Sermon 4: Jesus as “The Son of Man”
by Glen Stoudt on August 25, 2013
Today we hear two readings from over 200 different passages in the Bible where reference is made to the name “Son of Man.” There is very little consensus among scholars as to the source and meaning of the name throughout Jewish and Christian scriptures. Yet as the name suggests, it contemplates the essence of humanity; and as you will hear in our first reading, “Son of Man” is actually translated in the New Revised Standard Version here as “human being.” Reading in the Jewish scriptures from Daniel 7, verses 13 and 14, we hear an inspired dream of the prophet Daniel:
13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
It appears that Jesus paraphrases this reading from Daniel when he is on trial before the Jewish High Priest. Reading the Christian scriptures, from the Gospel of Mark 14, verses 60 to 62, we hear the response of Jesus:
60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”
May the Spirit of the Son of Man capture your imagination today, and inspire you to a life of faithfulness as you love and serve others following Jesus’ way.
My mother is proud of me … at least I’m pretty sure she is, most of the time I think. Still, over the years I’ve heard her lament, often in a teasing way, that she’s only known as “Glen’s mother” … especially when she’s telling me that she met so-and-so at some church function who, when they hear her last name, say, “Oh, you must be Glen’s mother.”
But the joke has a slightly rough edge to it; I feel some of her regret over the years, of not always being known for her own gifts and accomplishments, and only by association. I like to tell her about those times when people have come up to me and, when they hear my last name, say, “Oh you must be Ruth’s son.” She just shakes her head and smiles.
The Child of Ruth … of all the names I might be known, I am the Child of Ruth … and we share certain qualities and traits as a result. But I wonder what it would mean if I referred to myself as “the Child of Ruth” rather than the pronouns I and me. The Child of Ruth likes his coffee black. Many afternoons you’ll find the Child of Ruth at the gym. The Child of Ruth enjoys bible study. Could the Child of Ruth drop by for a visit? Feels awkward, doesn’t it … and you’d probably be wondering “Why does he do that?”
That’s the dilemma we face with this morning’s name for Jesus. What’s the reason for Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man in the gospels – 81 times throughout all four gospels? … And perhaps more importantly, what will we embrace as good news from this name to carry with us as we strive to live faithfully this week? Our two readings point to one possibility … when Jesus quotes from the Jewish scriptures while being cross-examined by the High Priest during his trial, he points to the glory and power of God that he anticipates in resurrection. It’s not clear if that’s Jesus’ perspective or the gospel-writer’s, but in either case, it reflects a core belief of our Christian faith, that death is not the final word. Human beings do not have to fear death. And the Son of Man bears witness to that.
Some other gospel themes include the suffering (Mt. 17:12), betrayal (Mt. 17:22), and condemnation (Mt. 20:18) the Son of Man endures … and I’m reassured by Jesus’ capacity to face these harshest of human realities and emerge with his faith in our loving God alive … bruised perhaps, but not broken. When we suffer, feel betrayed, and are unfairly criticized, I recognize the presence of the Son of Man among us – a faith alive!
But of all the themes connected to the Son of Man in the gospels, I am attracted to stories of Jesus’ relationships, and the down-to-earth qualities that emerge as ones we share in common with Jesus and each other.
I love the story of the disciples arguing with each other about who’s the best, and Jesus saying that’s what selfish, arrogant people do, but not you, please … if you want to live best then you will serve others in love, because “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life for many.” (Mk. 10:45) We share this in common with Jesus and each other.
I’m moved by the story of a paralyzed person who comes to Jesus to be healed, and Jesus offers God’s forgiveness … people are outraged … no one can forgive sins except God … and so Jesus turns to them and says, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive,” and then he turns back to the paralytic, “stand up, take your bed, and go home.” (Lk. 5:24) We share this in common with Jesus and each other … offering God’s forgiveness can heal broken lives.
I’m inspired by Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus the tax-collector … Jesus embraces him as a friend and brother, which changes his life forever … to which Jesus concludes, “Today salvation has come to this house … for the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10) We share this in common with Jesus and each other … opening our lives to those we reject is redemptive for both.
And my personal favourite … when Jesus is criticized for not being as holy as John the Baptist, he observed: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘he has a demon.’ The Son of Man comes eating and drinking, and they say, ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of sinners.’” (Mt. 11:18) We share this in common with Jesus and each other … this human life is created to be enjoyed, appreciated, and shared … when we do, with God’s love and respect, we discover abundant living.
