Jesus is…

In the midst of another holy season, my pastor invited us to ponder who Jesus is. The question stuck with me and inspired a whole preaching series on christological terms. It’s what has led us in the church I’m serving as interim pastor through Lent. Every week, as worship began, we’ve asked ourselves: who are we are who is our God? Today, between palms and passion, I dared to give my answer of who Jesus is. It was a service with a lot of scripture. Before the sermon, we heard both Luke 19:28-40 and Luke 22:39-23:25. Worship concluded in the poetry of Luke 23:26-49 but it the sermon that follows.


Jesus is… Jesus is… the one who leads us toward peace. The one that saddles his hope and his love upon a colt and parades his way into the city where he will die. Through the gate and into the city, with people on his right and on his left, waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna! Hey sanna! Sanna Sanna Ho!” 

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout without ever really understanding what they announce. Jesus is… the one who cannot be stopped. He will wash feet and break bread. He’ll pour just enough wine so that we do not miss how precious this life is. He will do all of these things under watchful eyes. He will do it without their blessing or even their understanding. He will turn tables and resist definition. He will not let their praise and their honor forget that God is a God of love. God requires love. God insists on love. God gives love especially to those who don’t seem to deserve it. 

  
Jesus is… Jesus is… the light of that love. He is the Light of the World. The one that removes darkness, exposes darkness and dares to declare even in the darkest places that there is light and that it is good. At times, he glows. He radiates that light so much that even his clothes become white as snow. Other times, that light is so faint and dim, like a candle blowing in the wind. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people, not to be overcome or overwhelmed but as steady as the light cast upon the sea by a distant lighthouse. Guiding us. Encouraging us. Seeking us out. Leading us to where we are called to be. Jesus is… the great light that shines in our deepest darkness.He is the true light, that just might enlighten everyone, that light that is coming into the world. That is already in the world. That can’t be contained by this world.

It is something that can only be understood in the face of death. Only as we wonder why any life or any hope or any revolution must come to an end can we glimpse the face of Christ who was in the world…even if the world did not know him. But, it was always there. He was always there. In the very beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is… the Word, in your words. In our words as much as he might be in all our hopes and dreams. Jesus.. is the very logic of the divine. He is the flesh that reveals God’s deepest wisdom. He is the reason and the order of God’s love for this world and for its people. Jesus is… the articulation of that love. He is the very expression of the reason that God loves, but it is a reason without logic. Or without our logic. God loves because God loves. That love has no beginning and no end.

So that it seems that God might be a chicken, foolishly opening her arms and expanding her welcome when it seems anything but wise. Much as we might refuse, much as we might think we know better, much as we might reject that love, the fact does not change: Jesus is… the Good Shepherd. Even with a hundred sheep or more to protect, he goes chasing after that one sheep that is lost and alone. He welcomes it home. He dares to claim that lost and sinful sheep to be a member of God’s family. Even that sheep is loved, embraced, affirmed, blessed and beloved. Jesus is… the one who gathers all of those broken and dejected people into his fold, declaring each and every one of them to be so loved by God. Others might mock or scoff. They may sneer and spit but Jesus is… the one who knows that we are like sheep without a shepherd.

And it is because of this that Jesus is… Jesus is… the Messiah. He won’t be a warrior or a king. He will demand justice not for the rich and powerful but for those who want to have life and have it abundantly. He will not kill and destroy for his is not that power. Love is not that kind of power. Jesus is… the anointed one. Jesus is… the restoration. Jesus is… the healer, the redeemer, the savior not just for individual souls but for the whole world. Jesus is.. the rabble-rousing, stern-speaking voice of redemption. It is voice that suggests, posits, even demands another way. There is more to this precious life than violence and fear. There is more than hatred and greed. There is more that love can do. There is more.

Jesus is… the Messiah. He is the hope. He is the love. He is the promise that love is greater than fear. Jesus is.. the force of God’s greatest conviction. Jesus is… that wonder-working, barrier-breaking, hope-restoring, healing and redeeming strength that dares to feed and forgive and bless the love that we are able to find in each other and in this world, because there is more. There is so much more of that love. There is more food to be shared. There is more healing to be done. There is more mercy to be granted. There is more hope to find. There is more love to give.

There are others that might say they know the way. Others that might claim that they can make this world great again. Other presidential hopefuls. Other emperors. Other kings. Other warriors that might lead by force. There are other powers that be. Others that might claim the title but Jesus is… the Son of God. He will not let others define what that means. He knows what God can do, even if we do not.

