Christ, the Light of the World

May you experience the presence of Christ, the Light of the World, everywhere, in everyone, so that hope will abound in your life and the world you live in. There is no corner of the planet where Christ is not. And may you share the light of Christ that is within you with everyone you meet, wherever you are, everyday.

Wilfredo Juan Baez

Monday, August 29, 2011

Following Jesus

Following Jesus
Your life mission, the life mission of the Church, is viewed primarily in the context of the life mission of Jesus Christ.

So it’s important to ask the question, “What is your life mission? Do you have one?  Do you want one?  What difference does it make to have a life mission?  How are you living out that mission?  Do you accept that mission? 

And how does your life mission fit with the life mission of Jesus Christ?  What is God’s involvement in your life mission?  What difference does it make to have a life mission?

The film, “Remember the Titans,” tells the story of a black man, Herman Boone, coming to be the Head Football Coach in a school that is being integrated for the first time.

The former coach, a white man, Bill Yoast, has been quite successful with the program, enjoying a Hall of Fame career, but he is asked to step aside to allow a black man to assume the helm of the program.  He stays on with the team as Assistant Coach.

 Black students will be bussed into the school and the team will be a mix of black and white players.

Now, neither Herman Boone nor Bill Yoast grew up thinking that they would be front and center in confronting and overcoming racism and integrating a school.  It wasn’t something that either man had an image of happening even a year earlier in their lives.  Neither did the school and community in which they coached have an idea that they would be part of history in the way they were.  Indeed, everything was fine as it was . . .  separate . . . Integration made sense, but not here, not now, some day, somewhere else . . .  And although neither Herman Boone nor Bill Yoast anticipated where life would take them, it would take special people like them to accomplish what they did together.   And what a mission it was . . . much greater than anything they ever anticipated having!

I don’t think Peter, James, John or any of the disciples expected Jesus to come into their lives.  Oh, yes, the scripture mentions a Messiah, even one like Jesus was, and they were awaiting the Messiah, all of their lives up until then  . . . and their ancestors expected the Messiah for over 2000 years  . . . but for the disciples and most everyone during that day and age . . . not yet . . . not in their lifetimes . . .  They had livelihoods to pursue, responsibilities to fulfill, priorities . . .  Perhaps this was something someone else would pursue . . . someone more involved with the Temple than they . . . like the priests . . . they were fisherman, laborers, ordinary folk . . .  Then Jesus came along and said “Come, follow me.” 
There was something compelling about that Jesus . . . something compelling about that call . . . although the disciples didn’t quite know Jesus and they didn’t quite understand the call.

Coach Boone accepts this position knowing that there is going to be resistance to his going forward; resistance from players, parents, students, the community, the school he’s been called to, his coaching staff, opponent teams . . . even from his family.  And that resistance is there, even violently so . . . yet Coach Boone accepts this . . . Some of the resistance he doesn’t anticipate . . . referees . . . from within.  His going forward is fraught with danger including threats to his family.   And Coach Boone sets his face toward his goal with a steely gaze that will not relent, like Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.  He would not fall back despite the realization that ahead him waited his Calvary. This is Coach Boone’s cross to bear.

Jesus, as his call became clear to him, faced opposition . . . opposition within himself and opposition from people around him . . . opposition from Satan who tested him, promising him immediate gratification of his desires  . . .  opposition from his mother and siblings . . . opposition from the Pharisees, Sadducees, High priests and Romans . . . opposition from his disciples like Peter . . . His own desire for there to be another way.   His own disciples will abandon and betray him.  Jesus knew what was in store for him if he continued on his path.

The School Board had a glimpse of what was necessary.  It’s why they hired Coach Boone.  But even they wonder if this effort will succeed.  From the beginning doubt is expressed.  Coach Yoast remains loyal, even grows in that loyalty, putting his own livelihood and legacy on the line for Coach Boone, but he expresses opposition to Coach Boone at the start, opposition that Coach Boone puts to rest, quite vehemently.  Coach Yoast will have to give up his reasonable protest and give Coach Boone his 100% support . . . he needs to pick up his cross and follow Coach Boone . . . or he needs to resign.   Coach Boone challenges Coach Yoast to get behind him and get with the program or leave.

