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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Basics of Faith 3 - Jesus


Basics of Faith 3 – July 09, 2017
 A Sermon by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald

Lessons read on July 09: Psalm 145; Matthew 16:13-20; John 1:1-5, 9-13.

The name of the one who is the topic of our reflection today is ‘Jesus’ – in Greek, ‘Joshua’ in Hebrew.  Both names were common in Jesus' time.  But who was this Jesus? 

Any 10-minute (or so) talk on Jesus is only a beginning.  To know him takes a life time, and yet all we really need to know is in the familiar children’s hymn: “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

In preparation for this talk, I could have used more secular historical research, or more contemporary theological thinkers like Bishop John Spong or Marcus Borg or Chad Meyers for an in-depth look of the enormous political implications of the claims of Jesus and his followers and why what he did got him into so much trouble.  If I did, we would then see the radical thinking of Jesus, the uncompromising integrity of his life, the extent of his religious knowledge, the clarity and depth of his faith and the strength of his love and convictions.  Instead I chose to speak mostly about those names and titles for Jesus which have a Biblical reference. 

Jesus is identified by his contemporaries as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the son of the Carpenter.  He is also identified as the son of Mary – and he is known to have had brothers and sisters.  In the book of Acts, we find that one of his brothers, James, was a leader in the early church.

Jesus is also identified by early followers as Jesus Christ, or more accurately, Jesus the Christ, to set him apart from all others called Jesus or Joshua – including Jesus Barabbas.   Jesus ‘the Christ’ is his unique identification, in the same way Simon the disciple of Jesus is identified as Simon Peter, or Simon ‘the Rock’.  Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah – both mean the Anointed One.

Annointed One:  The title "Christ" or "Anointed One" (Heb. masiah [jyiv'm]; Gk. Christos . . . occurs about 350 times in the New Testament. . . ." The Old Testament records the anointing with oil of priests, kings, and sometimes prophets as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. The prophet Isaiah recognizes his own anointing (to preach good news to poor, Isa 61:1 )and that of Cyrus, king of Persia (to "subdue nations),   . . . . .  By the time Jesus was born, however, a number of passages in the Hebrew Bible were understood to refer to a specific anointed person who would bring about the redemption of Israel, and that person was called "the Christ".  The Samaritans were looking for him ( John 4:24 ). The Jews were looking for him and expected him to perform great miracles (John 7:31 ). This Messiah was to be the son of David ( Matt 22:42 ) and, like David, come from Bethlehem ( John 7:41-42 ).Even criminals condemned to death on a cross knew about a long-awaited Christ and asked Jesus if he was that person ( Luke23:39 ).                                            
  JamesA. Kelhoffer and John McRay[1]

Author-Prince: Jesus is called "Author" in Acts 3:15 and Hebrews 2:10;12:2 and "Prince" in Acts 5:31 (NIV). In each case the Greek word is the same:  ‘archegos’.  Uses of the term in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and non-biblical Greek suggest it carries a threefold connotation: (1) path-breaker (pioneer) who opens the way for others, hence, "guide" or "hero"; (2) the source or founder, hence "author," "initiator, " "beginning"; and (3) the leader-ruler, hence," captain, " "prince, " "king." The ideas may well overlap or be combined.  In its fullest sense the Greek word denotes someone who explores new territory, opens a trail, and leads others to it.  

In Acts 3:15 Peter accuses the Jews of killing the "author (archegos) of life, " suggesting that Jesus is not only the origin of biological life, but also of "new life" and the provider-proctor of those identified with him. Later Peter speaks of Jesus as the "Prince (archegos) and Savior" who gives repentance to Israel (5:31). The word "Savior" was associated with the Judges of old. Jesus is the one who meets the emergency situation caused by the sin of God's people and he comes to bring not only deliverance but also the continuing service of the Author (archegos).  The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the suffering "Author (archegos )… of salvation" (2:10) and the "author (archegos and perfecter of our faith" (12:2). In each case Jesus not only initiates and provides the new life for his people but remains with them through it; they bear his name, he is their king.      
                                                                                                               J. Julius Scott, Jr.[2]

New Testament writing does not refer explicitly to the Trinity – but the Jewish concept of the oneness of God underlies some of the writing and probably influenced the early Christian theologians who were writing the earliest faith statements of the Church.  They saw or felt that God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit were one – the same substance.  The United Church holds the doctrine or belief in the Trinity, as do most mainline Christian Churches – but not all Christian churches do.  However, we do not expect people to profess an understanding of the Trinity

Over the years, the doctrine of the Trinity is not iterated as much, but the 3 persons of the Trinity – God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit still get a some “press time” in the faith statements of the United Church.

Prince, Saviour, Anointed One or Christ/Messiah, King.  Also, Lord or God, Son of God, Firstborn of all creation, firstborn of the dead (i.e., the resurrected), First born of Mary (he had brothers and sisters) Friend, Shepherd, Brother, High Priest, Prophet.  The names of Jesus, or Jesus the Christ are innumerable – each one designating the role Jesus plays in the world, in the community of the faithful, in our lives, in your life.  Those who crucified Jesus gave him the title “King of the Jews”, but it was meant as mockery.  Little did they know what kind of king he was or would become!