As you heard in the Daniel reading, one trend among modern translators is to use the name, “the Human One” instead of the Son of Man. I appreciate the intent because it helps me embrace the essential humanity of Jesus, this Godly life discovered in fully human terms. I’m not completely sure about how Jesus is fully divine (as our historic creed profess), but the sacred potential of the Human One is portrayed for us as something we share in common. However it is that Jesus and God are one, we are offered that blessing, that gift, that power, that grace with Jesus. And with the Human One, when we offer it lovingly to others, we participate in God’s saving act.
We often say that Jesus is what God’s love looks like when it is lived in human life. In the actions of the Son of Man, “we see the primacy of God’s commitment to the neglected ones,” and when we advocate for those excluded in our world we carry on the ministry of the Human One. In the compassion of the Son of Man for the least and lost among us, “we become aware of God’s love for all,” responding with “respect and care for the entire creation” as full partners with the Human One. In the teachings of the Son of Man, “we hear God’s challenge to every human convention, every status quo,” and God’s invitation to a fully human life that is “more than we have, more than we can ask for, and even more than we can image” … to become fully human ones in the Spirit of Christ. *
Back in the early years of this century, I was obsessed with a TV show called Joan of Arcadia … about God appearing to this teenage girl in a different human being every week… always surprising her, always encouraging her, always daring her to engage in life fully and completely. And I can still hear the theme song for the show … and it still humbles me:
If God had a name, what would it be? And would you call it to his face, if you were faced with Him in all His glory? What would you ask if you had just one question?
What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus trying to make His way home? (Joan Osborn)
The Son of Man is one of us, and with him we’re just trying to make our way home.
May the Spirit of the Human One capture your imagination today and inspire you to a life of faithfulness this week.
* These quotations are from What Progressive Christians Believe by Delwin Brown, p. 39.
Sermon 3: Jesus as the “Prince of Peace”
by Glen Stoudt on August 18, 2013
Today we explore the name, ‘Prince of Peace,’ and how it has shaped one of the most beloved qualities of Jesus’ life and message – the peace that surpasses all understanding. The name itself is only mentioned once in the entire Bible, in the Jewish scriptures many people call the Old Testament. But it has become a compelling way Christians think and talk about Jesus. This first reading is from the prophet Isaiah, and is read every Christmas Eve in many churches around the world, including here, as a way of encouraging us to anticipate the blessing of “peace with justice” that comes in the birth of Jesus. From Isaiah 9, verses 2, 6 and 7, we hear:
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
There are many places in the Christian Scriptures, commonly known as the New Testament, that honour Jesus’ identity as the ‘Prince of Peace.’ In a later teaching of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of Luke, the Prince of Peace anticipates a time when he will no longer be physically among his followers. He comforts and encourages his friends with this promise. Reading from Luke 14, verses 25 through 27 we hear Jesus speak:
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
May the encouragement of the Prince of Peace guide your thoughts and lives.
Throughout Christian history followers of Jesus have been fascinated by his honest appraisal of our calling to become “peacemakers,” like he taught early on in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you peacemakers, for you will be called children of God.” But with Jesus, it was always more than just talking about peace, it also included living as an example by embodying peaceful relations in his everyday life, and especially becoming a source of peacefulness for those who trust him. This is why the name Prince of Peace works for Jesus – as God’s ambassador for peace “with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore,” (as Isaiah promises) Jesus is where we turn when darkness and desperation, when intolerance and hatred, when injustice and war overwhelm us. We turn to the Prince of Peace because we need a blessing. But of course, as Jesus teaches, we will be blessed when we practice peacemaking – so it is with this “peace that surpasses all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7) in order to receive Jesus’ blessing we are invited to actively partner with Jesus in sharing it.
One other observation of Jesus’ honesty about peaceful living – it’s never simply either/or – either I’m at peace or I’m in inner turmoil (one or the other); either you and I are at peace or we’re arguing; either the world’s at peace or we’re embroiled in war. For Jesus, it seems, peace is not really so much the absence of war, or of hatred, or desperation, as it is the sacred power available to believers in order to lovingly address those life-destroying realities. The peace that Jesus gives is more than just the goal or destination; it is God’s way of transforming brokenness in our personal lives, in our relationships, and in our world. And each of us is an active partner with the Prince of Peace in this ministry … we are Christ’s peace-ambassadors, peace-bearers, peace-partners in the face of so much brokenness. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me,” as the old song goes.
