David A. Davis
October 3, 2021
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You won’t be surprised to know that I have a lot of conversations about Jesus. This week as I sat with these first few verses of the Letter to the Hebrews, I found myself thinking about all those conversations. Not the kind of conversations that happened at cocktail parties, or on the soccer sidelines, or on airplanes when someone found out what I did for a living. And not the conversations in classrooms or on campus or at a presbytery meeting where a candidate is being examined for ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. No, this week, as I have been pondering the Letter to the Hebrews, pondering “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being”, I have been recalling the really important, deeply felt, intellectually challenging, honestly searching, lifegiving and life-forming, one on one foundational kind of conversations I have again and again about Jesus.
Conversation I have with you. About belief. About resurrection. About miracles. About divinity. About the heavenly Christ. About Trinity. About Jesus in a multi-faith world. About a relationship with Jesus lost, a relationship found. Over the years, those conversations about Jesus have led me to believe that the church has done a disservice to you. Not Nassau Church in particular but the church tradition. Because over and over again in those conversations, I speak with folks who have been led to believe that they are the only ones who have doubts, or who wrestle with questions, or who want are sure they believe one thing or another (including some of the really big things deemed so important by the theological tradition). No one in our congregation nor anyone who joins us along the way think they are all alone when it comes to daring to wonder about this Jesus.
The truth is, the followers of Jesus have being trying to understand Jesus since the day the Lord put Peter and the disciples on the spot. “Who do you say that I am?” Since the time John penned the prologue to his gospel. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” And since the Preacher in the Letter to the Hebrews stood up and began to speak. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom God appointed heir of all things, through whom God also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” If you don’t think you have any questions when it comes to understanding Jesus, at some point today, tonight, or this week, sit down and read the Letter to the Hebrews from beginning to end! Some complicated stuff about Jesus! In every century, in every generation, from the greatest theological minds to the faithful disciple slugging it out in a pew somewhere every Sunday, the most faithful souls, not just the ones labeled as skeptics, not just the ones history calls heretics, but a great cloud of witnesses, those who know themselves to be followers, they try to figure it out. They have been willing to ask. They have learned to lean in when it comes to wrestling with this Jesus, God’s only Son, our Lord!
My hunch is that’s because life happens. The questions keep coming, the doubts real, and the conversations about Jesus multiply because amid our ivory tower, church pew, theological library kind of search for answers…life happens. Later here in Hebrews, the preacher says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. Jesus Christ is the same but we surely are not. Life surely is not. The last 19 months or so have made that abundantly clear. Life never just stays the same. Questions about Jesus keep coming because life keeps coming. Children grow. Parents die. Joy abounds. Tragedy strikes. Love sparks. Relationships fail. Walls come down. Walls go up. The world shrinks. Interfaith dialogue is not longer a world council, it’s a third grade class. Wars never cease. Disease and virus rage. The markets rise and fall. What was once the next generation now rocks their grandchildren to sleep. Through it all, you and I, we keep talking about Jesus. Not because we can’t come up with answers but because every Sunday’s affirmation of faith is different. I’m talking about words or the reference or even what we say together in unison. Every Sunday’s affirmation is a living, breathing witness to our faith. Every Sunday, from the pastoral realities of congregational life to the incredibly complex web of conversation that defines our life as a community, we stand with John and his Gospel, we stand with the preacher in the Letter to the Hebrews, we stand with the disciples, we stand with the great cloud of witnesses and point to Jesus, “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.”
The imprint of glory. If I had been keeping score over the years when it comes to conversations and questions about Jesus, the score would indicate that most of the questions, the doubts, the noodling is about the divinity of Jesus; the fully divine, Son of God, Word become flesh, first born of all creation kind of stuff. But this exact imprint of God’s very being, this Jesus we talk about and point to, he is the one who touched the unclean and knelt to embrace the sinner and chose to dine with the least religious one he could find. The exact imprint of God’s very being dared to speak to a woman at the well that everyone knew he was supposed to hate. He found himself duly challenged, even chastised by a mother who demanded table crumbs for the well-being of her daughter. He allowed a tax collector to treat him as a guest and a woman to anoint his feet. The exact imprint of God’s being touched the long suffering, wiped tears from a woman about to be stoned, and challenged every authority that threatened the community’s understanding of justice, compassion, and mercy.
He turned matters of the law into matters of the heart, placed the care of an individual above celebrating the sabbath, and defined servant-leadership long before the Harvard Business Review. The exact imprint of God’s being exhibited a divine non-violence that ought to have forever changed the triumphalism and conquering way of the Christian tradition. He challenged understandings of money and power and piety far more than anything to do with human sexuality or with what some call “family values”. This Jesus who is the reflection of God’s glory, He shed his own tears in grief and shed more tears at the utter despair and disgrace of the sinfulness of humankind when he wept over Jerusalem. He left little doubt as to his concern for the poor and his embrace of the outcast and his exhortation to care for those in prison. This Jesus shed tears and showed anger and sweat blood and found himself abandoned there on the cross suffering with broken bones and a broken heart. Yes, the imprint of God’s glory.
I don’t know about you. But in this season of life’s journey, it feels like a time to be less worried about the divinity of Jesus and a lot more captive by and drawn to his humanity. In just a few minutes, as I offer a prayer at the Table in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, you will hear these words: “Jesus healed the sick though he himself would suffer, he offered life to sinners, though death would hunt him down, he opened wide his arms and surrendered his spirit.” The meal is so much a taste of his humanity. And his humanity was “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” We might never completely be able to wrap our heads around the divinity of Jesus. Indeed, there will always be doubts and questions because…because life happens. But as for tears and anger and suffering and compassion and a broken heart? Is there anyone among us who doesn’t understand that?