Who do you say that I am? In our ongoing national and cultural debates about things being “Biblical” or “Christian” this seems to be the one question rarely asked. Who do you say Jesus is? If you can answer that question and do so honestly, the debates about what is “Biblical”, “Christian”, “United Methodist”, or “American” disappear with as much ferocity as they emerged. If you know who Jesus is, Jesus provides a way to answer every subsequent question. If you are heavily invested in the “Biblical”, “Christian”, “United Methodist”, or “American” debate you may not like Jesus’ means of arriving at the truth. His answers will appear to ignore the obvious geopolitical realities such as militant Islam, nuclear weapons in Iran, denominational decline, and rampant godlessness running across the fruited plain. Instead, Jesus will focus on love. His love extends to anyone and everyone despite our well-formed reasons to hate, kill, or excommunicate them. This is who Jesus is in relationship to who we are. Who we say he is and who we think Jesus is often has no bearing on the reality presented in scripture. Yet each and every day, we get away with stealing his identity, and passing off someone else as Jesus Christ.
Sometimes United Methodists call Jesus the “Book of Discipline”, sometimes to Americans Jesus is the “Stars and Stripes”, and sometimes we simply equate Jesus with the entirety of the “Bible” itself. When asked, who is he, how do we answer? Is Jesus an inanimate thing we put more faith into than the gospel writers depiction of the man himself? Sadly, for many Christians, Jesus is a toy. A bobble-head, an action figure, even a bumper sticker which reduces belief to love or hate principles easily digested and shared in one hundred forty characters or less. Like a flexible toy superhero, this Jesus can be what you want him to be at any point in time or space. Void of any connection to reality, his values are your values. Your mind is his mind. The holder of the toy, repeats the well-worn lines, calls out the catchphrases, and decides who can and cannot play with this most valuable of toys. Rowan County Kentucky Clerk of Court Kim Davis’ press conference following her release was case a prime example. Chanting over and over, “He is worthy!” Who was worthy Kim? Who? Jesus? God the Father of Jesus? Which Jesus? Which God? Your idea of Jesus? Your version of God? Who do you say is worthy? Who do you say that Jesus is?
Look at the Jesus toys crafted and sold by United Methodists. Our toys are nice, well mannered, and usually get along together. We try to put them away when we’re through playing. We’ve told the world, even if leave a bit of a mess, that’s ok. We call this “rethinking church”. However, all is not well. We are like a child with Asperger’s Syndrome playing beside someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s too easy (and too often) that things go horribly wrong when our Jesus is left out of place. Someone wants to take their Jesus toy and go home or play elsewhere.
Our toys may not be as aggressive but some can be as harmful to Christian community as anything implied by a fundamentalist. Is it any wonder people seem hesitant to come into our spiritual day care centers (i.e. churches) and be told by those already present how to properly play with the Jesus toys? It’s difficult for us to allow people to explore and find out who Jesus is without establishing parameters. How do we change our expectations and pose another question? Can we firmly identify what Jesus would not be? What Jesus would be against? Might we knock killing, fighting, war, violence, bigotry, racism, homophobia off that list? If we know who Jesus isn’t, we’ll begin to see a bit more clearly who he is. If he’s not those things, he’s certainly not like so many of us.