For us, as Christ’s peace-partners, the roots of this ministry are found in the Hebrew word, “Shalom.” Although most often translated “peace,” it has a rich and broad meaning among the people of God that includes ideals like wholeness and completeness, well-being and balance, rest and restoration. It carries with it the idea that this is what God intends, what God imagines for all people and the whole earth. And in that way, it’s what Jesus was pointing to every time he talked about the “Kingdom of God” … a time and a place when all will be well – Shalom. This hopeful yearning of Jesus inspired his followers to carry that Spirit of Shalom into every day, every task, every situation, every struggle; and the same is true today – Christ’s Spirit of Peace holds the power to transform your life’s difficulties.
When I think about how I experience the hopefulness of the Prince of Peace in my everyday life I feel its touch on different levels or planes. On a personal level, I experience peace internally as a deep longing for serenity in my soul and harmony with God’s goodness. We all experience moments of darkness, desperation, and self-doubt from time to time – this inner peace feels like receiving a gift from God in the midst of life’s turbulence. It’s not that the struggle disappears, but I am aware of a presence that helps balance my soul and brings perspective to my life. The peace of Christ encourages me, “Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Luke 14:27)
On a relationship level, I experience peace outwardly as a deep longing for wholeness in my personal relationships and God’s promise of forgiveness and reconciliation with others. We all experience some tension and anger in relationships from time to time, and sometimes even feelings of hatred and rejection – but having welcomed God’s offer of forgiveness in my own life, the Prince of Peace now challenges me to extend that grace as his peace-partner. There’s a story in John’s Gospel (20:21-23) of Jesus after his resurrection appearing to his followers. He says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive others they’re forgiven; if you don’t they’re not.” The peace of Christ encourages me to imagine ways my forgiving others can help transform the broken relationships in my world.
On a global level, I experience peace politically as a deep longing for justice for the world’s disenfranchised who are just as much children of God as I am. We all witness the injustices that the powerful have imposed on innocent people around the world – slavery, poverty, exploitation, genocide, war – but what can I possibly do to identify with those who cannot stand up for themselves? A few years ago I heard about a group called Fellowship of Reconciliation, which has been “working for peace and justice since 1915.” This faith-based global community is committed to work toward a “just and peaceful world community, with full dignity and freedom for every human being.” As I read again the Isaiah passage which gives Jesus the name, Prince of Peace, I realized I needed to revisit my meagre connection to this larger work of peace on this planet. So as it approaches its 100th Anniversary of ministry, I’m going to take a closer look at Fellowship of Reconciliation to see how Christ might be drawing me forward into new way of using whatever influence I may have on behalf of those who have none. Anyone interested? I could use a few peace-partners to keep me accountable. Because that’s the way peace works at a global level … it seeks faithful people to partner with each other and with the Prince of Peace to “Imagine …
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.”
The gospel according to John … Lennon.
Sermon 2: Jesus as the “Great Physician”
by Molly Bell on August 11, 2013
When Glen and I were preparing for this sermon series, what we first did was brainstorm a list of names for Jesus. While our Summer Online Bible Study has since added considerably to this list, we next chose the images that spoke to us to be the topics for the sermons we each would preach this month. I was surprised at how the image of Jesus as the Great Physician jumped out at me, and so I claimed it as a topic for my Sunday in this series. I suppose Jesus as a healer has intrigued me partly because my twin sister is a doctor. As adamantly as I believe I was called by God to be a minister, she believes she was called by God to be a physician. We used to joke that we could set up shop beside each other – that when she had a difficult diagnosis to give a patient she could tell them “I have good news and bad news – the bad news is you have a terminal illness. The good news is my sister is a minister next door.” Through her I have learned so much about her vocation, and together we have come to see that while she is a little more, well, hands on, in the practice of her craft, that our vocations share many things in common – the precious trust offered to us by those in our care, the need to approach each situation as unique, the difference – for better and for worse – that our words can make in people’s lives, the fragility and preciousness of human life. Indeed, while there have been innumerable advances in technology, medicine and faith remain intertwined in ways that encourage and challenge us today as much as they did two thousand years ago.
