Nearly 50 years ago John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s not heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.” Although I never really like the song for many reasons, it makes me wonder: What brings you here today? Is there something you’re looking for? A golden ticket into heaven? Or simply a get out of hell free card? If there were no heaven or hell, would you still show up? Would you still chose to be a Christian?
For me, it’s not so much about losing out on some after life that makes me to follow Christ. It’s about losing out on the joys, peace and fulfillment I enjoy by following his way. After all, this kingdom Jesus ushered in is not just something we hope to be a part of after life, it’s something he invited us to live today.
Our reading for this morning strays from the lectionary text. It comes from John’s gospel. And is a summary of Jesus’ teachings that comes right after he drops the news about his death to his disciples. Reads: John 12:44-55
It’s not a stretch to say the central focus of Christianity is Christ. Christians are Christians because they follow Jesus, the Christ. The Anointed One sent to live among us and teach us how to live right with God. His way of living is so important that we’ve immortalized it as a religion, created doctrines and methods of worship to exalt him. But is that the point of following Christ? To worship him with words and songs?
It always makes Christians nervous to learn that Jesus never said, “worship me.” But here’s the thing, Jesus was theocentric; meaning he put God at the center ever everything he did. Every miracle, act of forgiveness, prayer, every word of Jesus uttered always pointed back to God. “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in the One who sent me.” Jesus is so united to God that He does not speak in His own name, only God’s.
Hundreds of years earlier, a psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
Like Jesus, and all of creation knew, everything we do ought to reveal the benevolence of God. Every word we speak and every deed we do should cause people to stop in their tracks and stand in total awe as they witness the greatness of God’s love in their midst.
To me, this is what it means to be like Christ, to take his name and be called a Christian. That is why I can say if you want to know what God looks like, then look no further than Jesus. He is the light of God’s glory in the world, illuminating God’s righteousness for all to see. That’s what light does. It exposes and reveals things that we might not be able to see without it.
Like a high-watt lightbulb in the center of the room, Jesus helps us to see and navigate the space between us and God. It’s such a powerful light that John declares darkness cannot overcome it. Jesus enlightens our hearts and illuminates our faith; exposing who God is, and what God is revealing to us.
Yet many Christians still prefer to live in the dark, or choose to keep their eyes closed to what Christ is calling them to do. They show up to church on Sunday and maybe support it financially, but as for the rest of the week ... well maybe they’ll “sprinkle a little Jesus along the way.”
That won’t suffice. We have to pour out God’s glory in all that we do. Jesus makes it very clear that the one who does not act upon his words only brings judgment on himself. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said we will be judge by way we show or don’t show love and compassion towards others. That’s it!
To a fault, Jesus remained active in the word of God, perfectly living out the Torah law by helping people and tending to their needs as God has asked us to do. If we are to claim his name as our own, then we can’t shrug off his warning to serve others.
Therefore we must make the effort to constantly move towards loving our neighbors otherwise our life is just wasted energy. And we might find ourselves in a hell of our own making instead of the heaven that Christ ushered in.
Jesus isn’t making this up to scare us into following him, or to bump up his approval rating. These are not his words, but the word of God that were given to him. Jesus trusted in God’s word so completely and lived it out so fully; making himself vulnerable, even to the point of death. He knows God’s commandments are not only real, they are eternal.
John goes so far as to describe Jesus as the Word of God. The word of God is life, and the light we are to live by. It’s in this Word, this Light, we receive grace upon grace.
So then, how does this Word speak to us today? How are we to truly live into God’s glory like Jesus the Christ?
In scripture it’s written, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is within your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27) The prophet Isaiah said, “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). And the Apostle Paul wrote, “We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesisans 2:10). And “Therefore, as we have occasion, let us do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10)
Of course, Jesus summed up all of scripture in two easy to understand steps: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. By following these two commandments we uphold all of scripture. One might say, this is the politics of Jesus likeJohn Howard Yoder once brilliantly wrote.
Yet politics aside, I can say with great confidence that wherever Jesus shows up, people see what God looks like. He is the face of God’s love that reminds us we live in a benevolent universe. In Christ, God is present in every moment – not just in the great miracles, but even in the smallest things he says and does.
With all that is going on in our streets and communities, with all the mess in our country and world, now is the time to affirm God’s glory through acts of charity and love. Now is the time to stand up for what is right and just. It is time to stand with Christ to help those crying out in pain, to take down the systems of oppression, and raise up God’s glory.
Inspired by the word of God let us “be wise in the way we act toward others. Let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). The time is now to allow the Word of God to dwell richly in us, and flow through us so freely that we, in imitation of Christ can say "I speak just as the Father has told me."
Let us go out and do good to everyone. Let us be the living embodiment of God’s glory. Jesus is our blueprint that shows us the way to live into God’s love and light so perfectly that he is able to declare, “I am the way, the truth and the light.”
To follow Christ is to faithfully follow God like he did, practicing his way of living out God’s truth and light out in the world. This is what it means to be the church. And why we gather together in his name. It doesn’t mean much to only praise his name if we do not practice what he taught.
Even the great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh realized, “We must practice living deeply, loving and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus.”
As we come together in the name of Christ, let us now go out in his name, to do good, to uphold justice, to show mercy and recognize the divine light in everyone.
Let us go out into our communities and be the visible presences of God, to love and serve one another in such a way that we can boldly declare, “whoever sees me, sees not me but the One who sent me.”
I can’t imagine a better way us to honor and worship our Lord God than this.
Christian Woman's Corner. May 1, 2020. https://christianwomenscorner.wordpress.com/tag/reading-and-reflection-from-the-gospel-of-john-1244-50/ (accessed June 19, 2020).
Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an ordinary radical. . Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, pp.101-102, 135.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead, 1995, p. 101.
Leech, Kace. Clergy Stuff. March 13, 2018. https://clergystuff.com/daily-devotions/f49ctmalvd8oktam5nhysv17co9hvk (accessed June 19, 2020).
ocarm.org. May 6, 2020. https://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-john-1244-50 (accessed June 19, 2020).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”