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

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Wisdom Way of Jesus

The Wisdom Way of Jesus
Rev. Dr. Wilfredo J. Baez

I like to say that while I am on my way to perfection, perfection in love, as John Wesley calls it, I am a work in progress.  I wish it wasn’t that way. I’d like to think that after 59 years that I’ve mastered this mess but I haven’t.  While my blessings are countless, I struggle with my ego.  I struggle with being humble and keeping things simple.  I struggle with ambition wanting more, better and different. I want to be successful.  I want to make a difference. I want to do what is right. It’s a big disappointment when I put my all in something and it doesn’t work out.  Yet, in the end, when I am faithful, it all works out right!

Now, I know that I’m preaching to the choir.  As Bonnie and the choir members know from choir rehearsals, we’re all on that path seeking perfection, trying to get better, but we’re all works in progress and it’s a miracle when we do get it right.  But somehow, in the end, we do get it right.  Getting life right is difficult.  We just can’t control it.  We’re up one way and down the next. And just when we think we know something or we’ve gotten something right, life throws us a curve and we realize we’re not as right as we thought we were . . . we’re not in control . . . and in the end we discover being right doesn’t turn out to be what matters.

I was an expert witness in a court case.  I was sitting in the court room.  By the time I heard all of the testimony I couldn’t tell which side was right.  After I heard one side I was convinced.  And after I heard the other I was just as convinced.  Right existed, but which right was right and which right was wrong?  Even though that jury made a decision, I suspect that the jury is still out about who was right in that case!  The jury remains out for so many of life’s issues.

It’s a universal sin; wanting to be great.  Jesus overheard the disciples arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. What a thought!  The way of the Kingdom of God or Heaven has nothing to do with hierarchy!  There’s no lording over others in the Kingdom of Heaven.  There’s only serving one another the way Jesus served us, the way God loves and serves us.  That’s what this Kingdom of God or Beloved Community is about.  Love reigns here, now! Wow!  Here in God’s Beloved Community, love rules! How great is that!

Jesus slammed this greatness discussion as soon as he heard it.  “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all.  Whoever wants to be the leader has to be servant to all.”  You are a great leader when you get behind people and not ahead of them.  You are great when, rather than impress others you love them. This is way of Christ.  Rather than win people over you love them over.  

Here is a scene from my prison ministry.  Two gentlemen sitting at the table I served are not getting along. They keep egging each other on.  The other table leader and I keep intervening.  They keep arguing. We finally stop intervening and just listen.  We “listen, listen, love, love” and before we know it, the two are smiling and getting along.  

What happened? We had to stop playing expert, helper and fixer. We had to stop trying to control and change them.  What we did was to let them discover the way of Christ available to them.  We let the two inmates air it out in the light of the gospel that was being presented to them throughout the weekend.   What did we learn?  When you love, love and listen, listen, love works!  What’s the formula?  Listen, listen, love, love!  What’s the outcome? Love works!

The wisdom way of Jesus is found not in the past, in our memories and traditions, but here and now.  Nor is it found in the future, in our imagining and planning, but here and now.  It’s not found in being right and others being wrong, but being present.  God says “Your thoughts are not my thoughts.  Your ways are not mine.”  But Jesus says, “Father God, can we do this (his suffering and death) another way?”  But then relents, “Okay, Father God, not my way, your way; your will is my will.” It’s amazing what happens when God’s will is our will and God’s way is our way!   Set your intention now:  God’s will is now my will!  God’s way is my way now!

Jesus illustrates this for his disciples.  He takes a little child in his arms and says “Whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  

Why this child?  This child is your own inner child.  As this little child, you don’t judge.  As this little child you are aware of and open to the freshness of this moment.   As this child you learn by discovering potential and possibilities.  As this child you are simple, innocent and unassuming. As this child your only agenda is to be and to love. 

Where do you find perfection?  Jesus says, “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you.”  Jesus says, “I am the door.  Come on in.”  Perfection is here and now, in you and among us.  God is here and now present in you and among us.  Welcome the child! Embrace the child!  Be the child!  And in childlike wonder, welcome Christ! Be open to Christ! Embrace Christ!  Discover God’s presence in your life and surroundings! 

The wisdom way of Jesus is God’s way; a simple way, not caught up in the web of the world but freed of its conditions. It is characterized by unconditional love and acceptance.  It is a nonjudgmental but engaging, resourceful way, connected to its own divine Source.  It is a way available to you as you welcome Christ into your live, let him live in us and live in him.   So how are you going to do it; let in the child, let Christ in, let God in?  And how are you going to know you do it when you do it?

Our part in Christ

Our Part in Christ
Mark 8:27-38
Rev. Dr. Wilfredo Baez​

The mission statement of the United Methodist Church is to make Disciples of Christ.  For awhile, the mission statement stopped there.  But church members asked “Make disciples of Jesus for what?”  And we expanded the statement to answer that question “for the transformation of the world?”  Yet the expanded version of the mission statement remains incomplete without answering the questions “Transformed into what” and “Transformed how?”  It makes a difference what we aim for and how we get there.

