What is Jesus?
Sermon – August 8, 2010


In recent centuries it’s become fashionable to attack faith in God as unreasonable. Thomas Jefferson, in 1813, took a razor blade to the books of the New Testament, stripping out the “God Stuff”, and reduced it to 46 pages of what he called in a letter to John Adams, “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Others over the years have also dismissed Jesus’ claims to be divine, but have affirmed and praised the wisdom and sensibility of his teachings, as if Jesus were just a very smart and enlightened man.

On the other hand, C.S. Lewis, recently re-popularized through the Chronicles of Narnia movies, said this in his book Mere Christianity; “Anyone who was merely a man and said the things Jesus said, ...would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of hell.” C.S. Lewis went on to say, “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”

Demythologizing Jesus is the current fashion. The modern Gnostics do it, and many writers follow the urge to replace Jesus of the Gospels with a natural human character rather than supernatural plot line. In other words, “Jesus was a good man, that’s enough. Who needs this God myth?”

We believe in a lot of stuff we can see but know isn’t real; movies, cartoons, celebrities, television news.

We believe in a lot of things we can’t see but assume are real; electricity, gravity, microwaves, dark matter.

But most of these things we believe in have something in common. Even though you can’t see them, you can see their effects, their results. So, we believe they are real because we can see results.

This isn’t much different from the people Isaiah was teaching in our Tanach reading from the Nevi’im this morning. Tanach is the Hebrew word for Bible, and Nevi’im is the word for the section of the Tanach called Prophets. The words in our pew Bibles are the same, we just call the section by its English name, Prophets. I used the Hebrew as a way of emphasizing the antiquity of these readings and to point out that not much has changed in 2,800 years. This ancient people wasn’t stupid. They were probably pretty nearly as smart as us. We humans don’t evolve that much in 2,800 years. Isaiah was a pretty smart old guy. The people who Isaiah criticized and exhorted worshipped their gods of wood or metal because they thought they could see results. Sometimes the results were good; enemies died, crops ripened, the house didn’t burn down. Sometimes the results were bad; friends and relatives died, the crops failed, the house burned down. Whatever happened, they attributed the results to their wooden or metal gods.

Today, we have our own substitutes for wooden or metal gods. We think we know a lot more than those folks did. Our contemporary gods are more reasonable. Of course, something has to replace God to explain matter, matters and events. The mystery of God and of Jesus, the Christ, is too unreasonable for many otherwise very smart people today. We have “our own understanding to lean on”. And we think we see god-like results. “Our own understanding to lean on...” Hmmmm. That’s a familiar phrase from the ancient Tanach. “Lean not on your own understanding.” The Proverbs of Solomon teaches,

“My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your mind retain my commandments; For they will bestow on you length of days, years of life and well-being. Let fidelity and steadfastness not leave you; bind them about your throat, write them on the tablet of your mind, and you will find favor and approbation in the eyes of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths smooth. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. It will be a cure for your body, a tonic for your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the best of all your income, and your barns will be filled with grain, your vats will burst with new wine. Do not reject the discipline of the Lord, my son; Do not abhor his rebuke. For whom the Lord loves, He rebukes, As a father the son whom he favors.”

Were here today because we call ourselves believers in God and His Christ and the Holy Spirit. But from time to time we are challenged to explain by people with less firm faith or with sincere questions on their minds. How do we respond to folks who feel that religion is a fine way to teach a good ethical foundation, but that the idea of God is a hangover from the old days and doesn’t have a place in today’s world of scientific knowledge and progress?

How do we explain our faith to our children going off to college, or to our skeptical neighbors or to our friends at work, the ones with the raised eyebrows? Maybe most of all, how do we explain our faith to ourselves when things are going badly and we don’t see either a reason for it or an end to it? How about the problem raised by Thomas Jefferson? Why do we believe in the divinity and humanity of Jesus? Who was he anyway? Was he God or man? What do we say except, “Because, that’s why, just because.”

