Based on the Scripture reading:
2018 September 9
I have a colleague who saw Jesus in the Washington DC metro at rush hour. He is a colleague because he saw Jesus that day; before that, he was a lawyer. This is a true story. About a guy who founded a big law firm in DC, represented the Democratic National Committee and the Commission on Presidential Debates. Then late one afternoon he was on the metro, and he saw someone, and he had that feeling that we all can have that he knew exactly who he was looking at across the car, and he was looking at Jesus. It was an all-consuming feeling. And time stopped, and he felt strangely warmed, and because he's not crazy he thought about this for a good while, but then eventually he sold his partnership, enrolled in divinity school, and he's doing good work in the church to this day.
Linda Hartley preached here this summer. We know her. At her Ecclesiastical Council in June she told the story of her baptism as an adult not long ago. She was a political science professor and then a student at Andover Newton, and at her baptism, when the pastor asked if she believed in Jesus Christ, time stopped for what seemed to her like an hour. She just went elsewhere. Really elsewhere. And finally she came back and answered yes, and no one else who was there noticed, but she did, and for her there was a before and an after this question, and she'll soon be a pastor, too.
There is something about encountering Jesus that can change us. It doesn't always change us, and it didn't always change the people who met him in the Gospels. But there is little reason to come to church if we don't want to know something about Jesus and his mission and his methods, and they are manifest still, which is why we're here today. Jesus' life and Jesus' word changes things. Some scholars say it's an ontic change or a cosmic change, which means all creation is a little different because of God's life in Jesus' life.
Now, this is not an invitation to take more public transportation or to suspend time before you answer questions. But today's scripture asks not only what we think about Jesus but what we say about Jesus with the implied challenge to what we do about Jesus, and while it may seem that we're jumping into the deep a little quickly, it's the right place to jump. Last week, I said that some of us like to ease back in to the fall but that it may not be an easy fall. And I spoke about phronesis, or practical wisdom, which I connected with an open mind and willing hands.
This week the question is, who do we say that Jesus is to us, and so what? Do we seek some sort of religious insight, even if it's not as dramatic as my friends'?
But let me put the question in context, because the scriptures do. The Gospel of Mark does this morning, although we could miss the context.
This bit we read from chapter eight begins and ends with two almost identical stories, and when Gospel authors do this they're giving a serious clue. Just before this two-chapter account is the story of healing a blind man, and just after this passage is the story of healing a blind man. Right out of the gate we're in the arena of seeing and seeing what is in front of us, and Jesus is in front of us. But the bookend stories have one distinction. The first story takes place in Bethsaida in Mark 8, and "some people" bring this unnamed blind man to Jesus and "beg" him to help. And he does. In the trailing account from Mark 10, another unnamed man comes, and this time he's the beggar, and he calls out, "Son of David, have mercy on me." Now, notice the distinction. It's not unintentional. Both accounts involve begging, and both involve healing, but in one the company, the community asks for help, and in the other the individual does. And there is no reason to conclude that one is better than the other. Rather, sometimes it takes a village, and sometimes we need to speak up for ourselves. Both end up seeing. Which is what we're invited to do when we read the text in the middle, our text, and we're invited to see Jesus.
How do you see Jesus? Are we like the people, who see him as a prophet or a precursor to something good? Or like Peter, who sees him as messiah? Fred Craddock says, "It's easier to believe a messiah will come than to believe one has come. Messiah as future keeps one's image intact and makes no demands; messiah as present calls for an altered image and demands an altered self."
But don't many of us want that: an altered self? Not because we're bad or unworthy or wrong. But because we're not finished yet, and we know that there is more, and we hunger and strive for fullness and completion and wholeness and peace.
How do we see Jesus here? Is he an idea? Is he an event? Is he an activity? Is he an eventuality?
I see Jesus as a brother, by which I mean he knows something of my human life, joy, pain, fear, and need as well as how to live through them.
I see Jesus as a friend, as in John 15, by which I mean he is the model for community and relationship and connection as well as how to accomplish them.
I see Jesus as risen, resurrected, by which I mean neither trapped nor vanquished nor stifled, silenced, or defamed by unjust judgment, dismissal, and death. Jesus is alive.
I see Jesus as different, which means that while two of my points note how very human he is, also he is beyond human and even divine and distinct and mysterious, which is wonderful. He is cosmic.
I see Jesus as inspirational and empowering, by which I mean he shows us how to live in the light of God and the conditions of our context. He reveals love for neighbor, self, and God, and he renounces discrimination, judgment, and hate. He makes it possible for me to live differently than I might, even though I'm a work in progress.
Without Jesus, without exploring who we say that he is, we are a wonderful, pleasing, friendly social organization that sings and shares and supports one another. With Jesus, we are a people striving for phronesis, for sacred sight and insight, for the eternal mystery that takes us beyond our chronology to God's divinity. We are a people who don't just share but strive for a life of receiving and giving, who advocate for each other when we see someone else in need, and who speak for ourselves when we are. With Jesus we're not just doing this year's work or this congregation's tasks, but we're doing God's work, beyond our ken.
Our church needs Jesus.
There is an old preacher's chestnut, so old that you may know it, and it's generally even told in an old-fashioned metier, in a drafty cathedral somewhere in an imaginary old country. At any rate, the story has two speakers and two lines and simply states that one day a priest was walking down the side aisle of that old, stained-glassed sanctuary when a nun rushed up to him looking hurried and whispered as loudly as she might, "Pastor, one of the sextons just saw the Lord by the front chapel near the altar. What should we do?" And the priest replied, "Act busy."
We have a lot to do this year. Our children are just starting out. Just this week there is a hurricane, a typhoon, a gas explosion, and an ethical issue in the nation's capital. There is furniture to move, and there are children learning to sing. There is grieving to continue. There are transgender rights to protect. Already we're organizing for Christmas. You get the point. Because we could be a wonderful, pleasing social organization that is supportive and sharing. Or a place where we not only seek but celebrate God in Christ. We must be the latter. So come back next week, and meanwhile keep your eyes open, and ponder what God wants us to see.
(At the close of worship, we sang Jesus shall reign, to Duke Street.)