I was forwarded the following email… I have my opinions about it, but I want to see what you think about it.
This past Sunday, I preached about Jesus. That’s hardly news, is it? After all ministers are supposed to do that. But I’d like to share with you some of the things still rattling about in my brain and in my heart. One thing about Jesus, I’ve discovered, is that once you spend time with him he tends to stick around. When I was a child, Jesus showed up at Christmas and at Easter, but not much otherwise. To the extent that I thought about matters religious, something that I did less and less from my teens into my early twenties, I thought about God: Did God exist at all? Did it make any sense to pray? If I believed in God (and I more or less did) then why was life so complicated and, often, so unhappy? When, after being diverted from a path that was supposed to lead to law school, I found myself in seminary, I discovered that I really enjoyed studying the Bible, and all the things that people have said and thought about the Bible across the centuries. Jesus kept showing up, of course. It’s hard to study the New Testament without running into him.
But he was a figure to be studied along with Paul, and Moses, and King David and all the rest of the people who populate the Bible. And, later on, I led or encouraged all sorts of discussion groups about Jesus in the churches I’ve served. The people who talked a lot about Jesus, not as a subject for conversation but as someone known with certainty, were people whom I had a hard time feeling comfortable with. They seemed so utterly certain that they knew all about Jesus, and that no one else really did – and that that made them superior. They claimed humility, to be sure: but whatever role Jesus was playing in their lives led almost invariably to a smugness about themselves and the world, which I found very difficult to deal with.
Maturity means, at least in part, that other people don’t have to do your thinking for you. Little by little, I began to understand that what I believed about God, what kind of a God I believed God to be, were things which I knew through the life and the death of Jesus. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but I experienced a gradual surprise. I discovered, among other things, that as Jesus moved closer to the center of my faith, I didn’t turn into anyone else. I was still me. What changed was that I began to understand where my core beliefs were coming from. God’s unconditional love, for instance. The growing assurance that we don’t suddenly become pieces of dead meat at the end of life. The growing awareness that Jesus was not simply a sage among other sages, but someone present in all manner of interactions with other people.
I began to discover that my sense of the Christian faith kept expanding, and I understood for the first time what St. Paul meant when we wrote about “Jesus Christ alive in me”. The growing, the expanding, was going on whether or not I was paying any attention to it.
Many of us tend to be wary of Jesus. We’re afraid that, given the chance, he’ll turn us into people we’re really not, nor choose to be. We can’t imagine dealing with, and possibly coming to believe in, his miracles, or his resurrection, or his call to the difficult works of justice and of love. I have no simple answer to this wariness. I have known it intimately most of my life. But what I have at last come to understand is that, wary or not, certain or not, we’re safe. Believing in Jesus means becoming more and more who we most truly are. And to discover that it is not just about us. Becoming who we most truly are means in the end who we most truly are for others.
As I say, once you begin spending time with Jesus, he tends to stick around. And things happen.