Sunday, 6 July 2008

Year A Proper 9

Tricky Jesus

In my wife’s room as she was growing up there was a picture of Jesus surrounded by animals and children – a wonderful example of Victorian Kitsch, all soft focus and shiny blonde Jesus – around it was a line from a well known hymn which said ‘all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all...’

It was a meant to be a comfort, a picture of a Jesus who welcomed the vulnerable and who projected an aura of love and acceptance. It didn’t possess any particular artistic merit, but was unthreatening and warm.

I’m not sure what picture you have of Jesus in your own mind, perhaps you share such a ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ image, perhaps you have a mental image of the publicity campaign a few years back which had a picture of Jesus on a red background, looking remarkably like the Che Gevuara pictures which have adorned lots of student walls for the past thirty years or so which say ‘Meek. Mild. As If’ Or maybe an image of a man on a cross, or Christ surrounded by light rising into glory, or a Jesus who never blinks like Robert Powell in the Jesus of Nazareth TV series. I could go on and on...

But all of these pictures, whether you consider them good or bad images of Jesus, can’t really encapsulate this grace-filled, awe-inspiring, earthy, divine and human, disturbing and joyful man which we read about in the Bible. A Jesus who, on a regular basis, breaks free of our own stereotypes and preconceptions, our own prejudices and human limitations.

And it is this Jesus we encounter in our passage for today – a disturbing, challenging Jesus, a frank and forthright Jesus, perhaps even a slightly exasperated Jesus and yet also a Jesus who offers comfort and care for us.

If we look at the text itself we see many different aspects of Jesus’ character. We see him begining with a children’s saying in response to the pharisees criticism of him ‘we played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn’. As far as his detractors were concerned, these strange teachers such as Jesus and John the baptist could do nothing right – if they were austere and aescetic they were miserable and were wrong, if they were open and welcoming, enjoying a party and spending time befriending people then they were equally wrong.

I must admit to being drawn more to Jesus’ model of reaching out myself – and it makes me smile when he is called a glutton and a drunkard – or ‘winebibber’ in the older translations of the bible! But there is a welcome and a joy in his reaching out to people that I believe that we are called to model as the church today!

In the text, though, Jesus is critical of those who are so negative towards his ministry. There is a sense of frustration in his pointed response, and it leads on to Jesus rather strong criticism of those who consider themselves clever and dismiss the truth by using complicated arguments: ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants’. There’s also a strong message to us no to veil the Gospel by clever argument, but by open and straightforward sharing of our faith to make real the good news of the kingdom of God by being open and straightforward ourselves!

Jesus continues saying that ‘no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father exceptht he Sond and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’. There is again a challenge for us to take up that call to reveal Christ in our lives and by our words and actions to live lives that draw others to getting to know Jesus, that we may be windows through whom Christ shines.

And having been so forthright in his speech, Jesus finishes this passage with words which console and offer a hope of comfort. ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’. After these challenges, which apply not just to those original hearers, but to us today, we are given the reminder that the message that Jesus brings is one of life and freedom, rather than burden and struggle.

For those of us who follow Jesus, we are set free into the life which only he can bring. We no longer have the burden of living a certain way because we ‘should’ but of living life, as Jesus says in John’s Gospel chapter 10 ‘in all its fullness’. We are set free to live lives of joy, peace, hope, gentleness, self control, patience and more by the benevolent grace of the Spirit of God.

None of this is academic. This text isn’t here just so we can see different parts of Jesus character. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to know about Jesus I want to know Jesus – and in the same way that everyone we get to know has the capacity to surprise and challenge and disturb and inspire us, so it should be with Jesus. Then as we know Jesus more, we can call others to know this wonderful, difficult, grace filled person of God made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. As we read this passage we should be excited by the joy of calling others to know Jesus to. This passage doesn’t allow us to box Jesus up into nice easy categories, but serves to remind us of the fact that we who follow Jesus have still so much to learn about him, and that it is this Jesus we are called to share, that others may know the excitement of knowing him to.

May Jesus again refresh us as we see him anew and share his risen life with all those we know and those we meet.

Thanks be to God!


Quilldancer said...

Great sermon. I am certain the interview committee found no fault with it.

Our brand new pastor gave her very first sermon with us today and talked about us being more like Jesus. She challenged us to engage in ministry and reach out to our neighbors. While I was quite enjoying what she had to say, OC (from his music director position facing the congregation)said he could see resistance claim the body language of pew after pew.

In other news, I have finally -- after a 13 month hiatus -- posted another short story on, "The Grownups Wanted Us Dead."

Dr.John said...

It was a great sermon. They must have loved you.

Nick said...

Do you think Jesus is often thought of like the Doctor?

What I mean is, that perhaps people find the "Jesus image" they grew up with, or are most familiar with... to be their favourite.

One of my favourite images of Jesus is the statue Ecce Homo that was in Trafalgar Square some time ago. I liked it because it portrayed Jesus in a manner that related him straight back to the Jewish people. He was portrayed shaven headed, and with a tattoo on his arm... awaiting his fate.

Some really stupid London councillor complained it was racist because the material used was white marble... he completely missed the point.

I commented on this BBC article on the appearance of Jesus a long time ago... and it's an article that keeps getting replicated on other sites.

Another image I find interesting is the one that last Easter was denounced as obscene - The "Chocolate Jesus". I had a very poor attempt at being an art critic on that one, you can read my thoughts here.

And definitely spot on about wanting to know Jesus not merely know about him.