The seventh window in this series is inscribed with these words: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. To the Glory of God in memory of father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. James Lamb and brother Charles. The gift of Herbert and Jean Lamb.” Richard and Carol Robinson, our sexton and his wife, shared that the Lambs first came to Halifax from New Brunswick in the early 1900s. James was involved in Real Estate and Commerce here in Halifax and bought and developed Wright Avenue around the corner from here off Morris Street. Herbert and Charles both attended Dalhousie University. Herbert worked for the same Commerce firm until he retired in 1974. His brother Charles was a lawyer who died at just 54 years old. James and his wife Cora Louise are buried along with Charles, Herbert and Jean in the Camp Hill Cemetery. Richard’s Aunt Jean lived to 103 years old! They were all active members in this community and called Fort Massey their church home. There was a charitable foundation funded in Herbert and Jean’s name upon Jean’s death in 2009.This charity has dedicated significant yearly contributions to Dalhousie University, The IWK, Fort Massey United Church, The United Way of Halifax-Dartmouth, the Halifax YMCA, the Nova Scotia Division of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Salvation Army, the Good-fellows Club and to Rainbow Haven. Their legacy continues not just in this window, but in their generous funding of these organization that provide a benefit to the community that they loved so much…
As a child, in church and at home, I heard the stories about Jesus. I learned about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus was part of this otherworldly Trinity that somehow reigned down over me. God granted wishes, punished sins, and if I was lucky, I might get to meet Him someday up above the clouds in a place called Heaven. But, I had to die first and I better be real good before that happens. This man named Jesus was born in a manger and was the Son of God. Other times I was taught that Jesus was God. From my worldview, God, as Jesus, was like Superman. He was this great powerful man who came to earth from a far away land. God came down from Heaven in the form of Jesus to rule the world. He started out as a poor carpenter, but triumphed over evil and became a great king on the throne of Heaven. He used his superpowers to perform miracles and prove how powerful he was.I learned that people hated Jesus so much that they wanted to kill him. As a kid, it was never completely clear to me why anyone would want to do such a thing. I was reassured that it was okay for them to murder Jesus because it was all part of God’s plan — God sent Jesus to save the world by dying. I was told Jesus died for my sins. Makes sense right? Not to me. It was a very confusing message. Was Jesus the Son of God or was Jesus God? Who was God anyway? If he is was so powerful and mighty, why would he let anyone kill him? How could this guy save me from my sins just by dying on a cross? And, what did I need to be saved from anyway? Hmph…
I’ve titled this sermon, “Who is Jesus?” The verse inscribed on the window this morning comes from the prologue of the Gospel of John. It seems to me that if the whole gospel is John’s long answer to this question of who is Jesus, then his prologue is the condensed version. In 18 verses the storyteller expertly sets the tone for our hearts and minds and prepares us for what is to come in the rest of the gospel. Verse 14 says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” For John, Jesus Christ is the word of God manifested on earth for all to see. But what that means depends on how it is interpreted. For as long as he was and is, scholars and non-academic believers alike have been arguing about who Jesus Christ is. Is he divine? Is he human? Is he somehow both? These questions are the roots of the study aptly called “Christology”. The study of, or the problem of Christology (as J.N.D. Kelly claims), is to “define the relation of the divine and the human in Christ.” I love that Kelly calls this a “problem”.
For the first three to four hundred years of Christianity, and arguably still today, the church was divided into many groups – each group with a different idea about the essential nature of Jesus Christ. There were those that solved the problem by denying that Jesus was divine at all. For example, Ignatius of Antioch concluded that, “If Jesus was not fully human like us, then he could not have saved us.” For others, Jesus was something of a favorite son to God. He was adopted by God, not born of Him. He was God’s greatest creation.On the other side of the debate were those groups insisting that Jesus was wholly divine and never human. This view held that Christ existed as a divine essence before ever embodying the human that we recognize as Jesus. For this school of thought, the incarnated Jesus, “pre-existed as God, and was made flesh of the Virgin, being born as a man.” God assumed the body of a man, yet still remained God as Word. In the second century, the Catholic Saint Irenaeus insisted that if Jesus was not God, then he could not save us because only God has the power to save.
