My little girl liked Barbie dolls. A lot of children, and even adults, like them. Since 1959, there have been billions of these dolls sold. There have been Barbies of every type, from Malibu Barbie and Cat Burglar Barbie, to Princess Barbie and Star Trek Barbies. When it comes to dolls, it’s nice to have variety. But, when we’re talking about Jesus, the savior of humanity who died on a cross to save people from their sins — there is only one. At least only one that is real.
Most people who are Christians agree that there is one Jesus written about in the New Testament of the Bible. They believe he was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, that he had 12 disciples, did miracles, taught people about God, threatened the religious establishment and eventually was arrested, tried and executed via crucifixion. We (I claim to be among this number) believe that his death was a saving sacrifice, taking away the sins of the world. We believe that he was buried, and after three days, was raised from the dead, showed himself to many people and then ascended to Heaven. Sounds pretty simple really.
But, maybe it isn’t. Since the time of Jesus, there have been questions about who Jesus is, and there has been mountains of material written about him. Yet, the Christian church has had some basic agreements about who we believe Jesus to be. The problem is that in order to finally tame the unruly, rebellious Christ followers of the early years, Roman ruler Constantine decided to legitimize and co-opt Christianity to become a state religion. I learned this from a few books I’ve read, one Brian Zahnd’s Farewell to Mars and Mike Slaughter’s Renegade Gospel. Suddenly, Jesus wasn’t Lord and Savior, Teacher and Resurrected Living Master, but he was State Jesus, Jesus who is on OUR side, a Jesus who cares about what we care about, loves who we love, hates who we hate, and who looks very little like the Jesus of Scripture.
So, now this rebel, this One who tamed the seas and raised the dead has many identities thrust upon him – identities that I don’t think are accurate, or reflect who Jesus is.
We have Sunday School Jesus — everybody loves Sunday School Jesus. He’s meek, he’s mild and gentle as a lamb. He loves the children, he is everyone’s friend, and he glows white. He is not Middle Eastern. And, he does not make waves. There is some truth in this one. We read about his gentleness, and how he blessed the children in the Bible. We hear him talk about love and turning the other cheek. And, we hear him called the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God.
Then, there is Hippie Jesus of the Jesus Movement. That’s the Jesus I sort of grew up to embrace. I turned from Sunday School Jesus to a hipper, peace/love dude who looks like he came straight from Godspell or a grunge rock music video. He loves Christian rock, the beach, bare feet and rap sessions where we all just tell him our problems and he listens. He is totally cool with whatever we do, as long as we’re “cool” with each other. He’s still white, btw, but, he’s got black friends, so that’s pretty progressive. And, there is some truth in this picture. We do read that Jesus tells people to love their enemies, to not take revenge, and we read where he turned water to wine and didn’t fit into the establishment. He even surfed, dude! Well, I guess you can call his walking on water hanging ten.
There is Superhero Jesus. I remember a pastor made waves by saying he couldn’t worship a wimpy Jesus, a Jesus that he said “he could beat up.” He wanted a manly, he-man Jesus who could flip a table with one hand and punch a bad guy with the other. This Jesus glows, rides the clouds, and is ready to zap out some retribution on all the evil types that we are prepared to sic him on – all those people we don’t like. We get some truth to that somewhere too. His miracles were certainly displays of power. Demons cowered before him, and the Scriptures do talk about him turning over tables in the Temple. They also say he’s coming back to judge people one day.
Irrelevant Religious Jesus. This is a popular Jesus these days. He’s the one who keeps in his place, a little religious box we’ve set aside for him. He’s the Jesus who politely stays quiet while we do what we want, and who we can then take out on Sundays or other religious events, and wave around to show we are Christians. He is interchangeable with Bumper Sticker Jesus, except with this version, you don’t have to remember not to drive like a jerk. This Jesus might also be called Stealth Jesus. He’s there when you want him, and invisible when you don’t. This Jesus isn’t really found in Scripture, but, he’s popular anyway.
