If Jesus came to earth today, would we recognize him? In our gospel today we read about the religious elders trying to catch Jesus out. They are not happy at all. Here comes a young guy who is going around town saying and doing things that are not the norm. We all know the type. These are people who say and do things differently than the way they have always been done. We can hear the cry now: “Well we've always done it this way . . .” We can’t help ourselves. We are creatures of habit and routine. Once our normal patterns and ways of functioning in daily life or church are established, we are loathed to change them. The old saying, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” seems to become the operating mantra.
When people do come along and change things up and force us to see the world from a different perspective, we react in peculiar ways. We question why they are doing this to us. We may even try and ignore what they are doing in the hopes that whatever it is they are doing will stop or go away. If the behavior persists, we many get even more annoyed and question their authority to be doing what they are doing. The implication being that whoever is disturbing our life has no authority or permission to do so.
So here comes Jesus, doing what Jesus does best, teaching and healing and spreading a message that conflicts with the status quo. There is nothing new in this; people are allowed to have an opinion. The problem is that the opinion and message that Jesus brings is so radical and threatening to the religious elders and the establishment.
In Jesus’s world, tax collectors and prostitutes have a place and belong in the Kingdom of heaven. In Ancient Israel these are the very people who do not get a place of privilege and heaven is questionable. They are the lowest of the low in society. Nobody likes the guy who is going to take their money and prostitutes are regarded as less than human. So is it any wonder that the established church is upset? The challenging, unspoken question is there people who are not worthy? Hmm, I wonder who they would be . . .
Earlier this year there was mention of a controversial statue coming to Vancouver. It is a park bench and a homeless man sleeping on the bench. His face and body are completely covered except for his feet. His feet are what give everything away. There is a wound, one on each foot, where a nail would have been hammered through.
If Jesus were to come to earth, in our world today, would we recognize him? Would a God who becomes flesh and ‘empties’ himself in human likeness be worthy of belonging, compassion, love and grace? Or does a God who comes to us in human form cause us to be so uncomfortable to look at or to accept that we cannot imagine that God would come to us in such a person as the ones we least suspect, the homeless, the unclean, the sick, addicted and forgotten.
Our Gospel and reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us that God takes on human form to be with us in our broken world. Our God is a God who cares more deeply than words can express about those who society and the established order would rather forget. God says, “I am going there, I am going to that world to the places where people are forgotten and alone. I am going there so that they too may have life and have it abundantly.”
What we sometimes forget is that God came to us in our world with all the pain, angst and brokenness that we have. Because of that we can expect the unexpected from God. We can expect that God will show up in places and people who we least suspect. Often God will show up in our lives in people who just know how to get under our skin and disturb our world. That is exactly where God is going to meet us.
Part of our calling in the Christian life is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Be aware, of when life is nicely settled and things are humming along as they should. Chances are God is ready to meet you again and pull you to something new, to something you may not have imagined before or that fills you with fear and trepidation. But we know, as uncomfortable as this can be, we have to go. We have to go to those places because God has a Mission and work in this world, and what God needs most is a Church to carry out that Mission and work. God calls us to look after the ones no one else will look after. We are called to recognize God in all things and all places.
This is in part why today is important. This is why today we not only gather for worship, but we include in the context of our worship other members of the created order. Our four legged, winged, finned and fluffy members of our family who in their own way remind us of the Incarnate God who comes to us in our world for all its brokenness. God comes to us in them to show us an example of compassion and unconditional love. As we can easily feel and appreciate how bonded we are with our pets and they too us, they serve as an icon of how bonded God is to us and to our world.
Do we recognize Jesus in our world, in our brokenness? Are we a church that will rise to the occasion and recognize God in all people and all manner of things? I pray that we are such a church. This is part of our work to see God on a park bench and act with compassion and love regardless of how fearful or uncomfortable we may be because these are the places and people where God meets us and calls us.