Rector’s Reflection – or 2nd Sermon
(Sometimes one just isn’t enough when the gospel is this good!)
August 23, 2015
I don’t remember the first sermon I preached here at Ascension. It would have been November 7, 2004, the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, so I could probably guess. But I’m certain that I did not grasp both sides of the pulpit, and say, “Good morning. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Had I done that, I suspect the folks in the congregation would have turned to one another and said “I’m sorry, what did she just say?” and then they would have begun looking around for the members of the search committee to ask, “What were y’all thinking?” Let’s be honest, anyone who seriously made such claims would easily be labeled as 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.”
Indeed, this far through Pentecost we’ve seen Jesus do some amazing stuff and say some puzzling things, and the things he has done and the words he has said, according to Lewis, leave us with four possible conclusions: Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, a legend, or Lord. And the bread passages in John can make the case for each!
1. Liar: At some point after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and landed in the area known as Capernaum and made it his base of operation. Jesus is no longer an unknown. They know him and his family and this is the point of contention with the leaders in the synagogue: “You are the son of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth north of here. How is it then that you say you are the bread which came down from heaven?” You cannot come from the womb of Mary and also come down from heaven. It’s one or the other, but not both.
The idea of a virgin birth was lacking in the mind of the Jewish leaders and Jesus didn’t dare get into a conversation about HOW he had ‘come from heaven.’ If they did not believe based on the miracles or the exorcisms, virgin births were out of the question. It would be too easy for them to dismiss this as another lie or a tale told by an idiot. Which brings us to…
2. Lunatic. Some of the Jewish leaders no doubt held this view. But the leaders had to be careful. Jesus was immensely popular with the people, so they instead casually suggested that he was lying. They’d hold the more serious charge of lunacy until such time as it was needed. But you can’t really blame them. Look at what Jesus claimed … “You will live forever with my bread and this bread is my flesh given for the life of the world”?! Taking these claims into consideration, if this man isn’t God then he’s a nut.
Of course we know this was a reference to the cross, but here again Jesus couldn’t go into detail. This is what the Jewish leaders couldn’t understand. Not even his disciples understood it until after the resurrection! The teaching was too new, too different. Jesus couldn’t look the Jewish leaders in the eye and say, “Oh, and by the way, what I meant by that bread thing is that y’all are going to crucify me on a cross and there will no longer be any need for the temple sacrifices, because I will be the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of the world.” Even if they understood the full meaning of his teachings, they still would have come to the same conclusion: He thinks he’s God. His lies are so farfetched that he is delusional. Which brings us to…
3. Legend. You can come to the conclusion that Jesus was a legend. Some people make the mistake of saying that Jesus never existed, but you can’t say that. He did exist. The story of his life and his teachings wasn’t concocted out of thin air. Historians agree that he existed.
What is meant by legend is that after his death, a story developed that he was resurrected. The legend grew to include his divinity, his miracles, and his powers. These stories eventually found their way into the writings called the Gospels. Jesus the divine Son of God is the myth of storytellers, not a fact of history. This is what is meant when Jesus is viewed as a legend.
We all understand legends. Consider King Arthur and the unverifiable legends that grew up around him. The problem with a similar view of Jesus, however, is at the very core of Jesus’ teachings is the message that he is divine.
Study the “I AM” sayings. They have one conclusion, that Jesus is God. Now one of two things happened here. Either Jesus said these things about himself or… the church, after his death, developed these ideas and John put them on the lips of Jesus.
But let me ask: why would the disciples, of whom John was one, commit their lives and become martyrs knowing that they had fabricated the supernatural aspects of Jesus’ life. I can understand one, maybe two of them creating a legend around their teacher, but not all of them. Not all would go to their deaths for what they knew to be fiction. Not all of them would devote their entire existence to perpetuate a lie. So we are left with…
4. Lord. The list of choices is that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, a legend, or Lord. And let me stress that these are your only choices. Left off this list are some attractive alternatives: prophet, great moral teacher, sage, philosopher, and ethicist. Why are these not on the list? It is because, as C.S. Lewis points out, Jesus has not left that option open for us. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. A great moral teacher would not call himself God. A rabbi who was merely a rabbi would not call himself Lord. We are left with one option: He is Lord.
If you call him a liar: What teachings, exactly, are lies? Love one another? If you call him a lunatic: In what way is he insane? His actions do not portray a man who is unstable. If you call him a legend: How do you know? Were you there when man walked on the moon? No. So how do you know then? Someone told you. Well, someone told me that Jesus lived. There were eyewitnesses who touched him, saw him, heard him. Are his teachings and life’s story the work of disciples who wanted to make him more than he really was? Did they give their lives for a literary ghost?
Nope. Not liar, not lunatic, not legend. He is Lord.