I have a secret
and like all secrets,
it is a great burden to me.
But let me back up.
We all know well, that
and all “Church”
get lumped together
with all the stuff that is bad about religion,
and Jesus is the Poster Child for all of it.
The wardens and I had a vigorous discussion
at our recent monthly meeting, related
to this very subject.
The issue was whether or not,
to camouflage the chancel of the chapel next door,
for public events in which
people would be more comfortable
forgetting they were in a religious space –
you know, like a wedding reception
or a business retreat.
It was immediately an emotional conversation.
It was as if we were talking about
whether or not to bow down to Caesar
because, if we didn’t,
we would be thrown to the lions.
Is camouflaging the nature of the space,
to benefit those who are not religious,
a denial or shaming of who we are?
That was the tension created by the idea of temporarily
camouflaging the space.
It was a question
that found no resolution,
even among only three of us.
Which struck me as a little ironic,
because every Sunday evening
I move that big brass cross up there,
out of the center of this chancel
and into the shadows,
is not a specifically Christian worship –
it is not non-Christian
it is just not specifically Christian.
I suspect if we started talking about camouflaging the Church chancel it right here
it would evoke a very vigorous discussion as well.
and my burden,
is directly related to this issue.
In fact, just to get very personal for a moment,
if you were to ask me why I felt called to be a priest,
and I prefer that you don’t,
I would tell you –
if it was at a moment
I wanted to be clear and straightforward,
which I do not always want to be –
that I was called to be a priest
whose primary place
was OUT on the walk in FRONT of the Church
not at the altar IN the Church.
In other words,
from the beginning,
that I was to be a kind of ombudsman
between those outside the church
and those inside the church.
Little did I know at the time,
that the ‘dominant culture’ would become
so that my place and calling
would put me way ahead of where
The Episcopal Church would be forced to go.
All of which gets back to my secret,
and my burden:
Jesus is my burden,
because he is my secret.
See that image up there
in the middle window?
(Lorene, I am going to talk about the windows).
and wearing a white robe,
and he looks like he’s ready for a hug.
Sometimes it looks like he is ready to give a hug,
and sometimes he looks like
he really needs a hug.
hat, by the way,
is called Projection.
It is what we do.
It is what Linda Pastan’s poem points to
when she declares that, “we invent our gods.”
Of course we invent our gods,
but just because you are paranoid
does not means
someone is not really following you!
Those five windows up there
appear to me as gorgeous in spite of the imagery.
Mostly I am repulsed by Christian art
because of its sappy, maudlin
and Westernized version
of Semitic Bible stories.
Generally, Christian art depicts
overly sentimentalized caricatures
of prophets and events
and I wish it would just go away.
But even though I am repulsed
by La Farge’s cartoon theology,
the colors and depth of those windows up there,
can actually, sometimes,
overwhelm and transform my critique
Plus, if you look closely,
you will find Taoist and Buddhist yin-yang symbols
at the apex of each window.
La Farge spent a year in Japan
before making those windows,
and the yin-yang icons are a wonderful reflection
of Trinity’s historic pluralism.
So the beauty of the glass-work
and the many small,
hidden details in each panel,
redeem the otherwise
at least in my twisted mind.
But back to my secret.
Jesus is my secret
because most people
who are uncomfortable with religion and church,
would be surprised to discover
my true passion for Jesus.
And that is why it is also my burden.
Some of you may even share
and this burden with me.
It is always a burden
to love something
that other people despise
It is always a burden
to love something
that other people
and exploited for their own purposes.
It is always a burden
when love is hidden
for fear of exposure,
because it gets cramped
and there seems no good way to express it.
When there is no way
to let love out of its box
and so enjoy it,
it is reduced to a private whisper,
and over time,
But there is just no easy way
to talk out loud about Jesus
with people who have a knee-jerk reaction
And, there is no easy way to even
talk out loud about Jesus
with people who believe in Jesus,
if they happen to believe
that THEIR Jesus
is “the one and only” Jesus.
it is not even easy to talk to YOU about Jesus,
not even from the safety of this distance up here.
Because if I really pull the plug,
and if I really started talking about what I know,
or think I know about Jesus,
it is going to make an ugly noise
when it crashes into what you know,
or think you know,
about that white guy up there in the window.
And you did not come here
for that kind of confrontation.
Most people, or so I am told,
come to church for community,
for a sense of belonging,
for nurture and calm and support
as they go about starting up a new week.
That makes sense.
Who doesn’t need that stuff –
why else depict Jesus as the Big Hugger in the Sky?
But that is not the Jesus I know
as I read the Gospel stories about him.
Take just one little example that I have used before,
but that is such low-hanging fruit:
Jesus’ relationship with his mom.
Think of all the stained glass windows
and paintings you have ever seen
of Jesus and Mary.
For one thing, Mary is perpetually young,
and Jesus is perpetually middle-aged
(and in fact, at age 33
he would have actually been
almost old in those days).
But in classical Christian art
they are depicted
as a loving couple.
if you didn’t know the story,
it would be easy to think
they were a romantic couple
rather than mother and son.
But here is the clincher.
When we read the actual Gospel stories,
Mary is an exceptionally marginal figure –
a minor character,
an extra in the crowd.
And in those rare scenes
in which Jesus actually says something to her,
he usually calls her, “woman.”
As in, “Woman, what have you to do with me?”
At one point,
chapter three of Mark, I think,
Mary brings her other sons,
and her daughters…
to kidnap Jesus and take him home
because they think he is crazy –
they actually think he is possessed.
