Optimist: The glass is half full. Pessimist: The glass is half empty. Mother: Why didn’t you use a coaster!
Why don’t we just say what we should be saying?
I remember when I really wasn’t sure I should say what I was hearing in my head. I was thinking one thing, but I was also thinking that’s crazy. I can’t say that. I had met Marit only five weeks before. We had dated ever since. For me it was love at first sight, blessed and validated by my guardian angel telling me she’s the one. But still, five weeks isn’t very long to think what I was thinking of saying. We were in my car having just parked on Atlantic Avenue. We were going to have dinner together. But I couldn’t get out of the car, and it wasn’t really because the traffic was going by and my door swung out onto it. Marit saw my hesitation and also sat there. She also saw that I was thinking about something and I had something to say. I kept thinking are you really going to ask that. Shouldn’t you wait. I didn’t wait. I asked Marit if she would marry me. Yeah, sitting in a car. I did. You know what? She smiled, and said yes with her smile, but told me to ask me again when I mean it. Of course, I would do that later, but it was right to say what I should have said and done what I had to do. And you know what’s crazy is that I don’t remember my official asking her to marry me—she probably does. I remember that one in the car.
When Easter morning comes, one of the first things we do is the call to worship. The highlight of it is the responsive saying, “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!” I usually make the church say it twice. The earliest Church wouldn’t have said this. They would have said, “Jesus is risen” or maybe even “Jesus of Nazareth is risen. He is risen indeed.”
Perhaps nothing reveals that better than the very first Christian sermon ever preached publicly a mere 50 days after the event. On the day of Pentecost, under the Holy Spirit’s influence, Peter’s sermon never once mentioned “Christ is risen.” Not once. What he did proclaim was “Jesus is risen.” Acts 2:32 says, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” Verse 36 declares, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In fact, Acts says “this Jesus” three times and “this man” one time in the first
two chapters. Our Easter proclamation, if it were to be really biblical, would be “this Jesus is risen.”
Am I just being a stickler, a nitpicker? We could easily think Luke’s emphasis on this Jesus was necessary at the time. Did you know there were other people during this period who claimed to be the Christ? Some of them were obscure figures that had no chance of attracting a large following. But there were a handful of others who made the national news back then. For example, there was a Simon of Peraea, who had been a slave of king Herod. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote of him: “a comely person, of a tall and robust body; he was one that was much superior to others of his order, … and was so bold as to put a diadem on his head, while a certain number of the people stood by him, and by them he was declared to be a king, and he thought himself more worthy of that dignity than anyone else.” After burning down a few of the king’s houses, king Herod’s infantry along with some Roman soldiers caught up with him and quickly took care of Simon of Peraea.
Sometimes, when Peter spoke about Jesus as we read in Acts, he would add “of Nazareth,” because there were other people named “Jesus.” He had to make sure everyone knew his Lord was Jesus of Nazareth.
But it’s been a long time since we’ve all come to understand we’re talking about Jesus of Nazareth. I know that. But you know what sometimes you’ve got to state the obvious to see it again. My dad had a mustache for a couple of decades. He shaved it one day, but nobody noticed until he told us.
Still, the point of this series on the Real Jesus has been to help us see there was a real Jesus and that the real Jesus mattered and still matters. Jesus of Nazareth, the historical Jesus, is the foundation for the risen Christ, the Christ of our faith.
The truth is the others who tried to become the messiah did certain things and taught certain things, like Luke said he wrote about Jesus. For some, the Messiah or the Christ should be a military leader who would battle against Rome and other pagan kingdoms and usher in the new Israel freed of subjugation. Others thought they were the new high priest who would defend truth and restore right worship and sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem. Once order was restored to the Temple, God’s glory would shine and protect Jerusalem and the Jewish people again. Jesus of Nazareth saw things differently. For this Jesus, God’s kingdom was already here. It was in our
midst, close by, even inside of us. He was prepared to do whatever it took to reveal it to us.
