The Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade
Many years ago I had the opportunity to meet a remarkable man from Tanzania named Johanna Madinda. He was a bishop visiting our Diocese of West Virginia. Since the road between Appalachia and East Africa was not well travelled nobody quite knew what to make of him. By way of introduction he used to tell people, “I am a Jesus Man.” The words were simple, powerful, direct, and in his case, demonstrably true. I thought of the Jesus Man when I read the Gospel for this morning. Jesus speaks of us abiding in him and he in us; an intertwining so deep that something ingested is the best metaphor. “ Very truly I tell you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you … for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”
It is a powerful image, bordering on gross, but saying something significant about our relationship with Jesus and his with us. This Jesus is as much a part of us as the toast we had for breakfast or the wine we are about to sip. Knowing that makes one a Jesus Person.
What I would like to do this morning is think with you about Jesus abiding in us and we in him. The big word for this sort of thing is Christology, thinking about the Christ. The little word is simply what it means to be a Jesus Person.
We can begin by looking at the world around us, acknowledging that the fact of creation implies a Creator. Something is back there, behind it all. The order of the universe is built in, imposed on nature like laws are imposed on society, which is why we call them the laws of nature. The solar system does not hold together because the planets admire the sun and choose to be its disciples. Ocean waves and sound waves do not move about because they have developed an interest in travel. As Einstein put it, something deeply hidden is behind these things. It does not take an Einstein to see it. A casual observer can come to the same conclusion and with a little time will begin to wonder about the nature of that deeply hidden Something that creates and shapes our world. What is it about? What is it like? Why does it bother to create?
The evidence of the nature of that Something—the thing we call God—is conflicting and impossible to sort out. We go to a child’s birthday party on Saturday and friend’s funeral on Monday. Which one is what life is really about? We have a summer afternoon with friends and family and are aware of the bloody chaos of Syria, Colorado or the Mexican drug wars. Is it clouds or cancer, rainbows or rape, war or peace, joy or sorrow, gain or loss? Each piece seems to make a case but taken together they are only confusing. Experience, logic, and science itself are like a three foot board at a four foot hole. They just cannot stretch to do the job of finding that deeply hidden God or unraveling life’s contradictions.
That is where the incredible gift of revelation comes in. God says, “You cannot figure me out so I will show you.” Revelation comes by many avenues. The one we know best is scripture. The great narratives, teachings, and laws of the Bible, fashioned over centuries and tested in the laboratories of day to day life are all about the Creator, telling us what God is about, what God is like, and why God bothers to create. The pinnacle of that revelation is Jesus. He is the key because he is able to say I am the bread of life…true food, true drink…I am the main thing…I am where it is at…I am what it is about….When you have seen me you have seen the Father.
But when we see Jesus what do we see? The key words for what I see are generous connection. More traditional words are self-giving and redemption. The most familiar words are Jesus died (self-giving) for our sins (to re-connect us). Generous connection is what God is about, what God is like, and the reason God creates.
Jesus’ revelation begins with God coming among us in fleshy human form. He did not have to do that. The Incarnation meets no need of God’s. It is the same as the reason for creation. It is God’s generosity not God’s need that makes these things happen. God is loving, generous, self-giving. Jesus grows up and heals, an intimate form of connectivity, putting bodies lives and relationships back together. Jesus tells parables, all of which are about connecting people to God and to one another. In Holy Week Jesus models the generosity of God by giving himself to the betrayers and crucifiers. And then models the deep connection between us and God by coming back at Easter in spite of all we did on Friday. Jesus is all about the generosity of God and the abiding connection in the Creator and all of creation.
So the ‘why’ of Jesus is to show us the face of that deeply hidden something that is behind creation, the thing we call God. The ‘how’ of Jesus is a life in witness to the generous connectivity of God. Which brings us to the ‘so what’ of Jesus. The fact is that the generous connectivity of God is in us like bread we eat, intertwined with our lives like the wine we drink. The point is God wants us to know that and live like Jesus People.
It would be nice to say we just spent several minutes on Christology where we picked up some big words, wrestled with the meaning of life but can still go home and ignore the kids, trivialize our spouses, squander our money, waste time and energy, demonize those who differ from us, patronize the poor, and complain about people who behave just like us but do not have good excuses like we do. Unfortunately this Jesus thing does not stop in our heads anymore than bread and wine do. The abiding and intertwining he speaks of is about about kids and spouses and how we treat them, money; energy and time and how we spend them. It is about those who differ from us, those who rely on us and those who are just like us and how we regard them. It is about generosity and the connections that come from it. That is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Very truly I tell you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
And life that abides in Jesus is generous and connected because it has the food and drink of truth within it. That is what it means to be a Jesus Person.