesus and how do we proclaim him? Obviously the question is not new. Herod has the same question when he wonders if Jesus could be the raised John. It is the question of the ages and the question that continues to challenge us. It is the question that is at the center of denominations and at the center of even the work of our own General Convention this week in Anaheim. What does it mean to be his follower and what does it mean to proclaim him? Who is this Jesus? In Matthew’s gospel we hear clearly the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to us as disciples, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). I believe the problem that we face in this age and probably the problem faced by Jesus’ followers throughout the ages is that each person sees, understands and knows Jesus in a little different way. The same Lord, the same Savior, but we see different facets of Jesus. The problem of course is that too often we believe that our understanding - our facet - how we see Jesus - is the only one or at least the correct one. We are right and therefore they are wrong. I know that is the truth because I have those feelings. I know that being a part of All Saints is better than anything else. We do it right. I know that being an Episcopalian is the best because if Jesus was around he would be one. I don’t think that kind of pride is a bad thing.
But we carry that understanding to a different place when our pride turns into a Gospel of rejection. It is wonderful to be proud of who you are and whose you are and how you understand God; but when that pride becomes the tool for rejection of others and their faith then it becomes sin. When Christians reject other Christians and condemn them then everything changes. When Christians reject other faiths, or races, or social classes; when Christians reject other humans, it is a sin.
I read a book once called “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren. In it he discusses the various ways that Christians express Jesus Christ. What I found as I read was that there are many different ways that I know the power of Jesus. I think I have a little evangelical in me. On some things I am a conservative Christian and others a liberal Christian. I am a Biblical Christian and an incarnational Christian and an unfinished Christian. I like the joy of our worship and Holy Eucharist celebrated on the beach with guitars. I believe that the divisions we face are divisions of our own making; Evangelicals vs. Mystic / Liberal vs. Conservative / Charismatic vs. Contemplative; are you a biblical or contemplative or green or incarnational or evangelical Christian? When there is great truth is in the very different gifts that we each bring to our common faith. One of the great joys of being here is the very different gifts that I witness in those seeking to proclaim the risen Lord in this place. Look at the strength of Christ’s body in this place. What we do when we engage in condemning those who are different is to stop the great commission; we stop the proclamation of the Risen Lord when we forget to see in each other the gifts of God’s power and redemption. We stop God’s Holy Spirit and the epiphanies that God can bring into our lives.
I was the rector of a church who had that division, Christian against Christian. We do it right and therefore you do it wrong. And even more because you do it wrong you must be destined for hell. Herod did not get it right. He did not know the power of God’s grace and love through God’s Son Jesus. Paul, in many of his letters to churches, fusses at those who divide the body of Christ into those who know Jesus and those who know Jesus differently. I believe the joy that Paul finds in the people of Ephesus is the joy he finds when those who know Jesus and proclaim Jesus begin to listen to each other; when they begin to know the fullness of Jesus Christ because they are willing to listen to someone who understands Jesus a little differently. In Paul’s letter to Ephesus, Paul changes the way he speaks in mid sentence. He begins with “you”. He ends with “our”. “ 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this* is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
Our responsibility is to know Jesus; to know the Risen Lord in our lives and then proclaim him to a world who does not know him. But we are to do it together; each of us sharing the truth that we know and celebrating that truth in each other as we gather here today. May God continue to bless us and may we continue to know God’s revelation and presence in the bounty of his love present in our lives.