Nearly ten years ago I enjoyed a conversation with Hance. We talked of what we were currently reading. He told me of his latest read Philip Yancey’s, The Jesus I Never Knew. Hearing him describe the subject and his reaction led me to purchase my own copy. Thus began a long and conitnuing appreciation for anything I could find by Yancey. A fews years later I attended the first National Pastor’s Convention with my friend Jeff. I still have the talk given by Philip Yancey on tape. His text, "we have this treasure in jars of clay." Beautiful. Stirring. Human.
This past Sunday I found the impetus behind The Jesus I Never Knew to be of value for wrestling with both the Gospel and Epistle texts from the Lectionary. When I first read Yancey’s book, I found a resonation with the understanding that we had so domesticated Jesus that our picture of him was something of a truncated view we find in the Gospels. In fact, the political climate in our denomination and some of the tactics on both sides of the "battle" became central I was convinced our view of Jesus held little sway over our ethics. In fact, I would say I found myself often wondering if we understood the ethic of Jesus.
In much the same vein I found the chapter "The Seven Jesus’ I Have Known" (in Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy to follow a similar trajectory to Yancey. For many of the same reason McLaren exposed the different "pictures" given of Jesus and the need to see the beauty in them all. Unfortunately he gets a knock or two for such an attempt.
I am not thinking this something of a personal quest for the historical Jesus. I simply think we have selected what we like about Jesus and fixated on that particular aspect. So when I read John O’Keefe’s post today I stirred in me much of the same feeling he expresses. He wrote (in part),
let’s be honest, it has zero meaning. i could care less what jesus
would do in any given situation, because in reality the people who
shout it the loudest never do what i think jesus would do anyway. so,
my question is not "wwjd" [what would jesus do], it’s "wwyd" [what
would a YOU do?]
you see, telling me that "this is what jesus
would do if he was alive today" is meaningless. sure it sells book
binders, pencils, note pads and the occasional bumper sticker, but
other then that what has it done to change the world? i know of nothing
that has changed because we spent millions of "jesus junk" called
"wwjd." given that, the first thing i would have to say about the jesus
i know is that it does not matter what he would do, but what he did to
change my life and caused me to act in a different and new way.
John emphasizes we must have an embodied ethic impacted by our experience with the life of Jesus. How Jesus lived must make a difference in our lives or it really does not matter what Jesus did nor what he might do were he living in our day.
Looking for a way to open up the hosted text from Sunday led me to this whole conversation all over again. I wonder if it would not be good for someone to write, The Cross I Never Knew. Many have undertaken to point out the complexity of the Cross only to be accused of missing "the" most important aspect of the Cross. It is harrd for some to understand we cannot reduce the Cross to one view and call that "the" Gospel. Sometime before Jesus hung on the "bloody cross" he told the disciples and the crowd to embrace the Kingdom Cross – "if anyone would come after me let him deny himself take up his cross and follow me."
There is something inherent in the call to "learn how to die." After all once Jesus announces this in Mark 8 he illustrates all that includes learning how to die. On the other side of death there is resurrection. He well noted the way of the Kingdom Cross – suffering, rejection, murder and resurrection. Much of our lives look for the avoidance of the first three still wanting the last. Certainly we want resurrection. We want to "gain heaven." But the call of the Kingdom Cross is to die before resurrection.
I knew well the need to trust in Jesus’ "Calvary Cross." But, there was little talk about what about me needed to die. Someone may say, well you just must have lived in the wrong hamlet and did not hear the "whole gospel." The problem is many, if not most, live out an ethic that may well take into account the "bloody cross." I am glad someone died for me. Yet when it comes to living out that life we have missed the call to die.
My ego needs to die. In our denomination we celebrate ego under the banner of charismatic leadership. My way needs to die. In our denomination we honor leadership that keeps the end in mind, don’t bother with the method to get there. My desires need to die. In our denomination we reward loyalty with bigger churches and better seats at the table.
Some will pass by and think my critiqe a good one. Others will think, "Man that is why I am not in your tribe." To do so misses the point of this post. Much, if not most, of what passes in "Evangelicaldom" fits the bill. We reduce to sell. After all as it was noted in a conversation recently, "We are a business. We are selling the best product." We sell nothing. We declare with Jesus, "The Kingdom of Heaven is near."