Seeing Jesus

“In a little while, the world will no longer see me,” said Jesus, “but you will see me.”[1]

My friend, Pastor David Nagler, who was just elected as bishop of the Pacifica Synod on Friday, told the synod assembly a story about seeing Jesus when he was serving as the Director of the Central City Lutheran Mission (CCLM) in San Bernardino.  CCLM has been helping to provide a variety of services and assistance to the county’s most vulnerable people since 1994 and in 2015 they became part of Lutheran Social Services.  I don’t know if they still do this, but when Dave was the director they would have a morning worship service, then after the service, people were invited into the fellowship hall for lunch.

There was a kid from the neighborhood named Rudy who had been born in a very small town in Mexico.  He was born with bowed legs and since his town was very poor, there wasn’t any medical help to provide braces or surgically straighten them.  Rudy loved to hang out at the church, and he followed Pastor Dave around like an eager puppy, running everywhere on his little, bowed legs as he tried to keep up with Dave’s long stride.  He was fascinated by the worship service and was always asking Dave if he could help out.  “Pastor Dave, can I collect the money?”  “Pastor Dave, can I hold the cup at communion?”  “Pastor Dave, can I wash the cup after communion?”    

One Sunday, right after worship when everyone else had filed into the fellowship hall for lunch, Dave was still up at the altar putting away the communion elements when a homeless man wandered into the church through the side door.  The man was disheveled and obviously a little disoriented, and didn’t seem to be quite aware of where he was.  Dave didn’t think much about it because people like that drifted in all the time.  He figured he would go talk to the man when he finished what he was doing.  Rudy, however, hustled over to the man, took his arm, and led him over to the baptismal font and said,  “Bend over the water,” and without questioning, the man did.  Before anyone could say or do anything, Rudy poured a handful of water onto the man’s head.  Then Rudy led the man up to the altar and said, “Pastor Dave, can he have communion?”  It was one of those moments when time stands still and the angels hold their breath to see what you’re going to do.  Dave gave the man communion then walked with him over to the fellowship hall to make sure he got some lunch.

Most pastors will tell you that there are times in life, in ministry, when you will see Jesus.  If your mind and your heart are open, you will see Jesus so, so clearly.  There are times when you will undeniably feel the breath of the Spirit filling your sails.  “That day,” said Pastor Dave, “Rudy showed me Jesus.”  

“You will see me,” said Jesus, “because I am alive.  And because I am alive, you will be alive.  The day that you realize that my life is your life and your life is my life, that’s the day you will begin to see that I am in the Father, and you are in me and I am in you.  You who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love you and make myself plain to you.”  And here’s the thing we need to remember as we hear this:  every time Jesus says “you” here, it’s plural.  All y’all.  His life is ourlife.  He lives in us, collectively and connectedly.  We who love him are the ones who make him visible in the world.  We are the ones who show God’s love to the world.  Our arms are the arms Jesus uses to embrace the world.  And our eyes are the eyes that get to see his presence.

Bishop Andy Taylor said that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is the Gospel—the announcement of God’s love and presence in the world through Jesus.  We are not called just to just preach about God’s love or teach about God’s love, we are called to live into it and let it be alive in us.   

Richard Rohr once said, “The only way I know how to love God is to love what God loves.”  Jesus said, “Those who love me will keep my word.”  Keeping his word means that we get to show people in clear and tangible ways that they are loved.  That means that when someone is oppressed, we stand up for them, even when it’s scary.  When someone is excluded, we welcome them to the table.  When someone is wounded, we make a safe space for them to be healed.  When someone is beaten down, we lift them up.  That’s what it means to love one another as Jesus has loved us.  That’s what it means to follow Jesus.  And sometimes that means we have to put our bodies on the line.

It was two years ago this week, May 25, 2020, that George Floyd was killed by police on the streets of Minneapolis.   In the wake of his death and the death of Brionna Taylor and others, Black Lives Matter organized protests all across the country.  I was part of a group of clergy and other faith leaders who were asked to attend the Black Lives Matter Rally at the Civic Center in Los Angeles.  We were asked to wear our clerical collars and our stoles—symbols of our office, clear and visible signs that we were there representing our various faith communities and traditions.  We weren’t there to share any words.  We were there to witness.  We were asked to perform one simple task, to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other in a line, a kind of human boundary line between the law enforcement officers and the protesters.  We were there to help create a safe space where black people and other persons of color gathered in community could speak their grievances and share their grief.  We were there to help assure both sides that things would remain peaceful.

It was scary to stand there in that line.  It was still early days in the Pandemic and even though we were all masked, we knew that Covid was in the air.  But the really scary part was to stand just a few yards away from a line of fully armed Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear, watching them watching us, and knowing that my stole and my clerical collar wouldn’t help one bit if they suddenly decided to move in on the demonstrators.  

As you might expect, my thoughts were racing.  But then I decided that I was going to love those deputies.  I was going to love them because Jesus loves them.  I realized that they were in a difficult position, too, and probably didn’t want to be there.  As I stood there across from those deputies with their hands resting on their batons or their holsters, I just kept repeating one thought in my mind over and over:  “God loves you.  God loves everyone here.  We are all children of God.”  And then these words of Jesus came to me: “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Those words of Jesus became my prayer that day—my prayer not just for me but for the deputies and the protestors, too.  Peace.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  

There is so much in our country and in our world that has become oppositional.  There is a real struggle between those who believe that peace and prosperity will come through progressive ideas and those who think it will come through conformity to imposed systems of hierarchy and order.  Those positions have boiled themselves down to hardened political polarities and ideologies.  People just aren’t listening to each other.  No one is seeking middle ground.  There is no real exchange of ideas, no conversation, just entrenched positions.  

Jesus is calling his followers to step into the front lines of this tension.  We are being called to create a space of grace where people can be heard and their fears addressed, where conversation can begin and the seeds of God’s transforming love can be planted.  

We called to build a Beloved community, a  people who are living into the Gospel, a companionship enlivened by the vibrant love of God.  That’s what church is supposed to be about.  We are called to create a welcoming space where God can love us into something new.  We are called to create a community where people can see Jesus.

There is a beautiful vision at the end of the Book of Revelation, a vision of the New Jerusalem coming down out of the heavens from God.  Some people think this is a description of what heaven will be like.  Some think it is a literal description of what God is going to do at the end of time.  Personally, I think it’s a wonderful metaphor for what the church of Jesus Christ can be and should be now when we’re at our best.  

The river of life flows in that city[2] and I believe that this river of life in all its fullness can flow in and through us when we immerse ourselves in God’s life and love and grace. 

The tree of life grows in that city with its leaves that are for the healing of the nations[3]—healing for all the different peoples of the world, healing for all the wounds we have inflicted on each other simply because we are different from each other.  I think we can be that tree when we are rooted in the love of Christ.  

Revelation tells us that the people will bring all the splendor and richness of their cultures and ethnicities into that city.[4]  Imagine how vibrant and powerful our worship and ministries would be if we opened our doors and our hearts to all that splendor and richness here and now.

God has given us a vision, a revelation, of the Beloved Community as a loving and healing place where everyone is welcome at the table, a place where the splendor and richness of all peoples is cherished and celebrated.  A place where people are transformed and renewed.  

May the Spirit empower us to make that vision a reality on earth as it is in heaven.  May this church and every church become a place where people can see Jesus.

[1] John 14:19-20

[2] Revelation 22:1

[3] Revelation 22:2

[4] Revelation 21:26

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