Friday, March 2, 2012

Thoughts from my sermon "Who is Christ?"

Hello my dear reader. The following is a short reflection, inspired by some of the thoughts from my sermon last weekend in Chicago, as part of the Province V (Episcopal Church) Campus Ministry Conference. I would like to dedicate this humble reflection to my old and new friends from Province V. :)
Who is Jesus? Quien es Jesús ? Quien es Cristo? Who is Christ?
If you my dear reader are a Christian, how would you answer this?

Why do I ask this? This was inspired by some of the excellent conversations that I had with my Province V comrades this weekend on issues of religion, spirituality, philosophy, Lord of the Rings, etc. This was also inspired by the readings of the RCL that were part of the First Sunday of Lent. One of those readings was the Gospel according to Mark 1:9-15, as it described the scene of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. It tells us that after the baptism there was a voice, a voice that came from heaven and it said You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. This voice made me think of the Gospel reading from the Last Sunday after the Epiphany when a cloud overshadowed Peter, James, and John (after seeing Jesus transfigured and having a conversation with Moses and Elijah) and there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"

In both of these readings it appears that the answer to the questions of "who is Jesus" and/or "who is Christ" is this: he is the Son or more to the point the Son of God. But this "answer" is not the only one given in Scripture and in the 2,000 years of tradition in the Church.

...who is Christ...

In response to ideas about the humanity and/or divinity of Jesus (among other ideas about God and Christian faith) the Church eventually came up with the creeds. Two of these creeds are The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.

The Apostle's creed states: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary....

Now, let us take a look at what the Nicene Creed tells us about Jesus: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father...

These creeds inspired by Scripture and a result of years of fights (some of them violent), debates, and struggles in the Church are recited by many Christians around the world every week. I myself have done this for many years. I can hear the echoes of the first verses of the Gospel according to John, along with other parts of Scripture and the ideas of Christian and Non-Christian thinkers coming together and sometimes colliding with one another. I see these creeds and I see a few more answers to my questions, including who he is, where did he come from and why, his humanity, his divinity, etc. Yet, these creeds speak in a language produced by a reality and a world that is not quite the reality (or the world) of today; this is not meant as an insult or to demean these creeds but rather to point out a fact.

History shows us that these creeds, along with how to interpret Scripture, and what the Church has said in the past and in the present about Christ reminds us that the 'right' or 'wrong' answer has been a serious business. While to some the 'right' or 'wrong' answer has been and continues to be a matter of 'salvation', many times the 'right' or 'wrong' answer can be a matter of life and death depending on where you live...and I do not mean this spiritually and/or metaphorically; I mean it in the physical sense.

...who is Christ...

During the weekend some in our group gladly gave their time to provide meals to the hungry (as part of the great work done by Church of Our Savior) and we had discussions and reflections on issues of social justice, from the problems of income inequality, poverty, discrimination, to many other related issues. As human beings we continue to be divided on how to find solutions to these problems (the private sector and/or the government, the individual and/or society, the Church, etc) but many of our brothers and sisters continue to be hungry and homeless, continue to be discriminated, continue to suffer, continue to cry. And it is this suffering and pain, along with a concern to try to do something about it that was true of the past and it is true now; on this, the reality of the past and of our present are not different.

...who is Christ...

In the book Jesus Christ Liberator: A Critical Christology for Our Time, Leonardo Boff tells us that to ask who is Christ and of course who are you, Jesus Christ, for us today means confronting our existence with his and being challenged by his person, message and the meaning we discover in his comportment. (Page 245). And I ask myself: if Christ asked me "My dear Mario, who do you say that I am", how would I answer?

What would I say? In what language?
What is the 'correct' answer?
Would I respond like St. Peter? (Mark 8:29)
Would I in accordance with the tradition of the Church (inspired by Scripture) think of the creeds?
As a "proper" Episcopalian what does "Scripture, Tradition, and Reason" tell me?
What do I, in the state of being found in the faith that grasps my core, finally say?
Would I instead of saying anything, simply remain in silence and in the power of silence let my heart respond?

...who is Christ...

Dorothee Sölle attempted to answer this question in her own personal way by using a format inspired by the ancients creeds of the Church:

I believe in Jesus Christ
who was right when he
like each of us
just another individual who couldn't beat city hall
worked to change the status quo
and was destroyed
Looking at him I see
how our intelligence is crippled
our imagination stifled
our efforts wasted
because we do not live as he did
every day I am afraid
that he died in vain
because he is buried in our churches
because we have betrayed his revolution
in our obedience to authority
and our fear of it
I believe in Jesus Christ
who rises again and again in our lives
so that we will be free
from prejudice and arrogance
from fear and hate
and carry on his revolution
and make way for his kingdom

...who is Christ...

I will continue asking myself this question. In the meantime, let us try to remember this: while the 'correct' question may be important, orthodoxy should never get on the way of orthopraxis and the love we must show to others and to ourselves. Sometimes when I say this I am told by some of my Christian brothers and sisters that all this talk about 'love' is not really what the Gospel is all about but instead it is faith in Christ that is important. My response is this: that faith in Christ must have love; a love beyond our own dichotomies; a love beyond our labels and categories for everything; a love beyond our fears of 'the other'; a love that transcends ourselves. A faith without this love (or the practice of this love) becomes futile and it alienate us from our fellow human beings and specially those human beings that need us the most.

Perhaps to be Christian and to try to answer the question of 'who is Christ' is to remember the words of St. James: If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them,“Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:15-17 (NRSV)

...who is Jesus...
...quien es Jesús ...
...quien es Cristo...
...who is Christ...

May our answers, and our new questions to those answers continue to bring all of us closer to each other, away from prejudice, arrogance, fear, and hate, and closer to the way of wisdom, respect, compassion, and love.

Have a great weekend everyone. :)


P.S. Special dedication to the amazing Sue. Thank you for your ministry :)

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