When I came to realize
that Jesus and his mom had a rocky relationship
rather than the sweetness depicted
in Christian art and theology,
I was really happy.
Because that made Jesus
much easier to relate to,
since my mom and I had that kind of relationship too.
See what I mean about projection?
So the secret builds.
It actually becomes a dirty little secret,
because it contains so many abrasive,
and potentially hurtful elements to it.
Jesus wasn’t white, for one thing.
I mean, look around at the Jesus’ in these windows.
Are you kidding me?
As I have said before, ever since 9/11
I have wanted hang a huge banner
from the tower facing Delaware,
one that has the face of a Middle Eastern man,
“Jesus was a Middle Easter Male. Stop Profiling!”
See what I mean,
what we think and say about Jesus
gets personal and
I do not know if the Pope or Pat Robertson
would have eaten with the actual Jesus,
because clearly a lot of religious leaders
in Jesus’ day would not eat with Jesus…
but I do know that Jesus
would have eaten with the Pope and Pat Robertson.
When I think of some of the people
Jesus would have welcomed at his table
along with you and me,
I can get a little resentment going.
It is a stone in my shoe
to know that Jesus’ open table
is open at both ends…on all ends.
It’s galling to my progressive proclivities
to be pushed by Jesus
to think about how to be more inclusive
of people who are exclusive
to me and the people I love.
While I can smile knowingly
at conservative Christians
because the Jesus I know hosted an open table,
it is harder to smile sincerely
about Jesus embracing those who build fences
against people I love,
and who say I am not Christian!
So the Jesus I see,
super-imposed over that one up there,
the La Farge one who looks like a simpleton white-guy
leaning toward a Mr. Rogers Syndrome,
- is brown
- is fierce
- is an agitator
- is a passionate advocate for those who have been marginalized
- s angry at times…even with me (maybe especially with me)
- is strong and muscular like anyone who does manual labor for a living
- is insightful, wise, clever, tricky, and not above deceit against dangerous characters for the right reason
- is passionate, humorous and someone I would hope my daughters never brought home with an announcement.
and my burden,
is that the Jesus I know
is nothing like the Jesus
who my non-church friends
think is Jesus.
But even worse,
the Jesus I know
would scare the pee out of most Church folks.
My burden is that
it is equally unlikely that I will ever
convince the non-church and church folks I meet,
that Jesus is not who they think.
What is even more burdensome,
is that as much passion as I feel for this Jesus,
it is not even my job to convince them otherwise.
and my burden
you are walking around
with the same secret
and the same burden.
If so, we are in good company.
Take a look at
that story we heard from Mark this morning.
Jesus asks a public relations question:
“What’s the latest rumor today?”
Then he asks what they think.
Peter says, “You are the Messiah.”
Which, as I have said before, means,
literally, “Oily Head.”
is translated into English
as, “Anointed One.”
The reason for that is,
the messengers of God,
whether Kings and Queens
or Prophets and Sages,
were all anointed
with holy oil
their special role in the community.
Oil marked them,
as anointed by God.
Messiah got translated into Latin, as “Christo”
and then into English, as “Christ.”
But Peter says,
“You are the Messiah.”
Clearly Peter did not mean by that,
what the early Church
and later Christian doctrine
meant by ‘Christ.’
When Jesus starts talking about what to expect,
it isn’t “the kingdom, the power and the glory”
quite naturally assumed
went along with being The Anointed One.
Being chosen by God for something
should mean power, success and fame, don’t you think?
That’s what Peter
and everyone else in their right mind thought.
I suspect that is what Jesus also thought,
at least when he first got into it.
But when we read the Gospel,
we need to remember
that all those stories
were written retrospectively.
The Gospels are told backward,
and told with all the beliefs about Jesus
that appeared a long time after his death,
So we don’t really know
what went on inside Jesus’ head,
or Peter’s for that matter.
more than one meaning of the word, “Messiah.”
And we know
for a fact,
that there were many expectations
about the Messiah,
and literally dozens of passionate beliefs
the Messiah would be
the Messiah would do.
We know for a fact,
that Jesus’ own disciples
did not agree with one another
about what “Messiah” meant
and whether or not
Jesus was the Messiah.
So we know,
that from the very beginning of this religion,
there was pluralism
about who and what Jesus was –
even among those who actually
knew and touched the man.
So we also know
that we are not stuck with John La Farge’s Jesus,
or Cam Miller’s Jesus,
or some Pope’s Jesus,
or Pat Robertson’s Jesus,
or your Jesus.
none of us should be here looking
for The Jesus,
because The Jesus
does not exist…
and never did.
is always, in part,
someone we come to know
through the filter of our own experience.
is always, in part,
a god of our own invention –
or guru of our own invention.
The Mohammad, (PBUH),
The Joseph Smith,
are all prophets, at least in part,
of our own invention.
as it must be
and as it always will be.
So the burden is,
how the heck to share a passion for Jesus,
or what he lived and taught,
with those who see Jesus
through a negative lens made dirty
in ways we would like to clean up?
I don’t know the answer exactly,
but if you share this burden –
or one something like it,
we are forming what we are calling
“Renegade Groups” to talk about it.
Actually, we are forming them
to be weekly, or so, opportunities
to discuss what gets evoked for you
in the Sunday sermon,
to deepen and enrich the experience
through conversation and community.
It is not MY Jesus
and it is not MY Sermon –
they are a shared, communal experience. Amen.