The image of Jesus as a physician or healer is so pervasive in the story of his life and so essential to Jesus’ mission that it is hard for us to understand him apart from it. Healing those with leprosy, curing the haemorrhaging woman, restoring sight to the man born blind, making the paralyzed man walk again – this is the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. And yet, even with such emphasis on his role as a healer, the reality is that there are only two times in Scripture that Jesus actually refers to himself as “physician” or “doctor” – once in the sense of “spiritual healer” and once in the sense of “physical healer.”
In Mark’s gospel we meet the spiritual healer, when Jesus’ opponents had once again attacked him for having unsavory characters such as tax collectors and “sinners” among his disciples. Jesus reminded them that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
It’s in the gospel of Luke, who was thought to be a physician himself that we meet Jesus the physical healer, in the story Cindy read for us a few moments ago. During his first sermon in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus anticipated the possessive nature of the crowd when he challenged them saying “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'”
With these two instances being the only times Jesus actually refers to his role as physician, we are therefore left to base our understandings of Jesus as the Great Physician almost solely on the pervasive stories of healing witnessed to in the gospels. While there certainly were medical practitioners in Palestine at the time of Jesus, it’s interesting that the crowds seemed instinctively to turn to Jesus with their ailments. And Jesus himself seemed to place incredible attention on the healing aspect of his ministry – he was consumed by encounters with people who were sick, blind, lame, deaf, leprous, paralyzed or mentally ill. Different from the work of traditional medical practitioners, we, like the people of first-century Palestine, understand that Jesus’ healing ministry was nothing short of miraculous.
And I think this is what both intrigues and frightens be about the power of Jesus as the Great Physician.
One of the things that really struck me this week as I was reading different healing stories of Jesus, is just how small a piece of the story that we actually get to be party to when we read Scripture. While, as readers of the gospel, we are witness to these many miraculous healings performed by Jesus, we miss out on all that let up to that moment of encounter, as well as all that transpired once Jesus had left the scene.What was it that brought those people to that place at that time? Who else was in the crowds? What was it about those particular people that caused Jesus to see them amidst the sea of need? What was the impact of their healing on their lives? These are all questions that are left for us to ponder ourselves. And I can’t help but wonder if we might see things differently if we were privy to the whole story. It’s not that I mean to cast a shadow of disbelief on what took place – it’s just that I can’t help but think that as incredible as it is to learn of the blind regaining sight, the paralysed gaining mobility, the mute being able to speak again, how must have it felt for person in the crowd who had a wife bedridden at home to watch that healing and wonder “what about me?”. Or how the raising of Jairus’ daughter was experienced by the woman in the crowd who had lost child after child to stillbirths?
Why even two thousand years later processing these healing stories are tricky things…because hearing a story of cure from illness can feel awfully difficult to the faithful Christian who is diagnosed with terminal cancer.And stories of freedom from disease bring more questions than answers to the family sitting with a child in intensive care as the patient in the next bed makes what doctors call a “miraculous recovery”. And I can tell you tales of miracles bring little comfort to the minister who has been trying to conceive for a decade while watching friends give birth to their third and fourth children.
Now please don’t get me wrong in thinking that I want to discount these healing stories or the role that Jesus has to play in our well-being – physical and otherwise. This week I read stories both from our congregation and from other sources about the healing abilities of Jesus as experienced in real people’s lives – and they are moving and honest accounts of the power of faith and prayer and God at work in the world. Each of us know people who can directly see the hand of God at work in their physical recovery from illness; each of us know those who attribute their health to the healing granted by Jesus, the Great Physician. What a blessing that gift is to those who experience it – and those instances of healing and recovery are to be celebrated and uplifted.
However, when we are the ones who are not the recipients of these “miracles” it is easy, too easy, for us to deem ourselves less-faithful or less loved by God because of our ailments. It is all too common for us to offer to God in prayer a grocery list of our aches, pains and illnesses, believing that the only way our prayers will be answered is by full and complete physical healing accomplished quickly and neatly by God. But perhaps the most dangerous of all possibilities, is that when we don’t see these miracle healings happening in our lives, we begin to understand our illnesses as tragedies as some kind of divine punishment. If God could make me better, and God is not making me better, then God must be the one responsible for making me sick in the first place – I must deserve it. And there is nothing that pains this minister’s heart more than hearing someone lament “if only I had prayed harder…if only I had believed more…if only I had been more faithful…then God would have sent a miracle cure.”
