More than one person has said that they like Jesus but not his followers. If you must know, I am less happy with Jesus than anyone else right now. He is messing with me and challenging me and I am not liking it in the least.
Jesus is refusing, refusing I tell you, to conform to my expectations of who he is and is supposed to be. For some odd reason Jesus has decided to start yanking my chain. He has decided that the comfort and confidence of my theology needs a bit of tweaking. But, what Jesus thinks is a bit of tweaking feels like a root canal without ‘happy gas’ and Novocain.
I have a lot in common with Cal Naughton, Jr (John C. Reilly) in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” His vision of Jesus is more in line with my vision of Jesus than I’d like to admit. He says, “I like to think of Jesus like with giant eagles wings, and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an angel band and I’m in the front row and I’m hammered drunk!” Or, “I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I’m here to party.” And, “I like to picture Jesus as a figure skater. He wears like a white outfit, and He does interpretive ice dances of my life’s journey.”
Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) prays to a safe and comfortable Jesus. He says, “Dear 8 pounds 6 ounces… new born infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet.” While I don’t pray like that, I pray to a safe and ‘non-threatening to my lifestyle’ Jesus.
But Jesus is a lot like Bobby’s grandfather, Chip, who says, “Jesus was a man! He had a beard!” Jesus wants to snap me out of that kind of nostalgia and wake me up. Jesus isn’t interested in what I think about who he is or what he’s about. He is not interested in being tame and quaint and comfortable. On the other hand, Jesus is not a member of the Expendables. He is not about violence in the name of good or a high body count. Jesus is simply interested in being Jesus. And that, my friends, is annoying me to distraction.
This Advent season (the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays) I was preaching in the midst of racial, political, and economic troubles. I was preaching in the midst of people using words like ‘racist’ and ‘privileged’ to describe whites. They painted with broad brushes. Honestly, I tuned them out. I found refuge in ‘8 pound 6 ounce baby Jesus.’ He just didn’t stay that way.
Here’s what I mean: John went where the outcasts lived. He told them to prepare and get ready because the King is on his way. The angels went to announce the birth of the King to shepherds. God asked an unmarried couple to be the parents of Jesus. The story is far less tame than I want to admit. Putting it in context for today, it gets really challenging.
You know who I think John would be preaching to today? Do you know to whom I think the Angels would have announced the Kings arrival? Do you know who I think God would have chosen as birth parents? Well, it wouldn’t be me. And, because misery loves company, not you.
My best guess, because of the current troubles in our world, is that they would be a people of color, with no legal standing, and no claim to any type of power (economic, political, or social) at all.
Because of that glimpse of reality, I started to see myself not as noble Joseph, brave Mary, excited shepherds, or baptized and repentant outcasts. Nope, I started to see myself as a religious person of means and comfort who questions John’s message, discount the shepherds proclamation, and look down on a couple of frisky teenagers.
Jesus is messing with my theology. He is messing with my comfort. He is messing with me and I do not like it in the least.
What about you?