If you were here last week or have read the newsletter, then you know I’m offering a sermon series this month titled “What is in Your Faith Closet?” Are there things you believe that are cluttering up your faith or are there things you need to take out, re-examine and be reminded of why you “bought” them in the first place.
All month I’ve been cleaning out our basement, tossing things out, and separating other things for our upcoming Salem garage sale. Not just once but several times I’ve re-discovered things I forgot I had, things I forgot I loved. THAT is my greatest hope for this sermon series, that you will rediscover things about your faith that you can become newly delighted by–along with other things you’ll feel free to discard if they no longer give life to your faith.
The truth is I am regularly asked why I still believe in Jesus, as if the things I no longer believe about Jesus should negate the value what I do believe. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.
So what holds the center in what you do believe? Virgin birth? Resurrection? Substitutionary atonement? The trinity? Original sin? Whatever you believe is intensely personal. There is grace enough to believe whatever it is that amplifies your faith. However, faith should never be static. It should grow, evolve and deepen.
Frinstance (that is a word, right) progressive biblical scholars do not conclude that God ordered the crucifixion of Jesus as a trade (a substitution) for humanity’s original sin. After all, we are children of a good and benevolent God and are therefore intrinsically good which… has given way to a new understanding of original “blessing” and not original sin. So… Jesus I’m keeping and substitutionary atonement I’m discarding.
But here’s the thing. God knew the fate that awaited Jesus. Jesus was indeed sacrificed but not by God, by humanity. Crucifixion was the punishment for anyone deemed a political subversive.
The Roman authorities thought him a political threat because they didn’t get it, and at the same time his Jewish brothers thought him a threat to their religion. As we can see in today’s gospel (John 6:51-58) they thought they knew all there was to know about this man Jesus and about their faith.
ELCA Bishop Craig Satterly of the lower Michigan synod writes, “That is what’s happening to the crowd with Jesus; they knew too much for Jesus’ words to ring true. Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41). But the insiders, the ones who knew the history – thought they knew how God does things and how things should be done. They also knew Jesus’ origins. “Who does he think he is?” They mutter, “Claiming to have come down from heaven? We know his folks. We know he came from Nazareth, not from heaven!” (verse 42) The Judeans also know their scripture. “The bread from heaven was the manna fed to our ancestors back in the time of Moses.” And the Judeans in the story knew the law. “The Lord God said, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods.’” End quote.
In other words, Jesus, you are not the one we’re waiting for. We’ve pushed the save button on what we know and our minds and hearts are closed.
If I learned anything in graduate school it’s that the more I know the more I know how much I don’t know! The hallmark of intellectual curiosity is the humility to know that you don’t know, leaving you open to learning!
What the early skeptics didn’t understand is that knowledge alone is flat. If you cannot get out of your head long enough to have a heart experience with Jesus, your faith is dead on arrival.
So here’s a question. Should discarding the notion that God killed Jesus ruin your faith? I sincerely hope not. I hope it leads you to a deeper faith. Because your faith and what you do with your faith matters.
And why does Jesus matter? Jesus matters because of what he reveals about God. As the human incarnation of God, Jesus not only came to walk among us in relationship, Jesus came to model for us what it looks like to be in relationship with God and God in relationship with us.
What’s more, Jesus was in such perfect harmony with God that every act of his life was holy- every act of his life was preceded by reflection and prayer. He approached everything knowing who and whose he was. Jesus matters because he shows us what it looks like to live in synchronicity with God.
Jesus’s very life shows us what should matter.
The way he lived his life spoke hope to everyone he encountered. People were healed in his presence, transformed by his witness. To be transformed by Jesus was and is to turn your life around, turning anew towards God’s greatest imagination for our individual and collective destinies.
That’s why Jesus matters. Jesus is the pointer, and we are the followers. It’s how children of the heavenly father learn. We learn by imitating and by following, and when we follow, when we pay attention to how Jesus lived, what Jesus did, and what mattered to Jesus, we are free to live better and to make a difference in this world that God loves.
And that matters. Amen.