What Was Jesus?

[I wrote this two years ago for a women’s retreat in Valdosta, Georgia.]

Was Jesus:

  • Wanted: I was taught that He was the Messiah the Jews were waiting for; so He must have been wanted, right? But Jews expected a hero-warrior-king. [Jeremiah 23:5: The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.] Romans wanted a puppet king (Herod); Mary wanted to marry Joseph and have kids after marriage. Nobody wanted or expected what happened.
  • Welcomed: Maybe He wasn’t what they expected, but since He was so much MORE than they expected, He was welcomed by them, right? But even His family doubted Him and tried to get Him to stop. [Mark 3:21 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’] In the (almost) end, He was so unwelcome that He was crucified.
  • A liberal or a conservative: Jesus is not our favorite brand of politician; He removed Himself and His kingdom from the politics of this world. [John 18:36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’]
  • A feminist or an anti-feminist: He is a salvation-ist; He did not come to elevate the status of women or to keep them subjugated. He came to save women – and men. Jesus’ ministry and His disciples included women; His parables included women (sweeping the house to find a lost coin), His miracles included women, women anointed Him with oil and tears, cried for Him as He carried His cross, stood at the foot of His cross, went to His tomb, and Mary Magdalene was the first to proclaim the good news of His resurrection. [John 20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.] But He cannot be called a feminist any more than He can be called a Democrat or Republican – BECAUSE THAT CONCEPT DID NOT EXIST THEN.
  • A social reformer: He did not come to make the world a better place. He came to remind us that this world is not our real home and destiny. [Luke 4:42-43 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’] Jesus began a powerful social reform movement – one that continues to this day, including His “preferential option for the poor.” But that was not His purpose. His purpose was to deal with sin; social reform is an effect of Jesus’ mission, not His primary mission.
  • A religious reformer: He did not come to reform Judaism; He did not come to start a new religion; He came to tell us that God is with us right where we are; we don’t need religion. [Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’] Repent = metanoia = turn around: The kingdom of heaven is not with the High Priest in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem. The kingdom of heaven is all around you.
  • Christian: He was JEWISH! Matthew chapter 1 establishes Jesus as a Jew (descendant of Abraham) in the kingship line (descendant of David). He was raised, lived and died as a Jew.
  • The savior of the world: Jesus is the savior of individuals; of each person. He did not come to make the world great again, or whole again, or fair again – He came to bring individuals out of the world and into the kingdom of heaven. [Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’]
  • God’s Son: “Son of God” is a (confusing) way of describing God-incarnate; Jesus is God: teach third grade if you don’t get how confusing it really is. [John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.]
  • A man who lived 2,000 years ago: He was born 2,000 years ago; He lives TODAY!
  • The best advice columnist ever: He told us what the Law expected in order to make it clear that we will ALWAYS fail to earn salvation by keeping the law (as St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther and Nadia Bolz-Weber remind us). Salvation is ours only by “right” of grace: the righteousness of God freely given to us. [Luke 18: 26-27 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’ Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’]
  • My best friend: I “get” my best friends; lots of times I don’t “get” Jesus and I certainly don’t like what He wants of me. My BFFs are pretty easy for me to understand and love. Jesus is full of contradictions. Once we get past the Christmas and Easter feel-good stories, and pay attention to His words and ministry, things can get pretty confusing. Mary couldn’t understand Him consistently, nor could Peter, Thomas, Paul – or even your pastor.

The truth is, I don’t know, from day to day, who Jesus is and will be to me. So I have to keep going back to hang out with Him – I have to keep reading the Bible – to make sure that I am not creating an idol whom I call Jesus.

Here’s what I know: I want to know the Jesus whom Thomas (yes, the one we call Doubting Thomas) knew and I want to respond to him as Thomas responded. Thomas only speaks 3 times in the gospels, all in the gospel of John:

  • John 11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
  • John 14:5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
  • John 20:28 My lord and my God. (The only time in the Gospels that Jesus is called God.)

I want Jesus to be the person I live and die for; I want to follow Him; I want to acknowledge Him as lord of my life and as God. That’s what I want but, like St. Paul: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7: 15, 19)

Then my comfort, my peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), my blessed assurance is that I do not have to be consistent because God is consistent in His belief in me, His love for me, His salvation of me. As the old hymn says:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

Psalm 136

O give thanks to God who is good
Whose steadfast love endures forever
O give thanks to God almighty
Whose steadfast love – for me! – endures forever
God alone does great wonders in my life
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who made me and all my world
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who gives me everlasting water
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who brings light to my darkness
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who guards my waking and sleeping
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who rescued and redeemed me
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who brings me through my troubled times
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who is with me even in my wilderness times
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who alone can remove my doubt
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who alone can lift my distress
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who alone can lighten my spirits
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God who brings me Her wisdom
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God sees my troubles
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God rescues me from my troubles
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
God nourishes my soul
Because God’s steadfast love endures forever
O give thanks to the God of my life
Because Her steadfast love – for me – endures forever Amen

