June 14, 2020
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Jesus is my Savior. I’ll talk some theology this morning, but what matters most to me is my relationship with Jesus. Like Paul and the gospel writers I do not have any direct memories of Jesus and am dependent on what his close followers and then the authors thought was important.
I’m going to help you get to know Jesus a little better, but first I’m going to stop talking for a a moment so that you can think about some questions. What would you like to be saved for? What would you like to be saved from? Is Jesus your Savior? Do you feel like you know who Jesus was and why he could matter so much to you? What about Jesus turns you off? What might turn you on to Jesus?
I’m not going to tell you that Jesus should be your Savior. You can’t be saved because I want you to be saved, or some authority urges you to be saved. I’m not even going to tell you that believing in Jesus is what it means to be saved.
It takes some study, some caring, some reflecting, some thinking, some imagining, some feeling, and some prayerful exploration to prepare for a salvation conversation with the collective memories of Jesus. What would you ask Jesus if he suddenly showed up in person and spoke English?
I’ll speak of three ways of getting to know Jesus. The first is that we have some sayings of Jesus that are highly likely to be comments he actually made. My personal favorite by far is the story of a Samaritan who saved a Jew. Several sayings, including some Beatitudes, are found in both the synoptic gospels and in the Gospel of Thomas, meaning that two fully independent sources both have Jesus saying much the same thing. We have more passages that Jesus reasonably might have said, or have said something like, including things that were being said by other Jewish leaders in Judah and Israel. Jesus as a Rabbi would have talked about things other people were talking about.
Verse sixteen in the Matthew lectionary passage was a common saying and is also attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. “You must be as sly as a snake and as simple as a dove.” Might that be guidance for salvation? Are you sly? Are you simple? Can you be sly and simple at the same time?
Jesus is my Savior because of the distinctiveness of his ministry and message AND because of what he focused on out of all the stuff that were concerns of the half dozen or so different kinds of Jews living in Judah or Israel: rabbis in the traditions of Shammai or Hillel, John the Baptist, Samaritans who recognized only the Torah as scripture, Sadducees, Temple Priests, Zealots, and Essenes.
The second way to know Jesus is that we know what was scripture for Jesus. Then and now scripture can be interpreted and emphasized in different ways. Following Hillel’s distinctive and well documented approach to interpreting scripture, Jesus added the crucial phrase “and your neighbor as yourself” to the Great Commandment to Love God with all your mind and heart.
I find it highly credible to believe that Jesus was a rabbi in the tradition of Hillel. The Hillel school was active in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and was affordable to low-income Jews, in contrast to the then more dominant School of Shammai who produced rabbis castigated in the gospels as Pharisees.
I also find it highly credible to believe that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist. Understanding Hillel and John the Baptist as the two primary guides for the spiritual formation of Jesus opens wide windows for working with what Jesus believed and what he taught.
A third way to know Jesus is the boat loads of interpretive or expansive stories and guidance by writers who never knew Jesus, written for different audiences than the audiences Jesus addressed, written in different circumstances and responding to different salvation concerns. I’m talking about the gospel authors, Paul, and a mix of other authors.
The Christmas and Easter stories written by Matthew and Luke are expansive stories, quite different from each other, that were added onto the history-like narrative written by Mark. Such stories tell us about what was important to the second and third generation of the followers of Jesus.
They are important as narrative stories even though they are not history, even though they could not have spoken by a baby or a dead man. The close followers might have talked about Jesus as Messiah but they didn’t talk about him as Christ.
We face the same challenges in getting to know Jesus as the gospel writers, Paul, and later generation Gentiles. What matters about Jesus? Are the things that mattered to Christian Testament authors and the Gospel of Thomas the kind of things that matter to you and me?
A theological problem of the Christmas and Easter stories is that they are story lines focused on action occurring in imagined heaven, not in the lived circumstances of Jesus and his followers. The salvation guidance of Jesus to love even Samaritans was there and then salvation guidance. What do you need to be saved from and what do you need to be saved for now?