American Patriot Jesus. This is the Jesus I consider to be the most dangerous and annoying of them all, but, I will take a look anyway. I’ve actually followed this Jesus a bit in my life because he looks darned good to most red-blooded (white) American evangelicals. This Jesus backs every political opinion we have. He supports our favorite TV pundits, radio hosts, televangelists and political candidates. American Patriot Jesus loves our troops, supports us in war, roots for our sports’ teams, waves our flag, supports our rights to own guns, and he hates who we hate. He cares a lot about un-born babies, hates criminals (and believes that anyone a policeman targets is in deed a criminal, no need for a trial), and he does not tolerate any gay people, except maybe if they vote Republican and are white. He also is white but he likes people of color who show the proper amount of respect for their white superiors (meaning, they are people who spend a lot of time burying their own identities to fit in with the establishment), and he has a real fondness for Independence Day parades. He is the one who finds politics life or death important. He is the one who can’t stand all of those fancy, think they know-it-all scientists who think the earth’s climate is changing, who think that evolution is actually a thing, and who want to use stem cells to try to cure diseases. He also thinks poor people are freeloaders that you cannot trust, that those living in certain neighborhoods with certain skin colors are most probably drug dealers or prostitutes (aka thugs). He thinks that Christians are indeed persecuted in the good old U.S. of A. because stores consider there are other people besides Christians in the country and don’t all say Merry Christmas and they put bunnies out for Easter — oh, and they make them make wedding cakes in their open-to-the-public bakeries for gay people (gasp!). That stuff makes American Patriot Jesus steaming mad. This Jesus gives white Christian evangelicals special blessings that nobody else gets, like sunny days when they want to golf, forgiveness if they’re male leaders who do inappropriate things to women (because it is always the woman’s fault anyway), and extra raisins in their raisin bran. I am not exactly sure where this Jesus came from, but he is hugely popular, and is one good guy for a good ol’ boy to hang out with. Oh, and he ALWAYS votes Republican!
Here’s the thing about Jesus though. He doesn’t come in a box, and you can’t pick and choose what parts you want to add on to him. The Jesus that Scripture gives us is a man who is first of all from Israel, a Mid-East country where people have darker skin tones. Secondly, Living Jesus is Lord and gets to tell US what to do if we are Christians, and we are supposed to actually obey. This Jesus, the only real Jesus, DID teach us to turn the other cheek. He DID tell us to love our enemies (and killing them is not loving them). He also taught us that what we do the least of these (Matthew 25) we do to him. (Deporting Jesus are we?) Jesus didn’t punch anyone. He did turn over tables. Turning over tables is not our excuse to be jerks (we’re just being like Jesus!) unless we are doing it in protest of the poor being taken advantage of. Jesus didn’t come to support an earthly (worldly) government. He brought the kingdom of heaven. He is not endorsing people for president. And, he most certainly isn’t endorsing someone who has no Christian values of any sort. The most public thing Jesus did was die. When he performed miracles, he told the witnesses not to tell others. He was not showing off his power. That wasn’t his purpose. His death was public. His humility and sacrificial love took center stage there and proved once and for all who God is. God is master, but he is also love. And love serves and gives. Love gives everything if it has to to save the object of its passion.
I want to follow a real Jesus. I want to walk in those footsteps of humble, sacrificial love, as I serve others to help bring about a just kingdom, ruled not by greedy billionaires, but by the Prince of PEACE. The Prince of Peace weeps over Jerusalem, and over us all, and says, “If only we had known the things that make for peace, but we would not have it…”
Lord Jesus, be lord again of all of us who have blindly followed the wrong Jesus. Forgive us, master, savior, merciful one, for our lack of mercy, our stubborn certainty, our embrace of evil and our lack of love. Restore a right picture in us of who you are. Don’t let us exchange the beauty of your reality for something made in a campaign headquarters. Forgive us for sullying your name and presenting such a false picture of who you are. Lord, I pray for our world, let us love it like you do. Don’t let us remain puffed up in our own pride. We pray in Jesus’ name – Amen.