Who Jesus is tells us how Jesus saves. If your worldview tells you that only God can save, then Jesus must be God. If your lens shows you that in order to atone for the sins of all humanity Jesus must suffer and die as a complete human being, then you ought to accept that he was fully human. By the year 325 of the common era both views were persuasive enough to convince the men of the Orthodox centre of Christianity at the council of Nicea to create, articulate, and defend a statement of faith for Christians. Views that seemed to threaten how they interpreted the Oneness of God were rejected and declared heretical by the Church.
The Nicene Creed proclaims Jesus Christ as one Lord who is, “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.” The Council of Nicea declared Jesus as wholly divine. For them, Jesus was born of a heavenly Father God who became a man by the Holy Spirit. It is unclear what they meant when they said, “he suffered, died and was buried…he rose again.” Did they mean God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or all three? The ambiguity of what it means for God to be a man, or like a man, may be confusing and difficult to understand. I am so grateful that I was raised in a faith community that welcomes my confusion, encourages my questions, and gives me space to consider my faith.
Now, even though I stand up here, and you sit down there, I don’t think it’s my job or my right to tell you who you should think Jesus is, or who God is for that matter. But I do think that it is my responsibility to encourage you to ask yourself the big questions. Let me share with you a little bit about who I think Jesus is as one example of what happens when you ask these kinds of questions. The way that adults talked about God and Jesus confused me as a child because they did not match how I felt. And I think that happens all too often to other young people and adults alike. Someone in authority tells them what they should believe and if that doesn’t match what’s in their heart, then in a society where we have more autonomy and choice than ever –we can just walk away, and so we do. And then, if nobody has taught us how to ask the questions, then it’s like never learning to ask for directions. We might walk away, but we are more likely to get lost if we have no idea where we are going or what we are looking for.
I was a contemplative little girl who talked to God as soon as I had the words (and perhaps before). I prayed to God without ceasing, much to the distress of my younger brother, especially at dinnertime. I remember feeling like I was constantly in the presence of God. And as much as I try to run away at times, I still feel that presence. Unfortunately (of maybe fortunately), the image of God as a man didn’t make sense to me when I was told about “Him” because I couldn’t picture “His” face in my head. My God didn’t have a face. My God was in my heart. My God was in my mother’s embrace and my father’s voice. My God was in the wind and in the sunlight. My God was in the thunder and in the rain. My God didn’t live in a land far away from me. My God didn’t live anywhere, because my God was everywhere.
Because the God that others told me about didn’t connect to me, I couldn’t connect to their Jesus. The Jesus I was told about was nothing like me. The words “Son of God” made no sense to me at all. How could God be a Father of anyone if God had no body? As a child, I knew God and God was real for me, but Jesus was someone else’s story. As a teenager, I finally had the words and the courage to ask the questions I always wanted to know. Even then, I was a lover of science and as I’ve said before, I am an admitted and proud sceptic of all I cannot experience directly with my senses. I’ve always needed to know more than “what” and “who”? I needed to know “why” and “how”? I started to ask big questions that, until then, I reserved for other things like concerns about how babies were made, why the sky was blue or how I could become the Prime Minister of Canada. I started asking questions about religion.
I instinctually knew God. Like they say about love, when you know…you just know – there’s no way to explain it. Therefore, it was easy for me to dismiss who and what the outside world told me God was because I had a natural faith. But, I didn’t know Jesus like that. I had to get to know Jesus by asking some serious questions about who other people told me he was. This is what I call “a questioning faith.” It’s not a wavering faith. What it means is that there is a confidence about the Truth of God that makes it possible to relentlessly ask questions about faith and religion without fear. I ask questions about who God is, about who Jesus is, about their relationship to one another, about the Holy Trinity, about my relationship to all of it, and I’m really interested in hearing about how other people see all of these things. I ask questions about the science of miracles, about the virgin birth and the star in the sky, about walking on water, and about turning water into wine. I ask questions about the Bible, about the history, about the writers, about the metaphors, and about the truth. I am rarely satisfied with earthly answers, but each question –each question feels like coming a little bit closer to God. As an adult, I keep questioning. I look to faith traditions and rituals outside the familiar. I study both eastern and western philosophy. I’m interested in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sufism and Judaism and other religions. I look to the stars, the mystics, the gurus, and the earth. I meditate, I practice yoga, I chant, and I pray. And each thing, each lesson leads me nearer to God.