Psalm 137

By the rivers of my distractions

I weep

I remember, long for, Your peace that passes understanding

But my joy is strangled in the branches of my despair

When I try to sing

My disquiet silences me

How can I sing of God’s goodness

When I feel forsaken and exiled, depressed and distressed

And yet, when I forget God, when I doubt God

My spirit withers

My words dry up

When I do not set God

Above all other pleasures in my life

As my greatest joy and peace

Ah, God, I know these times of disquiet

When my heart tells me to doubt Your existence

Your power, love and grace

Ah, these devastating, depressing times

I will be happy when these times are banished forever

I will know Your peace when my terrible Ds are smashed

Smashed against the reality of You. Amen

Psalm 138

I give You thanks, O God, with my whole heart
Before all the demands of my life
I pause to sing Your praise
May that be true even when I feel too busy
Let me be grateful for my times and places of worship
Let me thank You for your steadfast love
For Your faithfulness
Let me remember
That Your name and Your Word are exalted
Above everything in my life
When I call on You, when I come crying to You
You answer me
You increase the strength, the peace of my soul
Through all the demands of my life
Let me praise you, O God, my Lady Wisdom
Let me pause to hear Your words for me
Let me sing – to myself – of Your mercy
Of Your great glory
For though You are Sovereign, almighty God
You help me, time and again
Only when I trust to my own goodness
Only when I become proud of my own knowledge
Do You seem far from me
Until I remember, again
That though I walk in the midst of trouble
You protect me and preserve my spirit
You deliver me from my troubles
You will fulfill Your purpose for me
Because Your steadfast love endures forever
Still, I cannot stop myself from pleading with You
Remember me, remember You created me
Remember me, remember You saved me
Do not forsake me. Amen

Psalm 139

O God, You know me, my work and my play

You know my best and my worst

My most secret and my most public

You know all my ways

You know my thoughts before I speak them, even to myself

You are here, with me, through my whole life

I don’t understand it, I don’t even always believe it

But there it is

I can’t hide from You

Whether I am elated or depressed

Whether I am confident or dismayed

Whether I am filled with faith or doubt

Even when I decide You don’t exist

You lead me, You love me, You hold me fast

Even when I am sure my life will be darkness forever

Even then, I am not darkness to You

I am still bright with Your love and faithfulness

It is just that I close my eyes to You

And then think that only darkness exists

But You have been with me from my very beginning

Because of You “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”

Because You are good and I am made in Your image

I cannot make sense of eternity

I cannot understand how You know my future

And yet I have free will

I could drive myself crazy trying to figure that one out

And in the end, I come back to the wonderful mystery of You

O that You would take care of my troubles once and for all, God

You redeemed me, You saved me, once and for all

Yet still I struggle, still I try – and fail – to be good, to do good

Go ahead, God, and search me

Root out all the parts of me that cause me pain, that disappoint You

Lead me in Your truth and love, in Your everlasting way. Amen

Revenge, Forgiveness and Jesus

“…Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself…” Philippians 2:6-8

The sweet spot of revenge
Is power reclaimed
I am better than the other

The sourness of revenge
Is power abused
I am just like the other

The sweet spot of forgiveness
Is pride reasserted
I am better than the other

The sourness of forgiveness
Is pride abused
I am just like the other

The sweet spot of Christ
Is forgiveness
Without pride
Without power

I am who am
I am just like the other

Psalm 140

Deliver me, O God, from my own evil

Protect me from my own violence

Keep me from unhealthy preoccupations

Keep me from anger and envy

Keep me from speaking ugliness and hurt

Please and thanks

Guard me O God, from my own wickedness

Protect me from my own violence to my spirit

The violence that traps me

In quicksand discouragement and doubt

Keep me from the trap of arrogance

Guide me away from the snares and nets

Of envy and anger, vengefulness and regret

Please and thanks

You are my God, my Lady Wisdom

So, please, hear me, answer me, deliver me

Stay inside my mind, stay in my thoughts

Do not give place to my ugly enemies

Please and thanks

Let my envy dissolve into gratitude

Let my anger burn away into compassion

Let my doubt be buried beneath faith

Let my words be generous and kind

Let my mind and heart, life and intentions

Be peaceful

I know You help the needy – and I am needy

I know You give justice for the poor

And I am poor in spirit and in faith

Lend me Your righteousness, Your wisdom

That I may give thanks to Your name

And live in Your presence. Amen


February 14, 2018

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down

Cheering for basketball shooting
Crying about school shooting

Bread and circuses
Religion and media

Heavy hearts and light distractions
Outrage and powerlessness

We need not ask for whom the bell tolls
Or for whom the shooter aims

But why are the heavens still above
Why does the center still hold

When we know the rough beast
That has slouched to our schools

Again and again

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Psalm 131

[My Long-time Favorite]

God of my hope, Savior and Spirit, Lady Wisdom
The times I love are the times when I am not preoccupied
With being smart, successful, happy, esteemed, accomplished
The times when I am not looking around to see how everyone else is doing
My heart does not stray outward
My mind does not chase round and round
Worrying about things I can’t control, things I don’t know
Things I’ll never have, things I’ll never understand
Those times, those times are my savasana times with You
My soul is calm and quiet
My contentment is deep
Deep as a child’s quiet in the arms of a loving mother
You are my loving Mother
O please, let me – let me with that great cloud of witnesses
Hope in You from this time on forevermore. Amen.