I’m looking at my snowy picture of the Loretto Chapel- and I remember standing about on the same corner where it looks like the picture was taken- except in summer- and I was studying the architecture. What is block no. 1 in all this, Lord? What is the corner stone? (Jesus!) Sarcasm.
I’m saddened when I read all of history- it’s just like a long series of never learning. Of people being terrible. In Susan Bauer’s History of the Renaissance World, it’s regular state of affairs for world leaders to be caught up in petty power struggles- what about all the poor, lowly foot soldiers who died for an insult no longer remembered by some Lord far away? How many times have palace coos murdered faithful servants in their sleep? How many little children of the wrong political party been blinded in order to insure they will never inherit a metal crown and a cushioned chair? Christians. How many Christians killed each other? I’m not even talking about inquisitions or crusades, either. There are these moments in history I read, especially with England and Byzantium (for some odd reason) where it’s almost as if- If people could have just been a little better- cared a little more for each other- actually been a little more actually like Jesus- maybe a there would be a little fewer street massacres, starvation and genocide. Just a little. There is a moment where, in one of the crusades, the crusaders land at a Christian citadel along the way and beseige it, because they want to insure they get some land out of their efforts and get paid (the Christian leaders backing the whole expedition were wrapped up in political intrigue and purposefully skiffed on the wages). Even after the entire inhabitants of the city fixed crosses on the walls and called out begging the crusaders to cease because the women and children and men were starving to death inside- the army broke in and pillaged and burned it down- killing nearly everyone.
Many people like to think History- things like this- are past events done by other people. That somehow we are different- we are better- we are somehow safely removed and ‘other’ from our despicable and devious past.
We are not.
Thesis: Following Jesus means being like him.
Scripture: John 5 New Living Translation (NLT)
Jesus Heals a Lame Man
Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. 2 Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. 3 Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. 5 One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
7 “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”
8 Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
9 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, 10 so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!”
11 But he replied, “The man who healed me told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
12 “Who said such a thing as that?” they demanded.
13 The man didn’t know, for Jesus had disappeared into the crowd. 14 But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” 15 Then the man went and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had healed him.
Jesus Claims to Be the Son of God
16 So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. 17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.
19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.
24 “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.
25 “And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. 26 The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. 27 And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. 28 Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29 and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. 30 I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.
Witnesses to Jesus
31 “If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. 32 But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. 33 In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. 34 Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. 35 John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. 36 But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, 38 and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.
39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.
41 “Your approval means nothing to me, 42 because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. 43 For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. 44 No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.
The reason I never wanted to really be a pastor was because I grew up seeing too many bad ones. Men who held the title of pastor, but were caught up in eerily familiar political power struggles or vainglory personal conquests…
I remember while working at KKIM Christian News and Talk how many international ministries like Focus on the Family, even- repeatedly refused to pay their bills. They said we ought to play their shows for free because their listeners depended on them. It’s funny how many Christians I’ve heard manipulate faith for power or profit.
This is the sort of religious world many people my age have inherited. This is the world we live in today. No wonder so many people have beef with Christianity. Have you ever marveled at that? Just how many people have a personal beef with Christianity because someone down the line- who goes to church and plays with flannel-board and was baptized and memorized verses and went to Sunday School found a way to justify personally hating someone. And had the gall to actually tell them?
When I read the Bible today, and within its pages are Pharisees and circumcision debates- conniving synagogues and murderous faithful- do you know what I see?
I read about hypocritical fundamentalists and theology debates- conniving churches and justified, sloganized hate.
When I read about Jesus and John and Paul- yes I see the A.I.M. of the author’s meaning- yes, I see all the footnotes and cross-references… I see the red letters and I see the archeological tid-bits and broken marble columns- I read about personal stories based off pre-approved key verses…
But to be perfectly honest, what I really see- what actually makes any real difference with me aren’t any of those things- what makes the real change with me is seeing how Jesus lives out being God through all of it. It’s like back at the gas station again- It’s Sunday afternoon and the rudest, most ignorant menthol-smoking, vodka-guzzling, gas stealing porn addict low life is next is line. What do you do? What do you actually do? What do you really think about someone like that? What sort of feelings suddenly leap to life in your chest? (and remember, you just finished preaching a sermon not a few hours ago.)
When I read the Bible, I see people, just like you and I, and I see Jesus. The people are next in Jesus’ line. And this is what he does. This is what God (Jesus) actually does- this is how Jesus (God) actually feels about people just like us.
It’s been popularly quoted out of Acts that we were first called Christians at Antioch. The original word was an insult meaning, ‘little Christ’. But, hey- back then we had a decent sense of humor, so we took it all in stride and adopted it, instead. Now a days, we’re more likely to boycott that which purposefully insults Christianity- more likely to write the world off of being what it always was to begin with: worldly. Funny how things change.
What am I getting at- what do I mean?
Being dutifully religious is a chore. It doesn’t move me and I feel like I don’t really get anything out of it, to be quite honest.
Christianity (again, popularly sloganized) is about Jesus, not religion.
And if this is true- if this is the reason why we have how many pictures of Christ in our sanctuary (count them), then the real question is we must ask God, ask Jesus with our souls is:
Who are you and why do you matter?
If someone asked me that, how would I answer?
How would you?
Do you immediately hear a myriad canned answers leaping to the forefront of your mind?
I know I do.
In his most recent book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell talks about how often when we talk about God, we are often really trying to talk about something else, instead. The hurt we experienced at the hands of Christians how ought to have known better- the pain caused by stubbornly dogmatic leaders who didn’t care for us when we need it- anger based out of misunderstanding… miscommunication at its core depth.
As I am trying to talk about God, see how even I am subtlety talking about something else, too? With the sort of culture we live in- it’s like water for fishes. We are in it and yes, it is wet.
In Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, the author points out that the only Apostle who actually had any real religious, theological training was Paul- and he had to be thrown off his horse and blinded before he began to actually be of any use.
This Jesus-Following thing is something else.
Who Is Jesus?
Why does He matter?
Are you really trying to talk about something else, instead?
Let Jesus tell you who he is. Let him show you- in real life.