A church member asked me “Are you saved?”  I understood the question and the motivation behind it, but hesitated to offer a response.  The member asked again, but before I could answer, the young man exclaimed, “I am saved!”  I looked at the member and responded “So what?”  The member was stunned to silence by my question.  I continued, “So what is different about your life now that you’ve been saved?”

There are two parts to today’s Bible passage.  The first has to do with understanding who Jesus is (his identity) and what Jesus is about (his purpose).  The second has to do with understanding who we are (our identity) and what we are about (our purpose).

While traveling with his disciples Jesus asked them. “Who do people say I am?”  They answered: “John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the other prophets.”  Jesus didn’t correct this answer but pushed on with a question meant to differentiate his disciples from other Jews, “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah!”  All of the disciples had answered the previous question, only Peter this one.  Peter is made to stand out from the other disciples, a model disciple, braver in his profession of faith than the others; willing to risk a wrong answer where the others were not.

Jesus sternly ordered his disciples not to reveal to others that he was the Messiah, defined in Matthew’s gospel as the Son of the living God and in our world today as “Savior of the World.”  It was something only disciples would understand.

Jesus was teaching the disciples about himself, the “Son of Man,” a term used at his time to refer to the future Messiah) must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  Peter didn’t like Jesus answer.  He didn’t believe it. So he rebuked Jesus. Jesus used Peter’s action as a teaching opportunity.  He turned to the disciples and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Peter, the most faithful of Jesus disciples tested Jesus.   The role of Satan, from the start of the gospel has been to test Jesus.  It has been Satan’s role through the Bible; to convince the human to go against God; to choose convenience, comfort and control over inconvenience, discomfort and risk.  Jesus wanted Peter to follow him, not test him.

Now, Peter isn’t stupid. To Peter, what Jesus said, couldn’t be true.  After all, Jesus was the Messiah.  He came to save his people not die in a failed mission.  Peter was hearing Jesus’ teaching through human eyes, a human paradigm rather than through divine eyes, the divine perspective.  Jesus was teaching God’s plan, not a human one.  Jesus was introducing a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, a peaceable and collaborative system.  And he was challenging the status quo Kingdom of humankind, the domination and exploitation system of the existing world.   Having inaugurated this new Kingdom reality, he invited others to follow him into it.  From Peter’s perspective, if Jesus died, all hope died with him for his people.  Peter, and all of the disciples, had further work to do in letting go of human concerns and trusting God.  And don’t we have work to do here; to let go of our human concerns and fully rely upon God.

This brings us to part two of today’s Biblical passage; the part having to do with us.  Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.  If you want to save your-self, you’re going to lose it.  But if you lose yourself for my sake (Truth’s sake), you will save your life.”   Deny your-self, that external worldly defined self that exists for it-self alone.  Take up your cross. Take up your purpose.  Follow me.  Live the way of life I exemplify.  You find yourself by losing your-self in me, in my way of being, the way of the cross.  I have done my part.  Now you do yours.  You find your-self in doing what you have to do even when it’s inconvenient, hard, tire-some and involves things you don’t like without excuse.

Certainly, Jesus didn’t want to go to Jerusalem and face what seemed to be his demise.  Trouble was brewing for him there.  He might even die as the result of going there.  And certainly, Jesus didn’t want to stay up alone all night to face his betrayer and those who would arrest him.  Jesus had been losing disciples because the task ahead of him was too hard.  He even lost one of the twelve.  And by the time Jesus made it to the top of Calvary with his cross, nobody was with him, save a few women.  Jesus did what he did because it had to be done.

Jesus’ disciples had made their choice to save themselves.  It’s the normal human response.  A literal rendering of Jesus’ teaching would render his disciples extinct.  By the time of Jesus’ death on the cross his disciples were hiding lest they actually did find themselves dead on the cross.  Remember what Jesus taught his disciples; “The ‘Son of Man,’” a term used at his time to refer to the future Messiah, “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” The disciples had not yet experienced what Jesus was teaching. It is after Jesus’ resurrection that God’s plan is made clear. 

Like our Messiah, we must undergo suffering, risk rejection by the powers-that-be and die for the sake of something bigger than what we are presently identified with.  We must be tested (baptized) by fire.  Our commitment to the world must be transformed into commitment to God.   That involves letting go of our attachment to the world and its rewards so that God’s Kingdom plan, and the rewards it promises can be made manifest in our lives.   That means choosing inconvenience, discomfort and risk and doing the things that are harder over convenience, comfort and control for a greater good than our own. It involves expressing our innermost, truest and just self when we are tested.

Our whole idea of God, of Messiah and of ourselves has to change, like that of the first disciples, so that we are conformed to Christ; we think, we feel, we believe, we act like Christ.  Christ is raised up in us and lives in us, witnesses by our lives that God’s kingdom has come and is coming, on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus has done what he had to.  We must do what is ours to do.  There are excuses not to, but we must do it anyways. It’s in the small things that we start, picking up our cross like Jesus did his and in following him in proclaiming by word and action God’s shalom (God’s love, God’s peace and God’s justice).”

 I leave you with the question I raised at the start of our worship time.  What is your cross and are your carrying it?  Will you pick up your cross and carry it?  Jesus has done his part, will we do ours.