June 17, 2018
Some of you may have seen him. He wanders around downtown from time to time. But if you drive out Versailles Road much at all you’re likely to see the guy walking up the sidewalk screaming at ghosts. Or at least that’s what it sorta looks like.
You have to be careful if you see him, because it’s not unusual for him to walk right out into the five lanes of traffic there that get you in and out of town.
But he’s always talking to, and usually yelling at, someone or something that apparently, no can one see but him. And the conversations sometimes get pretty animated. You see him yelling at the top of his lungs, cursing and shaking his fist at whoever or whatever it is he’s seeing.
I don’t know his name. But let’s assume it’s Jesus.
Some of you may have seen or read the story of the adorable little red headed boy here in town who several months ago was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer.
The doctors say its incurable. But that hasn’t stopped Bruce’s parents from trying everything in their power to try and save their young son’s life. They’ve taken him to doctors, hospitals and treatment centers all over the country… taking advantage of every opportunity to give it one more shot, one more effort, one more try to save their little boy.
He’s only five years old, and if the doctors are right, he may live to see six, but he probably won’t make it to seven. So, his parents are making sure he has the fullest, most wonderful life ever.
He’s a huge Star Wars fan, so when he finished his last radiation treatment at UK Hospital, Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper were there to cheer him on.
A few weeks ago he rode into City Hall on a big fire truck – lights, siren and all. He’d always wanted to ride on a fire truck. When he came in to meet the mayor, the police chief and a bunch of officers were all there to throw him a party. They gave him a real police hat and a badge and swore him in as a Lexington Police officer, then they put him in a cruiser and took him on patrol. He said he wanted to be a cop when he grows up.
What a beautiful, hopeful little boy. His parents named him Bruce. But today, we’ll call him Jesus.
Back in the spring a 32-year old mother, her husband and two young children set out on a weeks-long journey from Honduras to the U.S. trying to flee the oppression, violence and near certain starvation that was happening there. On the journey with them was a grandmother and her four young grandchildren, a 65-year old man who said this was his last chance at survival, a former government bodyguard and his two boys ages 5 and 9 who said his government had turned against him, and about around 200 others whose stories were filled with horror, hunger, rape and murder. Their names? Jesus.
If you’ll indulge me… just one more…
Jesus says one of her earliest memories is when she was about five years old. Back then, everyone recognized her as a boy. But she was always being yelled at by the teacher for going to the bathroom with the girls. She says it was about that same age when she realized she was different than the other boys.
For Jesus, school was extremely difficult, and she got bullied a lot… for being too thin, for being feminine, for not liking football, for hanging round with girls, for having long hair. They mocked everything they could when it came to her gender and sexuality.
She says it’s a miracle she’s still alive, not just because she was able to escape tormentors, but she was able to escape her own suicidal thoughts as well.
Most all of us here have grown up pretty sure of who Jesus is.
Even if you haven’t spent a lot of time around church, popular culture in America has made it pretty difficult to claim ignorance on Jesus.
The guy is his own industry.
Between churches on every third street corner, Jesus movies, Jesus books, Jesus magazines, Jesus music, Jesus radio and Jesus TV stations and even Jesus celebrities… we’re talking trillions of dollars worth of Jesus merchandising going on.
And every marketer gets to make him into exactly the kind of Jesus they want him to be.
When I was a kid, he kept going back and forth between good guy Jesus who was always surrounded by baby sheep, pulled little kids like me up on his lap and told us to be good little boys and girls so we could be in Heaven with granny one day – and angry Jesus who would forget we ever knew each other and tell God we died if we talked back to our parents.
In his book, My Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos tells the hilarious, but very honest story of his own Jesus, how they look alike, like the same books, the same food, have the same opinions, the same beliefs…
And he goes on to accurately tell how we all do the same. We make Jesus as comfortable for us to be around as we possibly can.
In his book, the biker’s Jesus rides a Harley. The Christian Charismatic’s Jesus is healthy and wealthy. There’s Magic 8-Ball Jesus and patriotic Jesus and hippie Jesus and sexy Jesus and iPod Jesus and CEO Jesus and DaVinci Jesus and legalist Jesus and trendy Jesus and cowboy Jesus.
There’s a Jesus for everyone. And for most of us, we think we’re looking right at him every time we glance at a mirror.
You’ve heard the old saying, “In the beginning God created us in God’s image. So, we were kind enough to return the favor.”
Unfortunately, instead of us becoming more like God, we’ve made God more like us.
Here at BUCC, we recognize Jesus as God’s son and our brother.
We study him as a prophet, a teacher and sage, and we look to him as our example.
When Jesus tells us that it is good for us to forgive, we understand that it’s because unforgiveness is a poison which breeds resentment which leads to anger and resentment which makes it even harder to forgive… and the cycle is never-ending.
When Jesus reminds us to choose love over everything else, we believe it’s because he understands that love is the remedy to all that is hurtful in our world. It brings calm to troubled situations, and it motivates us to see others as something beautiful and lovely.