And the team has to do so, too, if they are going to become a winning program like they were under Coach Yoast.  They need to rid themselves of their racism, anger, and fear . . . not an easy task . . . because there is so much to lose: parental approval, friends, girlfriends, acceptance in their churches and community, and their own sense of personal privilege and power.  One boy, in particular can’t do it until the end . . .   Racism runs deep.  Sin runs deep, because with it comes reward.  There’s a payoff.  The process of redemption from racism and from sin involves giving up the comforts and rewards that come along with it.  Coach Boone would not go way.  He would not surrender his principals.  He would not compromise his methods.  He was preparing his team for the rigors ahead, to succeed on the field and in life.  And here’s the amazing thing . . . Coach Yoast went with him . . . some of the assistant coaches didn’t . . . and the team went with him . . . all but one player.

This brings us back to you . . . to your mission . . . to what that mission has to do with Christ’s mission.  And do you know Christ’s mission and your mission is one and the same . . . the establishment of the rule of God’s love and peace with justice upon the earth.   Oh, there is resistance to that . . . but the rule of God’s love and peace with justice is established in the world as it is established in you . . . as you pick up your cross and carry it . . .

And what do you carry your cross for?  What did Jesus carry his cross for?  To die upon!  Now you understand the resistance!  Are you ready to die for Jesus?

Coach Boone’s players were ready to die for Coach Boone!  And they did die for him!  And dying for him they found life like they never experienced it before.  What died?  Their previous racist identity!  Their anger, their hate, and their fear!  Their identity with the color of their skin!  Their separation from God, from truth, from love, from their neighbor, from their brothers and sisters in Christ!  Now they were a team and their hometown a community.  Now they were in love with life instead of in hate with it!  Indeed they were identified with Coach Boone, his vision and hope for life, his mission, his passion, his love, his way of living and being.  Indeed they were like Coach Boone!

The early disciples of Jesus carried their crosses and followed Jesus, dying on their crosses . . . losing their doubt and fear in the process . . . overcoming their limiting beliefs and taking on the new and empowering belief of Jesus . . . loving Canaanites, Samaritans, Romans, and sinners like Jesus did . . . risking the disdain of the establishment believers; the Pharisees, Sadducees, and High Priests . . . being loving . . . being righteous . . . doing what is right.

Hey, you might fail . . . Pick up your cross and follow in the  way of Jesus anyways . . . Hey, your family and friends might think you’re out of mind . . . Pick up your cross and follow in the  way of Jesus anyways   . . . Hey , people may think you are wrong  . . .  Pick up your cross and follow in the  way of Jesus anyways . . . In picking up your cross and following in the way of Jesus, your worldly you is going to die . . . But the you who you really are, the expression of the Living God that is in and all around you is going to live . . .  This is your reward!  This is God’s glory!  The rule of God is here, now established in your life and mine!

This journey we don’t make alone, because the journey is God’s journey and thus all of journey.  For one to be missing, then God is missing an essential part . . .  It’s a journey in which we discover who and what God as we discover who and what we are.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Compassionate Gaze of Jesus

The Compassionate Gaze Touch of of Jesus

Rev. Wilfredo J. Baez


Jesus was in his hometown, Nazareth, when he heard the news.  Herod had executed John the Baptist!  He immediately withdrew by boat from Nazareth to a deserted place. 

John, considered by the Jews to be a great prophet, had a large following.  When the crowds heard the news of John’s death, they sought out Jesus, leaving their towns on foot to find him.

When Jesus returned to shore, he saw the great crowd that had assembled.  He had compassion for the people and cured their sick. Jesus had compassion for the people.

Why had the people turned to Jesus?  They had suffered a great affront; the unjust murder of their Prophet who provided them with hope for their future.
When Herod had heard reports of Jesus exhibiting great spiritual power and receiving favor from the people, he concluded that Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead, and this alarmed him.  It is likely that the Jewish people thought that Jesus was John raised from the dead.

Jesus saw the people’s pain and responded to their need by healing them of illness and feeding them.

Today, we witness a world whose spiritual bearings have been lost.  As the result there is great spiritual, existential angst everywhere we look.  People are afraid and insecure.  They are grieving the loss of meaning that they once found in God.  They are grieving their loss of sanctuary once provided by the Church.  They are forlorn because of the loss of God’s Word as foundation for their lives.  And they are angry over the loss of communion with God and others that they have found no replacement for.

As you look out at the world as the Body of Christ, can you do so with the same compassion that Jesus did, when the Jews lost John the Baptist?  Do you see the force that is Herod that has been unleashed on the world out of loyalty to family, friends, flesh, and earthly profit and power as opposed to the spirit of God and goodness that is our essential nature?  Do you see the hopelessness of a world that has lost its innocence and belief in the essential goodness of life?

