Saturday, 2 January 2016

Likely not how you pictured him

Normally I’m not a fan of big city megachurches. But a project started by The City Church, a multi-campus megachurch in Seattle, Washington, has caught my attention. The project is called “Jesus is...” and is an invitation to church members (and to anyone else interested) to complete the sentence. As the Jesus is web site says, “Everyone has an opinion of who Jesus is. That's why this website exists: as a platform for people to express who Jesus is to them.”

The web site goes on to say that the only place we can find the answer is in the Bible, something I don’t entirely agree with. We can find Jesus and stuff about Jesus in the Bible, including his message of redemption for humanity, but, as the web site shows, there is more. Much more.

Many of the responses posted to the web site are conventional. Jesus is love. Jesus is life. Jesus is my redeemer, my saviour and my lord. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

What the web site also says is that out of that knowledge of Jesus comes real, compassionate action. Jesus is loving a woman at a homeless shelter. Jesus is raising awareness of human trafficking. Jesus is giving Christmas to families of wounded soldiers.

But the Jesus is... web site and The City Church have gone even further. They have bought space on roadside bulletin boards and placed their message “Jesus is...” and their internet address there.

Someone has filled in the blank.

In a recent photo circulating on Facebook, someone completed the sign with spray paint, saying “Jesus is middle eastern”. And they are right.

The quest to figure out what Jesus looked like is never-ending. If you search the internet for “What does Jesus look like”, you will get lots of answers. None of them will be accurate. That’s because no one knows. The earliest image of Jesus dates from 235 A.D. and was found in a Syrian synagogue. The artwork, named the “Healing of the Paralytic,” shows Jesus with short, curly hair wearing a tunic and sandals. But Jesus probably didn’t look like that, either. Nor did Jesus look like a Greek or Roman god or a tall, blond white guy. If you want to see Jesus, look to the streets of the Middle East.

Jesus as a child could easily have looked like Alan Kurdi, the 3 year old whose body washed ashore after a failed attempt by his family to cross the sea to Greece and whose death sparked the current wave of compassion for refugees in Canada.

Jesus does that to us. Child or adult, his story and his teaching show us to a better way. In this case, it points us toward compassion for others, especially those on the edges, those marginalised by war, driven from their homes by bombs and forced to risk everything for what we take for granted.

It’s Christmas. It’s a season of community and giving and a reminder that we are better than hate and division. Jesus’ birth points us to a better way; a way of mercy and justice. In this season, may you respond to that invitation to follow a better way.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.