I may have told this story here before…
One day several years ago I was driving up Main Street when I got to the intersection at North Broadway. My light was red, and traffic going cross was backed up to the intersection. And even though it was backed up, a car pulled into the intersection and stopped right in front of me.
Their light turned red, my light turned green, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I thought to myself how dumb it was for that driver to pull into the intersection knowing that they were going to prevent me from being able to proceed on through when my light turned green.
I decided to let the other driver have it by honking my horn and shaking my fist… I’m such a good Christian…
And about that time is when she turned to look at me. She was a beautiful young lady who looked so much like my own daughter that I was a little startled.
I thought to myself, would I want some old coot honking his horn and shaking his fist at my daughter… someone I’d defend and stand up for… someone I’d give my own life for?
Seeing that young lady as someone who is special to me and someone I loved very deeply changed everything.
This past week I went to the new recruit graduation at the Fayette County Detention Center. We swore in ten new officers who have trained to spend some pretty difficult days and nights surrounded by people who want to be anywhere but in jail.
In his speech to the graduates, one of the commanders at the jail encouraged the new officers to live by the Golden Rule and to treat others as they would want to be treated themselves.
As I listened, I remembered that brief moment at the intersection. I thought, if I could offer them any advice, I’d say, “Go one even better. We’ll call it the Platinum Rule… ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do to the person you love the most.’”
Last week I mentioned something I’d read from Nadia Bolz Weber. I really enjoy reading her books and sermons and online posts. So, I hope you’ll excuse me, as I share another thought of hers today.
Referring to today’s scripture, Matthew 25 she says:
Jesus says I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Which means…Christ comes not in the form of those who feed the hungry but in the hungry being fed. Christ comes not in the form of those who visit the imprisoned but in the imprisoned who being cared for. And to be clear, Christ does not come to us AS the poor and hungry. Because… the poor are not an abstraction, they are actual flesh and blood. The poor and hungry and imprisoned are not a romantic special class of Christ like people. And those who meet their needs are not a romantic special class of Christ like people. We all are equally as Sinful and Saintly as the other. Christ comes to us IN the needs of the poor and hungry, needs that are met by another so that the gleaming redemption of God might be known. And we are all the needy and the ones who meet needs. Placing ourselves or anyone else in only one category or another is to tell ourselves the wrong story entirely.
Wow! I love that! What Nadia is saying is that you and I are not above the needy here. Just because we are the ones helping to meet the need, that doesn’t make us better than the ones we serve. As a matter of fact, if anything it means as we serve those in need, we are doing it as an act of worship as unto Christ.
And by golly, as abundantly present as he is, sometimes we simply fail to recognize him.
I see him sometimes when he’s screaming at ghosts in the middle of Versailles Road.
I see him as a little red-headed five-year old who is dying of cancer.
Jesus is the transgender boy or girl who is living in an unfriendly and unaccommodating world.
He stands on the street corner holding a cardboard sign.
She shows up completely broken at the homeless shelter.
Jesus is the young black man who’s lost all faith in justice.
She’s the young woman who had an abortion.
He’s the gay kid whose parents kicked him out of his home.
He’s the well-to-do CEO who has everything he could ever want, except peace.
She’s the woman who isn’t allowed to speak for God because she’s a women.
He barely speaks English, does the hard labor that others won’t and has no recourse when he is abused.
Jesus is the divorced mother works two full-time jobs and raises three kids on her own.
His best friend is a bottle that he always keeps within arms reach.
She comes to church week after week just for the hugs.
Jesus is the convicted criminal who will die in prison.
The forgotten friend who will spend the rest of her life in and out of depression.
He’s struggling to keep his family together.
She works just feet away.
He sits in the dark… his electricity has been turned off.
You bump her cart at the grocery store.
He lives next door.
She lost her job.
He can’t read.
She can’t care for herself.
He’s a drug addict.
Jesus is a prostitute.
He has AIDS.
She has breast cancer.
He’s the refugee.
I had a conversation with a friend this past week who has some issues with the people who are trying to get into our country. He says he “loves them in Christ,” but he doesn’t think they should be allowed in.
I asked him why not. He says we can’t afford them.
I told him that according to the story of Sodom in the book of Genesis, and the explanations later in Ezekiel and Hebrews, we couldn’t afford not to.
I told him that his problem was the way he was loving them, and that I think that loving them “in Christ” thing is a cop-out. I don’t even know what it means.
I asked him if he loves Jesus. He said with everything in his heart. So, I encouraged him to start calling them Jesus and loving them AS Christ instead.
Because if you love Jesus as much as you say you do, you won’t be able to not welcome them.
God, let us love them all, however they effect our senses… whatever they look like, sound like, smell like, feel like, taste like… let us love them just like we are loving you.
MATTHEW 25: 31-40 MSG
31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”