As always, I like to ask scripture. This morning in the First Reading from the Tanach, in Nevi’im, the prophet Isaiah invited us to stop by for a drink. Ho, all who are thirsty. Come for water, even if you have no money; Come buy food and eat; Buy food without money, Wine and milk without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, Your earnings for what does not satisfy? Give heed to Me, and you shall eat choice food and enjoy the richest meats.

What is the prophet inviting us to? I don’t think he is inviting us to his house for hospitality. I think the prophet is reminding us that, while human food and drink is a necessity, it ultimately does not satisfy. And to spend more and more money and resources seeking satisfaction by satisfying our human needs is fruitless. It does not and cannot satisfy. We all know, in the midst of our affluence, that nagging sense of hunger, that this just isn’t enough. Where is that coming from? Maybe that nagging points to the existence of something else, something quite real, something that’s not getting nourished. What satisfies is pursuing our spiritual thirst, our hunger for the divine.

When we cater to our human hunger and thirst, we go to our refrigerator or pantry and draw from our human larders. Or we go to The Sherwood or Krebs, which also draw from their larders. Our spiritual food and drink come from a different larder. I think of each of us as having two tanks from which we draw sustenance and nourishment. Think of the SCUBA divers clearing milfoil in Skaneateles Lake. They are sustained by a tank of compressed air. I think we each have two tanks, not one. One is our human nature, a larder of our human resources, our natural skills and abilities, our emotions and our reason, our logic and our wits.

The other tank contains our spiritual nature and is the resource through which we draw our spiritual nourishment. We feel the spiritual hunger, so we can be sure the spiritual being is there crying for it’s own spiritual food and drink. This food and drink is freely poured out for us by God. We have a constant table provided for us, even in the presence of our enemies. This is the meal, the water and milk Isaiah spoke of, this is the food that satisfies – and without cost. This is the food and drink Jesus spoke of when he told his disciples in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John,

“I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

It sounds as if the disciples thought Jesus had a food delivery coming, maybe Chinese. The point is, even Jesus’ disciples had difficulty understanding what both Isaiah and Jesus said.

I think acknowledging our own two natures is key to understanding. Seeing our dual nature both as human beings and as spiritual beings is one of the keys to the kingdom. Think of each human, yourself included, as having two tanks. One is human; one is divine. When we are newborn infants we are obviously not complete human beings. Maybe we are 10% fulfilled as complete human beings. Our human tank is 10% full. But we have two natures. Maybe at birth we also have a divine tank and our divine tank is also 10% full. The smile of a baby may be because of gas, but it may be because of the divine wisdom and pleasure the baby is experiencing.

As we grow, our human tank is fed by others. And not just groceries. Our human nature is the one rewarded at school, by participation in sports, rooting for the Mets or Yankees or the Orange over the enemy. We compete academically, we compete in our careers, we compete socially. We are rewarded for our skills, for our achievements, for our success over others. All this time, while our human tank is filling, and perhaps overfilling, our divine nature may just coast along. But by the time we hit the age of reason, while our human nature has been over-fed to the point of obesity, our divine nature is often neglected. Our spiritual nature tends to wither through lack of feeding. It may even be that the tank of our human nature has been so over-filled, that it’s pinching off the valve on our divine tank.

Craig began a wonderful ritual at the start of every Sunday service. The worship leader pours water to remind us of our baptism. The water reminds us that our old human natures died, and that we are reborn as Christ. Two natures, two tanks. But for most of us, this is a dilemma. Paul described our dilemma well. We want to be reborn, but we also want to stay as we are. We want the “new man, our Christ nature,” to be put on over the old man like a suit of clothes. We want to be reborn, but we’d like to also just keep going on the path we know so well, the familiar route that has worked for us – more or less well. No one wants to change, no one wants to die. Let’s keep filling that human tank and that spiritual tank will take care of itself.

