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Caricature Christians?

A sermon by the Rev. John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal
Falls Church, Virginia September 13, 2015

Jesus is walking along with his disciples and suddenly asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” (In other words, “What are the prevailing opinions out there?”) They give him some of the most common theories, and then Jesus says, okay, let’s make this personal.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

Peter answers (seemingly correctly at first) by saying he’s the Messiah, the long-awaited anointed one, but then when Jesus spells out what that means, it turns out Peter had it all wrong.

What Peter was expecting from the messiah (what he almost certainly had in mind) was a conquering king, someone who’d bring about the restoration of the kingdom through political or military conquest.

He was thinking in terms of power, authority, control, command. Now that’s a messiah!

But Jesus took these expectations of messiah and turned them upside down.

·         To a culture that knew that people in power inflict suffering,
·         To religious leaders who surrounded themselves with other religious leaders and preferred places of honor and prestige,
·         To people who understood power as the ability to destroy one’s enemies,
Jesus talked about suffering himself,
being rejected by the leaders and losing prestige,
and being killed himself. 

Jesus’ original followers had one set of expectations about who Jesus is, and he turned them completely upside down.

It must have boggled their minds.

They could not separate who they believed Jesus to be from
what religion had made him out to be.

(You see where I’m going with this…)

That same dynamic plays itself today.

The culture, our culture, has trouble separating who they believe Christians to be from
what religion, religionists, have made Christians out to be.

Remember years ago, that short “man on the street” video making the rounds on the internet? Someone walked around with a camera and asked two questions.
The first question was, “what do you think of Jesus?”

the second question was,

“what do you think of Christians?” 

When people were asked the first question, “What do you think of Jesus – what words come to mind when you hear ‘Jesus’?” 

Their responses:

“Good guy”
“Love, compassion”
“Diversity, Easter”
“Loving, bearded, kind, good”
“My savior”
“Pretty cool, I like him a lot”
“Good: I think of good”
“Altruistic, philanthropy”
“Loving, peaceful, sincere”

When they were asked the second question “what do you think of Christians – what words come to mind when you hear ‘Christian’?”  Their responses? 

“Out of touch”
“People who’re overboard, extreme”
“My uncle Bob: Conservative, white”
“Fanatical, crazy”
“People who wear white, kinda glow but freaky”
“Lots of stigmas”
“Threatening; overpowering;”
“You don’t want to know; rigid in their doctrine”
“Oh…nothing too good…” (walks away)

These caricatures emerge only when we allow others to form our opinion of who Jesus is and who we are to be, instead of the gospels.

When we read the gospels – any gospel, especially in one sitting – a very different picture of Jesus emerges.

A fuller, richer picture. Jesus is someone who[1]

  • put having a heart to love and serve others over the dictates of organized religion;
  • someone who held people accountable but did not judge…a positive agent of change;
  • genuinely respected women;
  • loved and welcomed all people;
  • respected those outside his own religion while celebrating the uniqueness of his own;
  • read and lived his scriptures thoughtfully

Therefore Jesus’ followers the church – the Body of Christ – is to be, this organization, The Falls Church Episcopal, is an organization that is…

  • to be a community with a heart to serve others.
  • to hold people accountable but not judge…to be a positive agent of change;
  • to get beyond sexism and sexist structures;
  • to love and welcome all people;
  • to respect those outside our own religion while celebrating the uniqueness of our own;
  • to read and live our scriptures thoughtfully.

Today we are being asked the same question asked here: who do you say that Jesus is?

As we answer that question,
may we turn society’s expectations upside down,
move beyond what our religion has taught us to expect,
and to meet Jesus as Jesus is revealed
in Scripture,
the breaking of the bread,
and in the hands-on, Body of Christ ministries of Christ’s body the church.


[1] Some of these insights are indebted to Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus but Not the Church


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