The Easter and Christmas stories of Jesus as Christ is that he came down to Earth from Heaven, suffered for our sake because angry God could not forgive us without sacrificing himself, and then didn’t really die on the cross but went back up to Heaven. The traditional church salvation story of Jesus as Christ is that we can join Him in imagined heaven if we become baptized by The church, confess our sins to The church, set aside our annoying questions and just believe what The church tells us to believe, and then agree to live by the rules presented by The church as judged by The clergy.
Progressive Christianity escapes from the bad deal of exchanging obedience to clergy run churches for an empty promise and picks up the hard tasks of loving God, loving ourselves, and loving our neighbors now and wherever we are. Jesus has helped me understand and appreciate that we are saved in here and now loving relationships. Focusing salvation on personal beliefs or righteousness can lead to the distortion of “it’s all about me” salvation.
I appreciate the imagination of heaven as the bold claim that tragedies are not the last word about the meaningfulness of life. But salvation as a psychological escape from here and now tragedies steers us away from salvation as being broken and whole all at once, from salvation as “We’re all in this together.” What would you want heaven to be like? Can we live into your vision now? Would I have to buy a harp to play in your heaven?
Mark Greiner did a great job of lifting up lament as an aspect of here and how salvation, as a cornerstone of a Christian faith built for hard times. We can lament when a loving relationship is wanted and denied, when a loving relationship is lost or broken, and when it is our turn to die and no longer experience love.
Lament as one of the paths of lived into salvation is not about complaint because things are not what we want them to be. Lament as a path of salvation is about embracing what matters so much even though a precious moment in our lives has been lost.
The close followers of Jesus were empowered by the tragedy of the cross to do the so important simple things that were theirs to do and made Jesus inspired salvation available to you and me. When they grieved the death of Jesus, perhaps howled together in anguish, they came to appreciate how much their shared memories of Jesus mattered. They discovered that the Holy Spirit who inspired and empowered Jesus was inspiring and empowering them. I believe this is the crucial untold Easter story.
To be broken and whole all at once we have to be loving enough to accept the griefs and pains of living in tragedies: personal tragedies, relational tragedies, church tragedies, societal tragedies, political and governance tragedies, spiritual tragedies. The close followers of Jesus couldn’t vote the Romans and the Temple Priests out of office. Can we find the courage and commitment to take advantage of opportunities they couldn’t even imagine? If we claim and do what is ours to do, politically or otherwise, we can experience the gifts of here and now solidarity with Jesus and his close followers as we love our way into here and now solidarity with those most in need.
Living into solidarity, not just generosity, with those most in need can help us deeply appreciate the salvation guidance of the following Beatitude found in different forms in Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. Blessed are you poor, for yours is the realm of God.
I am happy to call myself a Christian as part of a community that has changed down the generations as people have wrestled with what it means to be a Christian. I am thankful that Jesus shows us what God looks like in human form. I am thankful that Jesus shows us what it looks like to live in harmony with experiences of God’s Presence.
I found and claimed Jesus as my Savior in the midst of powerful personal and social tragedies in my late teens and early twenties. I was a transgender person before the word transgender existed. I was lucky enough to know to be very afraid and to hide out. I became very aware of the tragedy of racism in the South and in the Southside of Chicago. I risked myself and young family into dangerous circumstances. Jesus helped me navigate through some very choppy water, personal, family, church, and society choppy waters. I was not saved for good times and smooth sailing. Jesus inspired me and guided me to and through salvation in the midst of financial poverty, family challenges, huge challenges for Essex Community Church and our two little house churches that were sort of like mission groups back in the early 1960s.
We can follow the repeated and crucial guidance of Jesus to experience the Divine Presence. We can trust that loving and caring will help us appreciate what is happening right now. When we follow the guidance of Jesus, when we are inspired by the courage and humility of Jesus, we can claim ourselves as the Earth bound, here and now, Body of Christ.
We can be deeply thankful that we are loved before things have been made right.
I love you.
[singing] I woke up this morning with my mind, staying on caring,
woke up this morning with my mind, my mind, staying on hoping,
woke up this morning with my mind staying on, staying on giving,
Allelu, Allelu, Alleluiah.
I went to bed sleeping with my mind, thankful for living,
went to bed sleeping with my mind, my mind, thankful for crying,
went to bed sleeping with my mind, thankful for, thankful for loving,
Allelu, Allelu, Alleluiah.