For these reasons, I think it is imperative that when we think of Jesus as the Great Physician, we need to take note of just what Jesus actually did in these healing stories. Jesus understood sickness as not simply a biological or physical phenomenon – he understood the way it touches every level of our existence as a human being: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. What Jesus did through his touch was more than send healing power into sick bodies – he cut through barriers of isolation and offered compassion and solidarity to those who were suffering. Jesus broke down walls of alienation and centuries of prejudice by the simple but powerful gesture of reaching out and touching the body of the leper, the unclean, the women, the sick. In his deliberate actions, Jesus let these people feel loved and worthy. He affirmed their value as human beings, and as beloved children of God.
Jesus was indeed a healer of his time. But instead of prescribing herbs and spices, hot compresses and bed rest, he told stories with power to mend broken lives and revive faint hearts. Instead of pills and potions, he carried words in his black bag, words like “Weep no more,” “Do not be afraid,” “Your sins are forgiven,” “Stand up and walk.” Jesus’ medicine was gospel, was good news medicine – medicine that works, strangely enough, through the power of words.
Jesus’ ministry with the poor, the prisoners, the blind and broken victims was first and foremost a ministry of words. Jesus had been anointed to preach, to proclaim the good news of release, recovery, sight, liberty. And while he accomplished all of those things before his time living his earthly life was through, from the beginning, his ministry was not a ministry of doing but a ministry of saying – what God had done, what God was doing, what God would yet do. Everything that happened in Jesus’ ministry – including his ministry of healing – happened after that proclamation. It was in the speaking of God’s word that the world began. What Jesus the Great Physician reminds us is that in using the strong medicine of the gospel, in continuing to proclaim the good news, the world and all who are in it continue to be nourished and healed and strengthened.
And for me, that is where the power of the healing stories of Jesus lie – not in the fact that certain people were and still are cured of their particular ailments – but that after two thousand years, people are continuing to hear these stories of Jesus, and in the hearing of them, are leading changed lives. The miracle of these healing stories is not that individuals were cured of illnesses – but that whatever took place in that encounter was so powerful, so inspiring, so moving that it was not lost to the winds of time. Instead of being forgotten, the moments were gathered up and set down in writing so that parents could tell them to their children and teachers to their students, so that friends could tell strangers and those who were nearby could tell those who were far off, so that others could tell others who told others until everyone, finally, even those of us sitting here this morning, had heard the good news of God in Christ.
Sure, on the one hand, the gospel is just a bunch of words: “Weep no more,” “Do not be afraid,” “Your sins are forgiven,” “Stand up and walk.” They are just words, and prescribing them to an ailing world seems as futile as putting a bandage on a broken bone or an aspirin in the hands of someone who is dying. But when we, two thousand years later, proclaim these words as gospel, we say more: we say that they are words that belong to our Great Physician, and that every time we speak them he is present with us, speaking them with us, speaking them through us, so that we never speak them alone, and they never come back empty. As was witnessed by those around Jesus, we too know that the words effect what they proclaim: they dry tears, they quench fears, they forgive sins, they heal souls, they make true the good news of God in Christ every time we speak them. May Jesus, our Great Physician, continue to speak his healing gospel in our lives, today, and every day.
Sermon 1: Jesus as the “Lamb of God”
by Glen Stoudt on August 4, 2013
Early last Spring, when Molly and I discussed what we would do for our Summer Sermon Series, OUC’s Worship Committee suggested preaching on other names by which Jesus is known. We agreed it was a good idea, but there’re a lot of them. In just one week, when we asked SOBS to suggest favourite names of Jesus, we came up with more than 2 dozen, and I’m sure we’re not finished yet. So what four to preach on? We decided to pick some of the less considered names which carry meanings that have been formative in our Christian beliefs, even if they might not be the most familiar.
This morning, we begin with The Lamb of God. It appears only twice in the Bible, both times in the 1st chapter of John’s Gospel, and has been artistically represented since before the Middle Ages as a lamb with a halo carrying a flag with a cross on it. Whether it is familiar to you or not, this name has shaped the way Christians talk about forgiveness and salvation for a long time – in particular the idea that Jesus died to save us from our sins through what theologians call “atonement.”
Our reading this morning is from John 1:29-34.
29 The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
May God bless our reflection on these sacred words.
