Year B Proper 15 Ephesians 5
Jesus: Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord?
John 6:35, 41-51
Pretty incredible isn't it? For someone to make such claims. What if, later today, you were introduced to someone and that someone said, "Hi, I am the bread that has came down from heaven." You would look at your friend who just introduced you to this person and you would say, "I'm sorry, what did he just say?" Anyone who seriously made such claims would easily be labeled a kook, a nut, certifiable.
C.S. Lewis, in his book "Mere Christianity," makes the following statement about Jesus: "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg--or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."
Throughout the book Lewis argues for the truthfulness and importance of the Christian faith. But before we go any further, let me recommend this: If you have a friend who has doubts about the Christian faith, go get this book "Mere Christianity" and give it to them. If they are honest in their doubts it will overcome many of them. In the book you will find the following idea put forth: Jesus was either a liar, lunatic, legend, or Lord.
This scene from Jesus' life (John 6:41-52) demonstrates these four possibilities. Jesus is either...
- A Liar
- A Lunatic
- A Legend
- Or a Lord
Wise, Worshipful, and Wonderfully Wayward
We used to tell these people, "Get off your high horse." I never knew what that meant literally, for they weren't on any horse, high or low. But we all knew what the expression meant.
Is there anyone more annoying, more off-putting, more "fur-rubbed-the-wrong-way," than someone who is convinced they are "better" than you? Whether they are richer, or smarter, or prettier, or stronger, there are those who love going around "on their high horse."
In junior highs and high schools "cliques" rule the world. Every possible grouping of people gets its own label. Every pack has its own indelible identity. There are "jocks" and "cheerleaders." There are "Goths" and "Geeks." There are "Nerds" and "Freaks." How ironic that it is in school - the place we are primed and prepared for the expansive possibilities of the future that everyone is so tightly pigeon-holed and securely marked.
Jesus failed to fit into any of the preconceived plans people had for a Messiah, for a Leader, for a Savior. And so did the first generations of Jesus' disciples fail to fit into any of the cultural conceptions of what was a "religion" or a "community." These "Christians" weren't Jews. These "Christians" weren't Gentiles. These Christians performed rites and rituals that sounded salacious and suspicious - what about all this drinking the blood and eating the body of a dead guy? Isn't that cannibalism? And this rhetoric about everyone loving one another? Isn't that the codeword for orgies? And these Christians kiss one another whenever they get together, regardless of social rank or color or economic status.
The truth was these Christians came together to sing and pray and talk and give thanks. When Christians "celebrated" the wine did not flow and the moral boundaries did not disappear. In a world where religious ecstasy, mysterious secret rites, and sexual excess were the "norms," these new "kids on the block," these "Christians" weren't "worse," they weren't "better." They were just really, really "different." So "different" that it was hard finding any category to place them in.
If you've survived grades 1-12, and it looks like many of you have, you know that being tagged as "different" is never a good thing. Even though Jesus tried to keep a low profile, being "different" got Jesus in big trouble with the Jewish religious hierarchy, who then quickly passed him on to the Roman political hierarchy, where he got in more trouble.
Being "different" paved Jesus' path to the cross.
Embodying Jesus' "differentness" got the first Christians in trouble too. They didn't fit within Judaism. Yet they stood completely outside the pagan, cultic traditions. The first century religious world didn't know what to do with these disciples of a crucified criminal. Eventually Judaism, which was already on the "suspect" list of the Roman Empire, chose to put its head down, "hunker-in-the-bunker" and distance itself from these Christians. Eventually Rome found Christians made excellent fall-guys and fodder for the Coliseum carnage. Christians vs. Lions was a game with a predictable out-come. But many found it fun to watch, and cities competed with one another as to who could build the biggest and best stadium where these games could take place.
How did it happen that Christians now have a "holier-than-thou," "better-than-you" reputation? Being "Christian" has never been about being "better" than others. Being "Christian" has always been about being "different." Living "differently" than the world. Seeing different solutions to the problems of humanity. Celebrating a very "different" kind of victory - a victory that starts with a death on a cross and whose end was not yet come. The gospel is less about "better" than "different." Disciples of Jesus are not just called to be "better" but to be "different." A Christian's motto might be "I beg to differ."
Being different, living different - that is the life-blood which keeps the circulation of the body alive and separated from the rest of the world, even while living in its midst. The Ephesians writer in today's text looked at three ways these Christians were "different."
First, they were wise.
Second, they were worshipful.
Third, they were wondrously wayward.