You know, loving others is hard.
Loving those lost in grief or pain, loving those who have turned away from the world out of their illness or fear or abuse, is hard.
Loving those who are different from us; who’s ways are alien to us; who’s politics or faith, or piercings and tattoos, are offensive to us; is hard.
Loving people when they shout at you, when they refuse to hear what you have to say, when they call you ugly names, when they slander you and despise you and shut you down, is hard.
Loving those who abuse or oppress you, loving those who cannot or will not love you in return, loving others when you are in such pain yourself, loving those who are nailing you to a cross, is hard.
I recently found a clip of a sermon given by a well known Evangelical Minister in Texas, named Rev. Dr. Voddie Baucham. In it he denounces “Liberal Christians” as being “sissified,” by which he means they are weak and confused, knowing nothing about (or who refuse to acknowledge) the powerful, vengeful, transformative and fierce God that he knows and serves.
Now the term he uses – “sissified” – is offensive: it implies that a man having certain stereotypically feminine characteristics is not really a man. It also implies that a woman must have “sissified” characteristics if they are to be truly female. None of this is true, and I say so in the strongest of terms. But despite that, please bear with my use of that term: it’s important to the nature of this message.
When I first heard Rev. Baucham calling Liberal Christians “sissified” I thought “How dare he?!” As I see it, we who are Progressive or Liberal Christians know that fierce God he talks of, but we know that God as a god of fierce Love, not fierce vengeance. And, loving others can be hard, really hard, as we already know.
But then I listened to another of his Sermons, where he talks about the sissified Jesus you see in all of those paintings and pictures: a white, beautiful Jesus with gorgeous flowing hair and clean clothes. An androgynous Jesus with feet and hands that have never known hard labor, and a face that has never known pain. A Jesus that is not his Jesus; nor, frankly is it a Jesus we are comfortable with, either. We cannot relate to a sissified Jesus. Such a Jesus can only be hung on a Cross and admired from a safe distance.
And so Rev. Baucham is right: the visual image of Jesus that every single one of us here this morning carries in our minds is not the image of Jesus that either we or Rev. Baucham knows. And, frankly, we all too often turn a deaf ear and blind eyes to the real Jesus: a Jesus with a dark face, dirty hair, hands scarred from hard work; and feet callused from walking for miles in those old worn sandals, ministering to those in need. This is also a Jesus beaten and broken, then nailed on the Cross; a Jesus that is Black; a Jesus that is Female; a Jesus that is Hispanic; a Jesus that is Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Mormon; a Jesus that is Gay or Lesbian; a Jesus that is Transgendered; a Jesus that loves Trump, or even a Jesus that feels the Bern for a Jew from Vermont. In fact, in Colossians 1:15, Christ is described as the “image of the unseen God.” So, how can we say anything about Christ’s appearance, other than how it (and we) are a reflection of the Grace of our unseen God?
Jesus is Emmanuel, the God who walks with us. This means Jesus is our Jesus no matter our race; no matter our faith; no matter our gender identity or orientation; no matter our level of education; no matter what sort of job we have; no matter what country we were born in or live in; and no matter how poor, or wealthy, we may be.
But, more importantly, Jesus walks among us. Jesus is one of us. Jesus, by the very nature of what our Faith teaches us, must be a Jesus specific to the Jesus we each individually need. In other words, our God is a very particular God, particular to us and particular to no one else in quite the same way.
Jesus must be one of us. A God and a Man. One who, because of our shared humanity and shared human experience, understands our burdens and our pains. One who understands our joys and our sorrows. One who knows how hard it is to love the other, or even love ourselves, and yet chooses to love us still.
So, if Jesus is to understand who I am, then Jesus must be walking with me, in my shoes: a straight, Caucasian, well educated, Progressive Christian Male Preacher. For Rev. Baucham, Jesus is (not “Jesus appears to be”) a straight, African American, well educated Evangelical Christian male preacher.
If this were not so, if Jesus only appeared to us in a way we can relate with, without actually being so in fact, then God is not truly walking with us. God would be playing with us, masquerading as something other than what God truly is. God would not be a god willing to take risks by walking with us here on earth as a fully human being. Such a God would pay no price for failure, there would be no cost for being alive.
And yet, there was a cost. Jesus died on that Cross. In fact, the scriptures say Jesus died for our sins. …And let’s pause to consider that quote for a minute: it is found in 1st Corinthians 15:3, where Paul is enumerating the basics of our Faith to the people of Corinth.
So, what does it mean when we say “Jesus died for our sins?” Many, particularly more conservative Christians, take it to mean that Jesus died to redeem our sins, to wash us clean of sin, so that we are fit and ready for the Kingdom of God.
OK, as far as that goes. But, I think that view is incomplete. When we say “Jesus died for our sins” I take it to mean that Jesus died – and really did die – because of our sins. It was our sins that brought him down to death as he walked beside us, a partner and fellow traveller with us through life. Sin kills us, kills us dead in fact, and it killed him. That is the risk we take when we do as God commands, which is to love one another as we are loved by God. That is why Loving is so hard to do. Love can kill us. In other words, Love is not for Sissies.
Jesus died on that Cross because of the sins of the people of that day. But, in a metaphorical sense, Jesus is still dying on that Cross, again and again and again, because we continue to sin, we are not perfect, and cannot be. We will continue to fail to love as God has commanded us to do. We will still forget that the Jesus we carry within us is not the Jesus that others carry within themselves. Our Jesus is not their Jesus, and their Jesus is not ours.
And yet the mystery, the contradiction, the “Both and” of this lesson, not the “either Or”, is that there is just one Jesus, a Jesus that unifies us, makes us all part of the Body of Christ. This is a Jesus who is not whole without all of us working together in unity, towards the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Yes, Jesus did die on the Cross, but the Bible tells us he rose again. And so, the lesson of the Resurrection, the Resurrection we are celebrating here today, is that our sins will not kill us forever, because Jesus continues to live, and to walk with us.
And so, we know that we will not be lost or forgotten by God when our life here ends. The other lesson is that God cares about us individually, just as we are. God cares who we are, values who we are, and wants the best for us. God took the risk of walking with us, the Bible says, and died for it. But that death was not the end.
No, we do not believe in a sissified Jesus. We follow a Jesus who would – and did – die for us. A Jesus who will never let us go, and a Jesus who loves us no matter what. That kind of love, that walks through any fire, endures any cross, is an uncompromising and fierce love.
Learning to be a witness to the fierce Love of God is transformative, the same transformative God that Rev. Baucham knows. But walking out such Love is hard to do, especially when being nailed to a cross. But because Jesus did so, we know that our Jesus is not a sissified Jesus; and that our bearing witness to the Love of our fierce and transformative God is not for Sissies. It’s for everyone.
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, March 27, 2016 (Easter Sunday).
Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)