Jesus & the Reign of God
As a Christian pastor, I find that for many people in church Jesus and salvation can cause a lot of anxiety.
Many of the churchgoers I know prefer to think of God as God and not get Jesus mixed up in it. There are a lot of reasons that this happens. One of the big ones is the notion that Jesus is the Christian gatekeeper to heaven and salvation. This theology, popular among most fundamentalists and evangelicals, is that if you don't "believe in" Jesus in exactly the way they interpret that you must, then you're bound for hell and eternal damnation. People get terribly afraid that if they let Jesus into their hearts and begin to follow Christ, that they too will have to stand guard at the Heavenly Gate, bar the doors, and toss out the riffraff.
I have often heard church folks say things like, "What about my Jewish friends? If they don't believe in Jesus, are they going to hell? Jesus just seems so exclusive. God includes us all. I think I'm Unitarian!" Well, there's nothing wrong with being Unitarian, and seeing that the United Church of Christ has many congregations which belong to both the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association, I think it's safe to say that it's OK to explore unitarianism in a UCC congregation. We'll just also explore trinitarianism and try to imagine Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, fully human and fully divine, crucified and resurrected.
I love reading about Jesus' miracles in the Gospels. People aren't coming to Jesus because they believe that Jesus is the guardian to the gate Heaven that they must appease. They're not coming to Jesus because they believe that he's fully divine. They're not even coming to him necessarily believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Instead, people come to Jesus simply believing that he has the ability to heal them and the ones they love. And when they have received healing, Jesus tells them that it is their faith that has healed them. What if we allowed ourselves to meet Jesus the same way? What if we sought out what Jesus has to offer? And what if we listened to what Jesus had to say about it, letting go of the expectation that we must first determine who Jesus is? Come to meet Jesus first.
You may meet Jesus in prayer or in worship. You may meet Jesus in good work or good art. You may meet Jesus in broad community or in an intense relationship with one other person. You may meet Jesus in devotional writing or in scholarly works. You may find yourself agreeing with Jesus. You may find yourself arguing Jesus. You may find yourself falling in love with Jesus. Falling for Jesus doesn't mean that you'll be asked to damn the world, in my experience. Instead, falling for Jesus will mean that you'll be asked to heal the world.
What if Jesus was a universally offered entryway into loving God and neighbor more fully, rather than the bouncer at the one door to heaven?
Following on the post What is God, I offer below a section of my ordination paper on Jesus - my Christology and soteriology. It seems relevant to all of this and I keep coming back to it to remind me of my faith and my commitments.
For me, as a Christian, Jesus is a tangible access point into the great Mystery. Jesus has saved me by showing me the Way. His is the way of the servant. He does not sit at the table, but he serves the table. He knocks at the door and asks leave to enter. He washes feet. He eats with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. He dwells with, organizes, heals, and empowers the last, the least, and the lost. I believe that all those who choose to engage Jesus’ message and walk his way, at any level, enter into relationship with the Resurrected Christ, who listens, learns, adapts, and continually offers “living water” – new possibilities for relationship, transformation, and liberation – to those who seek it.
Jesus preached the coming of the Reign of God. The Way to the Reign of God was through the low, the small, the poor, and the meek. Jesus said that the Reign of God is like yeast (a fungus). A few scrapings of yeast off wheat spoiled in storage could leaven 60 pounds of flour. It is like the tiniest mustard seed which dropped in a field becomes a great tree that takes the field away and gives it to the birds. It is the blessing, the possession, and the banquet feast of the poor. Jesus proclaimed that the Reign of God is at hand while also living a life of action as a servant, organizer, rabbi, and healer. If we are to be followers of Jesus, we must be people of the Reign. People of the Reign are invited to take faith that the Reign of God is already here within and among us while also acting upon the faith that the Reign of God has not yet arrived and must be worked for! When Jesus says the Reign of God is “at hand” it suggests this tension of Here! and Not Yet! The Reign of God is imminent – about to happen – and immanent – here already amongst us and everywhere. Jesus models for us the Way – to live as if the Reign of God is already here as we work to usher it in through service to God and neighbor.
Jesus has saved me by offering me the Way. Jesus has saved me through his life. Jesus’ death also has a great deal of meaning, as his death is intimately linked to the way he lived his life and the way in which he worked for the Reign of God. Jesus was crucified for standing up to the greatest political, religious, and economic forces of his time. He flipped the tables of Temple money changers, healed on the Sabbath, and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in joyful mockery of Roman parades and imperialism. Jesus understood that in order to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and to let the oppressed go free he had to commit himself totally to the Reign of God and stand up against the idolatry, injustice, hypocrisy, and selfish power at work in the world. Jesus knew it was a risky commitment and, indeed, Rome crucified him for it.
Jesus lived and taught love. He even died with love and remembered love from the cross. My faith tells me that Jesus’ love which flowed out of his whole life and death was healing to the world. His love continues to heal the world today. Great love and great sacrifice can mend tears in the fabric of human life and history – they can reverse the pain and power of violence, oppression, and hatred. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection could be said to atone for the sins of the world in this way – through the outpouring of selfless love and committed service to others that flowed through Jesus throughout the course of his life, even unto death, and beyond the grave into his resurrected glory. All of us who follow Jesus as people of the Reign and participate in his love and work continue with the Resurrected Christ the process of mending and healing the world today.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations