Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Gentle Jesus? Cowboy Jesus? Which one do you know best?

 13The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

As we move toward Holy Week and Easter, we enter in to the part of the Jesus journey that is the most difficult to understand. In the weeks leading up to Easter, we encounter Jesus at his most vulnerable, most unsettled and most human.  In these next few weeks we see another side of Jesus.

Like all of us, Jesus is not shallow or one-dimensional. He is deep, complex, and sometimes seems to contradict himself. Those of you who have been in a relationship with someone for a long time understand that no matter how well you think you know someone, there will come a time when they do something that you don’t expect. A time that makes you wonder how well you really know them.

Matt and I were walking through one of the fields by our house one early fall evening. The goldenrod was blooming and the orange light made everything seem to glow. We were talking casually when I surprised him.

“I’d like to go to seminary.”

I’m not sure that my memory is 100% right, but I think that may have stopped him in his tracks. It was one of those moments in a relationship that draws you up short. It's probably happened to you. You look at the person you’ve spent the last 2, 20 or 40  years with and wonder, Who is this person, really? 

I think I can safely say that when we planned our life together in our 20s, he never imagined being married to a preacher. But, then again, I had never imagined being married to a banker. So there we were in the field together, wondering how much we really knew about each other.

Most of us here have a long-term relationship with Jesus. Some of us are just beginning to understand who Jesus is and what he is about. But, Jesus has the ability to stop all of us in our tracks. Each of us can be surprised by Jesus. Each of us can discover something new in his life and in his teachings that can cause us to re-evaluate what we think we know.  This challenge is how we grow in faith. A life of faith and discipleship is not a one-time conversion, but a lifetime process that happens over and over and over again in big and small ways.

In some ways our relationship with Jesus is like a marriage. When we start a long-term relationship with someone, we have a tendency to see all the things we like first. They are so good looking, so kind, so thoughtful. They are just perfect for us! But over time, we discover those other things about a person--the opinions we disagree with, that story that they tell over and over again, the opinions that make us cringe. And we are committed to those other things as well as the things that we happen to like.

As Christians, we have to be willing to see and embrace the whole of Jesus. For us as it means embracing the parts of Jesus’ life and message that we like and the parts that we struggle with. It means really hearing these challenging Bible passages in Lent and thinking deeply about what they mean for our relationship with God and what they mean for our lives. We need to realize that Jesus is both life and death. Jesus is both the expanse of eternity and this singular, present moment. Jesus is both comforting and convicting.

Many of us easily embrace Jesus comforter and bringer of eternal life when we meet him. We know and love the Jesus who says, You are forgiven.  We adore the baby in the manger and sing of Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. Part of the reason we like this Jesus is we can take him anywhere.  He’s polite and well-behaved and doesn’t make waves. Gentle Jesus lets us go on about our lives in confidence and offers us peace and security through life’s storms.

For many years of her life, my oldest daughter had a love object in tow. First it was a pink stuffed pig. Then came Spot, a yellow-gold beanie dog with red spots that was not much bigger than my hand. Around age 6 or so she received the object of her true affection--Dino Dyno. Dino Dyno is a green dinosaur-shaped pillow that is the size of a traditional twin-sized pillow. Luckily, she was old enough to not carry it around with her all the time. But anytime she went for an overnight stay, Dino Dyno would go along. She was so attached to Dino Dyno that when she went to study abroad in Finland as a high school junior, she took him along. Because she could only take one suitcase for the whole year, she pulled all of the stuffing out of Dino Dyno and folded up as small as she could. Once in Finland, she stuffed him back up to size. I suspect Dino Dyno may be in her dorm room at college.

Dino Dyno was Sarah's love object. He got her through transitions and life changes. For many of us, Jesus is a love object, a safe and comforting presence in a stormy life. 

We see another to Jesus in today’s reading. This is the Jesus the prophet and judge. This is Cowboy  
Jesus who gets so upset that he overturns tables, throws around the money being exchanged and herds the sacrificial animals out of the temple with a whip and all.