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked Peter,”Who do you say I am?”; and Peter responded, The Messiah, the anointed one.””  Who is Jesus for you?  What words best fit who Jesus is for you?  For me, it is the words in the Gospel of John, Chapter 1 – the word made flesh who dwelt among us – who dwells among us.  Jesus, the one Anointed to be the living word of God – not words coming from our mouths in every language – words which partially describe , which can be nuanced differently in every language and every culture – as are all our images.

Jesus is the living word of God’s love – the embodiment of divine love.  A friend of mine, also a United Church Minister, likes to say that Jesus is the most God-infused person who ever lived.    We also are human; and we also have within us something of the divine; maybe we are not as fully infused with God as Jesus (to use my friend's language), but it is within us to strive in that direction.  We can then speak of Jesus as  saviour or redeemer in that in him we see the possibility for each of us; and, also the unexplainable love for each of us.

I grew up Christian.  I pondered the words of faith; I doubted them but did not forget them.  As an adult and young mother, I turned to the faith of my childhood with new eyes when I contemplated that the only antidote for evil is love and the only love great enough is the love I learned as a child – the love of the anointed one of God, the love of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ.

There is a fairly old DVD produced by the United Church called Who Do You Say That I Am?  Even if we just looked at the images presented in the DVD, without the words it is interesting – for we will see Jesus portrayed as white, black, Asian, North American aboriginal, South American aboriginal, Burmese, African, and even as a woman.  These are artists’ renderings of who Jesus is for them.  It is fortunate that we have no photographs or drawings of Jesus of Nazareth, because it allows Jesus, the Christ, to be ‘the Christ’ – to be whoever he needs to be for all people, in all places and in all times.  He is the living word of God for all who call upon his name.

Who is Jesus for you?  What words, ideas images touch you, comfort you, guide you, disturb you, challenge you?  Who do you say Jesus is?

United Church of Canada Statements and Creeds on the Nature of God
1925 – Basis of Union
2.3.7 Article VII . Of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe in and confess the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man, who, being the Eternal Son of God, for us men and for our salvation became truly man, being conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, yet without sin . Unto us He has revealed the Father, by His word and Spirit, making known the perfect will of God . For our redemption, He fulfilled all righteousness, offered Himself a perfect sacrifice on the Cross, satisfied Divine justice, and made propitiation for the sins of the whole world . He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, where He ever intercedes for us . In the hearts of believers He abides forever as the indwelling Christ; above us and over us all He rules; wherefore, unto Him we render love, obedience, and adoration as our Prophet, Priest, and King .

1940 – Statement of Faith:
2.4.2 II. Jesus Christ We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, Who, for us men and our salvation became man and dwelt among us . We believe that He lived a perfect human life, wholly devoted to the will of God and the service of man . We believe that in Him God comes face to face with men; so that they learn that God loves them, seeks their good, bears their sorrows and their sin, and claims their exclusive faith and perfect obedience . We believe that in Jesus Christ God acted to save man, taking, at measureless cost, man’s sin upon Himself; that the Cross reveals at once God’s abhorrence of sin and His saving love in its height and depth and power; and that the Cross is for all time the effectual means of reconciling the world unto God . We believe that Jesus was raised victorious over death and declared to be the Son of God with power; and that He is alive for evermore, our Savior and our Lord . So we acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God Incarnate, the Savior of the world .

1968 (Rev. 1980, 1995) - A New Creed:
We believe in God: 
. . . .
who has come in Jesus,  
the Word made flesh,  
to reconcile and make new, 
     We are called to be the Church: 
to proclaim Jesus,
crucified and risen,  
our judge and our hope .

2013 – A Song of Faith
We sing of Jesus,
      a Jew,
      born to a woman in poverty
      in a time of social upheaval
      and political oppression.
He knew human joy and sorrow.
So filled with the Holy Spirit was he
that in him people experienced the presence of God among them.
We sing praise to God incarnate.

Jesus announced the coming of God’s reign—
      a commonwealth not of domination
      but of peace, justice, and reconciliation.
He healed the sick and fed the hungry.
He forgave sins and freed those held captive
      by all manner of demonic powers.
He crossed barriers of race, class, culture, and gender.
He preached and practised unconditional love—
      love of God, love of neighbour,
      love of friend, love of enemy—
and he commanded his followers to love one another
      as he had loved them.

Because his witness to love was threatening,
      those exercising power sought to silence Jesus.
He suffered abandonment and betrayal,
      state-sanctioned torture and execution.
He was crucified.

But death was not the last word.
God raised Jesus from death,
      turning sorrow into joy,
      despair into hope.
We sing of Jesus raised from the dead.
We sing hallelujah.

By becoming flesh in Jesus,
      God makes all things new.
In Jesus’ life, teaching, and self-offering,
      God empowers us to live in love.
In Jesus’ crucifixion,
      God bears the sin, grief, and suffering of the world.
In Jesus’ resurrection,
      God overcomes death.
Nothing separates us from the love of God.

The Risen Christ lives today,
      present to us and the source of our hope.
In response to who Jesus was
      and to all he did and taught,
      to his life, death, and resurrection,
      and to his continuing presence with us through the Spirit,
we celebrate him as
      the Word made flesh,
      the one in whom God and humanity are perfectly joined,
      the transformation of our lives,
the Christ.

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