We begin by acknowledging this central claim of the Christian faith – that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are at the heart of what inspires us believers to live faithfully as followers of Jesus. And one of the ways the early church interpreted this was in relation to the ancient Jewish Temple ritual of animal sacrifice (often young, unspoiled lambs) as the way of satisfying God’s displeasure with human sin. Add to this a cultural memory of God’s great act of salvation from slavery in Egypt, set in motion by Moses’ instruction for the Hebrew faithful to sacrifice a lamb and paint their door posts with its blood so death would “pass over” them, and it’s not surprising how Jesus (who happened to die at Passover time) began to be seen in these sacrificial ways. Our reading today is a good example. The 1st Century Christian community that gave us the Gospel of John uploaded this image of the Lamb of God to the very beginning of the story of Jesus. But is sacrificial death the only possible interpretation? That’s the question we posed to SOBS.
Of course we did talk about the power of atonement from human sin, especially for those whose primary burden in life is living with the powerlessness, guilt and condemnation they feel in the face of their sinfulness. (Both Andrew and Pat helped frame the Christian church’s focus both historically and theologically.) But, what if that’s not the primary burden in your life, personally? What if you are being overwhelmed with suffering rather than sin, or agonizing over the ache of meaninglessness in life, or feeling separated from God’s goodness, or struggling with some undeserved injustice – how is God’s loving atonement offered to you? (These other “burdens” or “needs” are alluded to in W. Paul Jones’ 1989 book, Theological Worlds.) And that’s what we discovered in our Bible study – there may be other possibilities to experiencing the Lamb of God, alongside of Jesus’ dying to save us from sin, broadening the spectrum of interpretation to make room for other experiences in life, and making the metaphor meaningful in more than one way.
Early last week Dianne wrote, “I’ve always thought of this figuratively: the lamb is young (childlike) and pure (Godlike) … I prefer a Christmas lamb rather than an Easter one.” Young and pure … what if that’s what John the Baptist saw as Jesus was coming toward him – a youthful, untarnished expression of God’s love, right there, who stands among all humans to share it without judgment or condemnation? What if the Baptist sees God’s Spirit all around Jesus, in him, with him, through him, offering a baptism of the Holy Spirit, not just the water of repentance and forgiveness that he was offering, but the Spirit of renewal and wholeness in God’s love?
Then the next day, Cathy expanded the conversation: “I also see the Lamb of God as a symbol of gentleness and innocence, trusting its shepherd and following faithfully. If atonement means reconciliation, maybe Jesus came to reconcile us to God by demonstrating faithful followership of God … even if that ultimately led to his death.” Gentle and innocent … I was reminded of Jesus’ intimate relationship he felt with the Holy One whom he often calls “Daddy.” And that intimacy makes me wonder whether the Spirit which the Baptist saw as Jesus approached him, reflected God’s gentle and innocent desire for reconciliation in our relationship rather than some legalistic demand to have a debt paid before forgiveness was possible.
Both Ethel and Heather expanded the possibilities along the line of the Lamb of God reflecting human faithfulness – Ethel through the lens of “self-sacrifice” suggesting that Jesus “remained true to the message he had lived even with the inescapable risks that go with proclaiming God’s love.” And Heather added, “Sheep follow their master with complete trust and would walk over the edge of a cliff if the Shepherd was leading the way. So Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would be innocent of legalistic ways of ‘obeying God,’ but trusting, loving, and following God with complete assurance that God’s way was righteous” – the quintessential follower of God’s way. The Lamb of God becomes our model for “self-sacrifice,” not because it’s required but because it’s how God’s love actually works; and becomes our encouragement for “obedience,” not because it’s demanded but because obeying true love brings new life to you and to all.
Which brings us to a fifth perspective on the Lamb of God, from Karen, who wrote, “While in Scotland recently I had the opportunity to feed lambs with a bottle of milk. I was taken aback by the power of their sucking. So for me, the Lamb of God suggests power, potential and hunger for life, Christ’s driving desire that all creation enjoy abundant living.” I recognize this hunger for a fuller, richer life with God and each other – and this hunger of the Lamb of God is a helpful metaphor as we prepare for Communion. What we hunger for is more than food for the body; we yearn for a more intimate relationship with God, for forgiveness and new beginnings, for a renewed sense of sharing God’s love in our world, for faithfully following God and sacrificially loving others, for reconciliation and spiritual communion.
So, who is the Lamb of God for you? Perhaps it’s more than a single reality. The Lamb of God can represent any heartfelt yearning you have to experience God’s grace, and hopefully the deepest need you bring to this time of Holy Communion. Pray your need will be met, and trust the Lamb who promises God’s intimate presence.
Just as I am … O Lamb of God, I come.