In our faith tradition there is one specific document that helped bring me closer to Jesus. Originally written in 1968, a revised version of A New Creed became available for use by members of the United Church of Canada in 1994. This is the creed that we read following the sermon each week. Like many young people, I stopped going to church regularly in my late teens and early twenties. I chose a social life (aka staying out late and going to the bar after working in another bar), work, and sleeping in over going to Sunday morning worship. But, when I eventually returned to church, I remember reading these words aloud and thinking, “Yes! This makes sense!” Finally, a statement of faith that reflected what I knew in my heart about the Jesus I was coming to know. This creed gently echoes the Nicene by declaring that God “has come in Jesus,” but with a subtle difference. This difference in wording makes all the difference to my personal understanding of who Jesus is. In A New Creed, God came in Jesus, God did not come as Jesus. A New Creed concedes that Jesus is the Word made flesh, but it also tells us why. It says that the Word was made flesh, “to reconcile and make new.” What Jesus reconciles and makes new is left for us to question. This short creed ends by telling us how we are called to be the church, “to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.” This statement recognizes that Jesus was a man killed by political power and raised by God. It recognizes Jesus’ authority to judge and it tells us of his promise of resurrection. A New Creed removes the patriarchal elements of The Nicene Creed and invites scrutiny where past ambiguity seemed to demand a sort of blind-faith. A New Creed offers clear answers to questions of “what” and “who” while leaving many of the “whys” and “hows” up to us to ponder. This is an ideal formula to encourage a questioning faith!
For me of questioning faith, Jesus is the one who challenges us to follow His way. Jesus was born human and then he became the Son of God. I accept Jesus as the Son of God because I am a child born of one and adopted by another. Belonging fully to another in this way makes sense to me.
- Jesus was completely and perfectly aware of the presence of God in his life and he chose to bravely live the will of God wherever it took him. Jesus’ life challenges us to surrender to the will of God and to trust God enough to follow wherever that leads.
- Jesus loved all people without conditions. Jesus teaches us that unconditional love needs to be the cornerstone of our faith in practice.
- Jesus trusted the will of God all the way to the cross. Jesus’ death prepares us to let suffering awaken us.
- With God’s help Jesus defeated the grave. He lives on. Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope for life beyond death.
- To follow Jesus means to be obedient to God. Conveniently for me, I don’t believe that obedient equals quiet. Like the parent of a three-year old with a million “whys”, I have absolute faith that God still loves us when we ask questions!
John 1:1-18 tells us so much about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. What it tells us depends on the questions we ask ourselves. I love that we belong to a church that encourages us to do this work! About 100 sermons raced through my mind about darkness and light, about John and Genesis, about the Trinity, about Words and the Word….there was so much to explore and consider in just 18 verses. When I finally sat down to write, I realized that I came up with more questions than answers. We all know how it goes, “In the beginning was the Word…” but this past week I had the wonderful opportunity to dig into those words that I think I was taking for granted. Honestly, I thought that this would be an easy one and I was surprised at how much these 18 verses stirred my heart. When I asked the question, “Who is Jesus?” I never expect to be able to articulate a precise answer and I don’t think these kinds of answers are as important as the questions. Taking the time to think about what you don’t know, leads you to contemplating the things that you really do know deep inside your own heart. I think that is what it means to move closer to God. And I believe that God is waiting and wanting all of us to come a little bit closer.
But don’t take my word for it. Take a deep breath. Now, see what happens when you ask yourself….”Who is Jesus?” …………………….. Amen.