This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 19, 2015.
Reading: John 13:31-33, 14:1-7
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
It’s a story you really need to know. It’s about a man…born around the year 1 C.E…
From the beginning his mother knew he was no ordinary person. Prior to his birth, a heavenly figure appeared to her, announcing that her son would not be a mere mortal but would himself be divine. This prophecy was confirmed by the miraculous character of his birth, a birth accompanied by supernatural signs. The boy was already recognized as a spiritual authority in his youth; his discussions with recognized experts showed his superior knowledge of all things religious. As an adult he left home to engage in an itinerant preaching ministry. He went from village to town with his message of good news, proclaiming that people should forgo their concerns for the material things of this life, such as how they should dress and what they should eat. They should instead be concerned with their eternal souls.
He gathered around him a number of disciples who were amazed by his teaching and his flawless character. They became convinced that he was no ordinary man but was the Son of God. Their faith received striking confirmation in the miraculous things that he did. He could reportedly predict the future, heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. Not everyone proved friendly, however. At the end of his life, his enemies trumped up charges against him, and he was placed on trial before Roman authorities for crimes against the state.
Even after he departed this realm, however, he did not forsake his devoted followers. Some claimed that he had ascended bodily into heaven; others said that he had appeared to them, alive, afterward, that they had talked with him and touched him and become convinced that he could not be bound by death. A number of his followers spread the good news about this man, recounting what they had seen him say and do. Eventually some of these accounts came to be written down in books that circulated throughout the empire.
But I doubt that you have ever read them. In fact, I suspect you have never heard the name of this miracle-working “Son of God.” The man I have been referring to is the great neo-Pythagorean teacher and pagan holy man of the first century C.E., Apollonius of Tyana, a worshiper of the Roman gods, whose life and teachings are still available for us in the writing of his later (third-century) follower Philostratus, in his book The Life of Apollonius.”
This is an important story for you to know. Why? Because you need to understand what early Christians had to sort through when choosing to follow Jesus. Holy men, teachers, magicians and miracle-workers, and persons claiming to be the sons and daughters of gods were not the rarities we sometime perceive them to be. Jesus was one of several if not many people roaming the region. One of several who would have been gathering disciples. So what is it about Jesus? Why has the Christ movement continued for some 2000 years when so many others have been lost and forgotten in the pages of history? I think, and I am really only speaking for myself this morning, the movement Jesus started continues to this day is not because the story of Jesus is all that unique. The compelling force within Christianity isn’t its story. The story is important, we will be spending an entire morning talking about Scripture and the story it tells in just a few weeks. But, the Jesus movement continues—not because of a story, but—because of who Jesus is.
To understand who Jesus is, we first need to revisit for a moment who God is. For as much as we’d like to say about God, to do so is really quite dangerous. To say that our finite minds can comprehend the eternal is arrogant and idolatrous. “The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church” teach that “there is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible;” but to say much more than that runs the risk of limiting the Eternal to what we, in our limited capacity, can understand. God simply is, has been, and forever will be; but to really know God is beyond our capacity. We cannot know God on our own. God must come to us.
It has been nearly a year and a half since my “take-in,” or initial interview with the Staff-Pastor Parish Relations Committee here at Lee Memorial. For those that don’t know, that’s a covert operation shrouded in absolute confidentiality where the prospective pastor meets with the District Superintendent and potential new church to see if the gifts of the pastor and the situation of the church seem to align. Chandra, Stella, and I flew into Manchester, NH, under the guise of visiting friends. We did. We borrowed their mini-van and made a New York/New England tour to visit friends, family, and here. The first leg of our trip was to go from Manchester, NH, to Saratoga Springs, NY, where the majority of Chandra’s family lives. Chandra and I looked at the map. I knew enough about the region to know that, on a map, those two places weren’t all that far apart; but Chandra reminded me that, well, there was no good road to get us from Manchester to there. We’d have to go south, then west, and back north. There just wasn’t a good way to get there.
The same can be said about our pursuit of God. We can’t get there from here.
No matter how impressive the argument, the religious experience, the tradition, you can’t get there from here. Indeed, where you get, if you think you have gotten to God by your own efforts, is always an idol. But here is the good news of Christian faith; we do not need to try to find our way to God, for in Jesus Christ God has come to us. God, [John] Calvin wrote, “is invisible and that not merely to the eyes of the body, but also to human understanding.” But “It is not necessary for us to mount up on high to inquire about what must be hidden from us at this moment. For God lowers himself to us. He shows us only in his Son—as though he says, ‘Here I am. Contemplate me.”
Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being” (Hebrews 1:3a, Common English Bible). To know Jesus is to know God. “Whoever has seen me,” says Jesus, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9, Common English Bible).
Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is the way we come to understand that God is love (1 John 4:8), and not some far off entity who works some divine purpose through cancer diagnoses and a murderer who pulls a fire alarm and kills four people including himself. Jesus reveals the truth to us: that we’re not left to alone in the darkness. Jesus demonstrates the truth that God will not abandon us in the midst of sickness, tragedy, and sorrow. Sickness and sin will not prevail; for Jesus is the source of life.
…all things were created by him:
both in the heavens and on the earth,
the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
Whether they are thrones or powers,
or rulers or authorities,
all things were created through him and for him.
17 He existed before all things,
and all things are held together in him.
There has been, as of late, a slew of movies released about superheroes: Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Antman. Jesus is the God-man. Jesus is, in the words of the Articles of Religion,
“the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, [who] took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins.”
Jesus is the way in which we come to know God. He reveals the truth that God is both real and present. And, he is the source of life now and into eternity. That’s who Jesus is and that’s exactly what we’re called to be.
Brennan Manning is attributed as saying that “the greatest single cause of atheism [non-belief] in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” I’m sympathetic to his point. We, the Church, are called to be the body of Christ active in the world. We’re called, in our humanity, to allow the divine to fully dwell within us so that the work of Christ might continue.
Human efforts cannot reveal God. Human efforts alone cannot create lasting peace. Human efforts alone cannot bring life where there is devastation and death. That is the work of the God-man: the fullness of God dwelling within humanity. As we come to know Christ and develop the habits and “mind of Christ” (see Philippians 2:5-11), God will dwell within us and we’ll begin to see amazing, miraculous things occur: countless thousands will be fed with just a few loaves and fishes, no one will go without, the sick will be healed, the forgotten will find a friend, and God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
Let us pray:
Holy Christ, you are the God-man. You are the way to God. You demonstrate that God has not left us alone to the brokenness of our sin. You are the Creator and sustainer of life. Lead us on the way and teach us your truth that we might find life. Loving Christ, help us find hope in you alone. For you are the hope of the world. Amen.
 “Apollonius of Tyana” NewWorld Encyclopedia (23 October 2012) <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Apollonius_of_Tyana> Accessed July 24, 2015.
 Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p 19-20.
 “Article I—Of Faith in the Holy Trinity” in “The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church,” The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church—2012 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2012), p63-64.
 William C. Placher, The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), p43.
 Colossians 1:16-17, Common English Bible.
 “Article II—Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man” in “The Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church,” Book of Discipline, p64.