This is the Jesus who calls the religious leaders vipers and hypocrites and preaches about eternal torment. This is the Jesus who tells stories about God banishing people from the eternal banquet because they show up in the wrong clothes.  This is the Jesus on the street corner shouting at people about their sins.

Some of us love this Jesus, too.  We love it that Jesus takes a stand and points out right from wrong. We love that Jesus has the brutal honesty to condemn wrongdoers and defend his faith. Our passage today shows us Jesus, the outspoken prophet and zealot. This isn’t Gentle Jesus, but the convicting, Cowboy Jesus. This is Jesus telling people that they are not living up to God’s expectations. 

·      We like this Jesus in the Bible because we know who the good guys and bad guys are. We like this Jesus because we have been taught to see the marketplace in the temple as flawed. We know it’s wrong. We like Cowboy Jesus because his judgment is aimed at those other people.

We know who Jesus really is, we don’t sell things in our church and we are for Jesus, not against him. Not only do we feel off the hook of judgment, we can feel a little smug and superior to those people who don’t get it.  It’s easy to like Cowboy Jesus in the Bible.

But would we really like this Jesus in our lives today? After all, this outspoken Jesus is a little embarrassing. He’s on the fringes yelling at people about Biblical things like how to treat foreigners or adulterers or what we should be doing for hungry or homeless or oppressed people or how we put our idols before God. This is the Jesus who looks around the Temple and is appalled at what is going on.

This is the Jesus who would walk into this church today and say… What?

If the convicting Jesus, the Jesus who has zeal for God’s house, would walk in to our sanctuary, what might he say?

If Cowboy Jesus walked into your life, what might he say?

If you haven’t thought about these questions, you should.  

From redletterchristians.org
If you don’t think Jesus would have anything convicting to say to you, I’d suggest getting a Bible that still has the words of Jesus in red letters to help you remember just how hard it is to follow him and be his disciple.

Those red letters (the words that Jesus says) show us that Jesus’ harshest words aren’t for the sinners, but for the people who think they are getting it right—like the people in the temple. Jesus ministers to the prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor, and the gentiles. Those on the outside. 

Jesus harshest words are for the people on the inside. 

Right where we are today.

Sometimes the convicting, Cowboy Jesus walks into our lives and stops us in our tracks. Just like in the temple, this Jesus will seek to drive things out of us, scatter our thoughts and overturn our lives.  Cowboy Jesus is judgmental and outspoken and we don’t encounter him very often in the church year.  But Cowboy Jesus has important things to say to us, too.

Maybe you like one aspect of Jesus better than another--most of us do. But, discipleship is a process of getting to know all of Jesus better over our lifetime. If all you hear is the Gentle Jesus or if all you hear is Cowboy Jesus, you are probably stuck in your faith journey.

If Gentle Jesus simply upholds everything you do in life, you probably aren’t growing in faith and may need Cowboy Jesus show up and turn the tables on you.

If Cowboy Jesus plagues you day and night with unreasonable expectations, you probably need to spend a little more time with the gentle, forgiving Jesus.

The good news is that Cowboy Jesus and Gentle Jesus are one in the same. The Jesus who unsettles us is the same Jesus who walks along side us as we seek to change our lives. The Jesus who comforts us is the same Jesus who calls us out of complacency to follow him more closely.

The Jesus way is complex. It’s  a way of death and life, the now and eternity, conviction and comfort. Jesus says, Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.  This destruction and resurrection is eternal. It’s what Cowboy Jesus and Gentle Jesus do. It’s conviction, change and comfort.  Another word for it might be repentance.

Some days Gentle Jesus meek and mild may have some soothing words of love and forgiveness. Other days, Jesus may saunter in, overturn the tables in your life and scatter the best-laid plans.  But they are both Jesus. 

But we are resurrection people. We trust that out of the chaos of overturned lives, Jesus will something new.  He won’t abandon us in the process. It sounds like foolishness, but it’s the wisdom of the cross. Out of conviction comes comfort, out of death comes life. Out of Jesus own destruction comes our salvation. Thanks be to God.

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