Not a day seems to go by where we are not faced with horror, whether it is acts of violence by individuals, groups or governments or natural catastrophe.  Evil, attitudinal, behavioral, and natural seems to be overloading us and the world we live in.  The weight of evil seems too much to bear.

I was reminded of this just last Sunday, right here in Church, when someone asked me a question about forgiveness of the terrorists in Oslo, Norway.  What a great question! 80 youth lost their lives at the hand of a gunman in their school, and at least 10 others lost their lives as two car bombs exploded destroying a building.  How do you forgive people who do things such as these!
These events, combined with Columbine, Oklahoma City, and 9/11 in the United States alone, not to say all of the equivalent events worldwide, leave us all besieged by waves of anger, outrage, sadness, and fear.  The idea of forgiveness that Jesus calls us to seems to be an ideal, unattainable by all but the greatest of saints.  Perhaps, before we can forgive others, we have to still the troubled waters of our hearts.  And then there are the countless small but hurtful acts of injustice we experience on a day to day basis.

The Christian writer Henri Nouwen wrote: “You wonder what to do when you feel attacked on all sides by seemingly irresistible forces, waves that cover you and want to sweep you off your feet.”  You know how that feels.
“Sometimes these waves consist of feeling rejected, forgotten, and misunderstood.  Sometimes they consist of anger, resentment, desire for revenge, or self-pity and self-rejection.  These waves make you feel like you are powerless….”
“What are you to do?  Make the conscious choice to move the attention of your anxious heart away from these waves and direct it to the One who walks on them and says…”Don’t be afraid.” 
Keep turning your eyes to him and go on trusting that he will bring peace to your heart.  Look at him and say, “Lord have mercy.” Say it again and again, not anxiously but with confidence that he is very close to you and will put your soul to rest.” (The Only Necessary Thing, 111)
Keep your eyes on Christ, as we walks upon the water, and like Peter step out on to the waters yourself, knowing your faith will take you over the turbulence to your desired destination.  Look to Christ, for Christ is your peace! Christ is your confidence!  Christ is your deliverer!  Christ is your hope!  Be like him until you are like him!
Rabbi Kushner, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People wrote: “Human beings live in a world of good and bad and that makes our lives painful and complicated.”  He goes on to talk about how God created humanity with free will and the freedom to make both good and bad choices, saying “if we want to hurt someone, God will not intervene to keep us from doing it…[God] will not intervene to take away our freedom, including our freedom to hurt ourselves and others around us.” After reflecting on the Holocaust, he concludes: “I have to believe that God was with the victims…I have to believe that the tears and prayers of the victims aroused God’s compassion… I would like to think that the anguish I feel when I read of the sufferings of innocent people reflects God’s anguish and God’s compassion… [and] is the source of my being able to feel sympathy and outrage, and that [God] and I are on the same side when we stand with the victim against those who would hurt them.”

God doesn’t cause evil or cause our pain!  But God is with us against evil, in our pain.  By God’s presence, we shall overcome, as millions before us have, and millions after us will. 

When Jesus sees us, he sees our pain, our anguish, our anxiety and our fear.  And he touches us with his sight, his listening, his words, his touch, and his heart and relieves us of our burden, quenching the burning we feel inside and satisfying our hunger not only with food for our bodies, but food for our sense of righteousness and justice. Can you feel Christ touch you where you need to be touched?

Indeed, as Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words!” 

He continues, We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose . . . and those he has called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

What are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us? 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No!  In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 

Indeed, there is nothing in life or death that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

The Jews overcame the death of their prophet John the Baptist.  A new prophet, one greater than he, the Messiah, came to serve in John’s place.

Christians overcame the death of Jesus, and the Church stands as Christ’s Body to the World, a light to the nations when she remembers her first love, that undefeatable love of God in Jesus Christ.

Herod continues to be a force of separation and destruction in the world, but Christ remains a greater force of healing and reconciliation.

What the people of Oslo need, what the people of Columbine, Oklahoma City, and New York, and people throughout the world who have experienced disaster and loss is the compassion of Christ from each and every one of us.  They need the friend that Jesus was, one who laid down his own life for them.  They need that friend called Christ from each of us.  They need the healing that comes through love, like that Jesus provided the people in Palestine in their loss of John the Baptist.  They need you and me, Christian, to be more like Jesus.