So that Jesus is… the one who goes to the garden alone. He is the one that prays in his own dark night of the soul. With hosannas still ringing in his ears, he will wonder what can be saved. He will wonder who can be saved while the disciples sleep. 

Jesus is… the one they arrest. He is the one condemned for what they can’t understand. He is the one that will be denied. They will say they do not know him. They had nothing to do with him, no connection to that kind of love. But, Jesus is… the one, maybe the only one, that will not forget that God is love. God requires love. God insists on love. God gives love especially to those who don’t seem to deserve it. 

No one really deserves it. No one deserves to be mocked and beaten. Wearing the shackles of human fear, Jesus is… the one who bears our sins. He washed our feet and he blessed our lives. He gave us food and wine. He healed our broken parts but we stopped him. We never quite believed that love was greater than fear. 

  

We are still trying to believe it. Maybe Jesus is… still the one guiding, encouraging and leading us. Maybe. But, when Herod asks him who he is, Jesus is… the one who did not answer. He is the one who did not speak. He did not speak. He did not try to explain. He was silent. Silent as the crowd shouted, “Crucify, crucify him!” 

Our Theology Must Change: A Reading List

Since horrible things have transpired — yet again — I’ve seen a series of reading lists appear. I am an avid reader and it is usually my gut reaction to understand world events. When the twin towers fell in New York City, I started reading up on Islam. I wanted to understand what didn’t make any sense. I admit that I never finished the first book I picked up all those many years ago. It was a book written about the religion and practice of Islam rather than it being an active expression from one of the faithful. I got frustrated because the author couldn’t understand that this thing he was writing about was part a belief system. It was part of worldview. It was something that many people — not just in the Arab world — put into practice every day.

Because I am such an avid reader — even if I read incredibly slow and don’t always finish the books I begin — I am ever curious about the book lists that are gathered in the midst of tragedy. There was a reading list after Ferguson. There was another I found when horrible things happened in Baltimore. (This isn’t the Baltimore reading list I remember but so be it.) And yesterday, after the horrible things that happened in Charleston, there was this reading list.

The last of these lists was gathered from Twitter. People tweeted titles and it was all gathered together in one official list which is all good and well except that the religion section is terrible. I’m relived that Dr. James H. Cone made the list but there are so many more that should be on this list. Our theology must change because James Cone was right. I was uncomfortable in seminary when I heard him lecture. I squirmed and struggled with my own whiteness. I felt blamed and responsible because I am. Our theology must change so that we become accountable for the sins of racism.

I was blessed to attend Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where the very first thing that we did as new students was confront our racism. It was the first part of orientation. It was how we began our work as pastors and faith leaders. We began with ant-racism training before we encountered the most amazing scholars in lectures and conversation. Among those books that I read in seminary, I’d like to highlight a few that we should all re-read.

Though he wrote many other wonderful books, including his newest book which is hanging out on my to-read list, this is the book that really hit home for me. This is the book that opened my eyes and changed my worldview. James Cone’s God of the Oppressed is the book that I think everyone should read to begin to talk about what black theology means — and how our theology must change. It is a theology that emerged from the liberation theology movement that began with Gustavo Gutierrez.

 

 

 
It was only a few days after the terrible news in Charleston that a friend from seminary commented on Facebook about how uncomfortable it is to be Sarah, rather than Hagar. It’s a reference to this particular work from the amazing Delores S. Williams. Her response to James Cone was that his black theology didn’t make room for black women. To include black women in this liberation theology, she wrote Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk which delves into the story of Sarah, Hagar and Abraham. I loved this book.  It was perhaps my most favorite book of all of my seminary reading. It is one that I think everyone should read especially as people of faith trying to understand this really difficult story in Genesis.

 

 

 

Seminary involved a lot of heavy lifting for me as I tried to understand and make sense of my own atonement theology. It turns out I still don’t quite have a satisfying answer but there is one book that I flip through every year — usually in the midst of Lent – as I try to understand what it means to claim the death of Christ. JoAnne Marie Terrell’s Power in the Blood? The Cross in the African American Experience is a must read for how our theology must change to consider the brutality and violence of the cross.

 

 

There was a lot of reading in seminary and this list feels woefully incomplete. Among the books that I read too few pages of while in seminary is Katie G. Cannon’s Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. It’s one that I hope to return to very soon — as soon as I can find my copy!

 

What would you add to this reading list? What should we read to challenge the evolution of our theology at such a time as this?