One day, the imprisoned John the Baptist sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus said replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” John wonders, “Are you the Christ?” Jesus says, “Look at what I am doing.” That’s the kingdom, and that’s Jesus’ life work.
Where they are happening, the kingdom has come. Where they do not, the kingdom hasn’t come. Sometimes, the kingdom shows up in less spectacular ways than in Jesus’ day but still feels like the same thing.
Clara Daly was seated on an Alaska Airlines flight en route from Boston to Los Angeles when a flight attendant asked an urgent question over the loudspeaker: “Does anyone on board know American Sign Language?”
Clara, 15 at the time, pressed the call button. The flight attendant came by and explained the situation. “We have a passenger on the plane who’s blind and deaf,” she said. The passenger seemed to want something, but he was traveling alone and the flight attendants couldn’t understand what he needed, according to PEOPLE magazine.
Clara had been studying ASL for the past year to help with her dyslexia and knew she’d be able to finger spell into the man’s palm. So, she unbuckled her seat belt, walked toward the front of the plane, and knelt by the aisle seat of Tim Cook, then 64. Gently taking his hand, she signed, “How are you? Are you OK?” Cook asked for some water.
When it arrived, Clara returned to her seat. She came by again a bit later because he wanted to know the time. On her third visit, she stopped and stayed awhile. “He didn’t need anything. He was lonely and wanted to talk,” Clara says. So, for the next hour, that’s what they did. She talked about her family and her plans (she wants to be a politician). Cook told Clara how he had gradually become blind over time and shared stories of his days as a traveling salesman. Even though he couldn’t see her, she “looked attentively at his face with such kindness,” a passenger reported.
“Clara was amazing,” a flight attendant told Alaska Airlines in a blog interview. “You could tell Tim was very excited to have someone he could speak to, and she was such an angel.” Cook’s reaction: “Best trip I’ve ever had.”
We might say this is the handiwork of an idealistic, energetic 15-year-old with a big heart but who doesn’t want to be an idealistic, energetic 15-year-old with a big heart? It’s not like Jesus wasn’t idealistic and energetic with a huge heart. Recapture your idealism. Be an inspiration to others. Turn back the clock on your feelings. Rejuvenate yourself.
The problem is too many people are dumping their heart or closing it down or never letting it beat. We’re hoping someone else will carry the water or do the work so we can sit back and let the blind and the deaf fend for themselves. But the mission is ours. Jesus’ mission has been handed off.
When our scripture says the first disciples were Jesus’ witnesses in all the world, it didn’t mean only what we think it means. We have too narrow of a view of it. We think of witnesses as in eyewitnesses, someone who sees something and tells the police officer or the court, “Yep, that actually did happen.” Sure, that’s true but that’s only part.
The biblical sense of witness is someone who seeing something happen becomes the one takes up those words and actions. Witness here is more like a stand in, someone who takes the place of, someone who witnesses to what was done by doing it her or himself. We witness to Jesus by doing what he did. Our lives are to witness to his life. We can’t just say that he did great and not do it what we could also do that was great. That’s not a witness in the active sense of witness. We shouldn’t just believe he was God’s life for us and then not live that life. There’s no witness in that.
You see, I have a fear. I’m concerned we’re going to live empty lives, lives empty of what Jesus would want to see done, and empty of our witness to our faith. I have another fear. I’m concerned we’re building an empty church, not empty in terms of the number of people in the pews, but empty of Jesus’ ministry.I want the real Jesus to walk in here and say this is where I would want to be, this is the church and the people I would want to call my disciples, if he were ever to stop by on a swing through South Florida to check in on houses of worship and communities of faith calling themselves by his name.
The real Jesus was bigger than life, certainly than his own earthly life. But to make that happen we’ve got to be willing to say what we’re to be saying and do what we’re called to do. We’re witnesses of Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching, healings, life, death, and resurrection. What an honor!
Can the church say Amen?