Remember the brief, cryptic parables Jesus taught his disciples? The man who finds a treasure in the field hides it again in that field, goes and sells all he has and buys the field. The trader who finds a pearl of great value and price, immediately goes and sells all he has and buys the pearl. We might ask Jesus, “Why not just take the treasure then and there? Why not haggle over the price of the pearl?” The answer is: They sold their old goods and lives to make room for the new treasure. The message to us is we need to stop stuffing our human tanks so our divine tanks can be filled. When our human tank becomes less bloated, it becomes possible to fill our spiritual tank, and bring the two into balance. We need to turn our faces away from our current habits, our overindulgences, our excesses, our hunger for excess profit and gain, our fears of death and loss, the things that stuff our human tank. We need to refocus on daily prayer and Bible reading, on making time for the Lord in our daily lives. Jesus said, it is very difficult to worship both God and Mammon. Our Gospel reading this morning was about treasure and getting ready for when our time comes. We need to choose where our treasure is located, our human tank or our divine. Because, where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

We need human food and drink. We need social pleasures, friends. These are all good things and our Father knows we need these. Isaiah’s message this morning is when we are out of spiritual balance, when we turn all our attention to the pursuit of the pleasures and defenses of the natural world, we are in trouble.

Our human tank fills up with more than food and drink and pleasures. Our human tank holds a full stock of fear as well as desire for more good things. When we are sustained only by our human tank we experience fears of loss, physical fears, fears of failure, fears of not being loved or accepted. The Gospel of John teaches, “Perfect love drives out fear”. When our human tank is moderated, brought into balance, and we allow our spiritual tank to be filled, not only are our spiritual hungers satisfied, but our fears drop away. Perfect love drives out fear.

An old friend recently become an evangelical Christian. Last week we were discussing my preparation for this sermon. He asked about the Tanach, the Old Testament and the Law, and whether the message of the Old Testament was different from Jesus message. I described the Law as something Man needed to lift him from his pagan chaos and be a road map to discover God. But, despite the Prophets’ repeated redirections and warning, humans found it easier to serve their human natures rather than their spiritual natures. Over time they set up rules of men with, as Isaiah said, “...rule upon rule, ordinance on top of ordinance.” Finally, God the Father, seeing his people were worshipping the Law in place of the God to whom it pointed, our Father God burst into history in a new way by pouring himself fully into a Man, and that man is Jesus. I believe the answer to “What is Jesus?” is that God appeared as Man to explain to us the meaning and intention of the Law, and through Jesus’ teaching and example, to point the way for us to cap our old human natures and develop our divine natures.

What do I think Jesus is? I think he is the Son of God and the Son of Man, just as he said. Here is what I think that means: I think God sent Jesus with both tanks full. 100% divine and 100% human. Yes, 200%. Yes, this is a mystery. But I believe that my dissatisfaction with over-filling of my human tank, my yearning for something more, tells me that I’m yearning for something real even if it’s “unreasonably” divine. I also believe God and his ways are more than our human minds can comprehend. As Isaiah related to us 2,800 years ago – and again this morning;

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.
This is the word of the Lord.
But as the heavens are high above the earth,
so are my ways high above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

It is not a good idea to thwart the God of the Universe, your Creator and Shepherd. And there are many blessings for you if you go along. That was the often repeated message of the prophets. And it is our challenge as well. Jesus showed us the way to become human AND Sons and Daughters of God. The message is simple. We each have a spiritual nature tank and a human nature tank. We have to switch tanks and open the valve on the divine tank so it can be filled. God is continuously pouring his gifts and graces on us, eager for us to accept them. But our spiritual valve is often shut tight while we continue to stuff our human nature.

How do you fill your spiritual tank? As Craig reminded us last week, it is not enough to “show up in church on Sunday.” We need to pray daily, to read scripture daily and to inquire of the Lord every day. He wants a relationship of Father to Child with us. More, he wants a relationship of friend with us. That is real, that is more than “reasonable.” And in this relationship He will fill your divine tanks to overflowing.