Christ on the Loose (Bruce Epperly)
For those who are Christian, the person of Jesus will help define one's vision of God, and one's relationship with God. But who is Jesus? Bruce Epperly offers his vision of Jesus, one in which Jesus is on the loose, so to speak. As you read this post, consider who Jesus is? How does he define your vision of God, of humanity of reality. Finding that balance between the divine and human isn't easy, but is necessary,. So, take a read and offer your thoughts.
CHRIST ON THE LOOSE
Bruce G. Epperly
My Christology has come a long way since the days of “one way to salvation” and Christological imperialism. In the spirit of my Loosely Christian, I will be reflecting on the nature of Jesus in a post-Christian age. Many people today love Jesus, but have problems with the church. While the churches they describe might not resemble our congregations, they reflect the Christianity of many churches – imperialistic, unbending, anti-scientific, exclusionary, and unimaginative. There is another way; the pathway of a fluid, evolving, and enlivening faith that rejoices in the journey. Faith is a verb, always on the road, looking toward new horizons in partnership with an adventurous God, whose greatest creativity is right now and in the future. (What follows is an adaptation of a section of Loosely Christian: Answering God's Invitation to a Creative Faith for Today).
My holistic vision of Jesus the Christ is connected with my understanding of divine revelation. God is present universally, moving in and through all things. All creation witnesses to God’s creative wisdom and yearns for the fullness of God’s presence. (Romans 8:12-26) God is also present personally in our lives, intimately related to each moment of experience, guiding and challenging us with insights, intuitions, synchronous encounters, gentle nudges, and mystical experiences. In ways analogous to our own self-expression, the nature and intensity of God’s presence in our lives is variable in nature. In certain historical contexts, God chooses to be more fully present in revealing God’s vision for a person’s life or world history. That God’s presence is variable is neither unusual nor unfair. Looking at our own lives, we have special moments of insight – personal epiphanies - and bond with certain persons in unique life changing ways, even though we seek well-being for everyone we meet. These revelation moments enhance rather than decrease our ability to respond to God in our own unique way. These transformative moments emerge from within our lives and communities, operating within the normal cause and effect relationships of life. God’s incarnation in the world is always variable and personal; it is also always loving and supportive of you and all creation.
In ways that will always be mysterious, God chose Jesus of Nazareth in his historical and religious context to mediate God’s vision of Shalom, healing, and wholeness. The incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth was not an accidental or isolated choice, nor was it eternally predestined. It occurred in the context of the Hebraic spiritual tradition and Mary and Joseph’s fidelity to a Voice and Vision they did not fully understand. Perhaps, as passages from the Gnostic gospels suggest, Jesus experienced reality in ways that differed from other children. No doubt, God’s providential movements in his life guided him from his first toddling steps toward encounters with the Holy. Jesus was not, however, a robot. He developed experientially and intellectually like every other child. Like my grandsons, he learned to crawl before he could walk; his speech grew from babbling to clearly-articulated words; and his mind evolved from blurry images to complex theological concepts. Jesus was just like us, but with unique spiritual energies and sensitivities that set him apart from other children his age. His life evolved in a dynamic call and response in which he grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and humankind.
Jesus’ mother and father were not perfect or unblemished. No doubt Mary grew up like most Jewish girls, playing with friends, admiring the good looking men of the neighborhood, wondering what the future would bring, and hoping for a good life. She may not even have been particularly pious. An angelic visitor surprised her and his request amazed her. But, what was unique about her was that she said “yes” to amazement and miracle, and became for a moment transparent to God’s vision for her and the world. Like other parents, Joseph struggled to pay the bills and couldn’t fathom how God could be moving in his fiancé’s life. He wanted to back out, but God called and he responded. Perhaps, these amazed parents created a family where Jesus and his brothers and sisters could be especially attentive to God’s visions for their lives. They may have created what the Celts call a “thin place” where the divine possibilities implanted in his birthing could grow to a God-aware adult.
Still, I am sure that Jesus grew up like other boys, playing, learning, falling in love, and pondering his vocation. He no doubt struggled with the Roman oppression and explored the many spiritual paths available in this time of ferment. His youth was a vision quest, a journey toward God, toward the “oneness” that was to characterize his adult life and ministry.
Jesus of Nazareth is unique as a result of his complete openness to God’s vision moving through his time and place. It has been said that the glory of God is a person fully alive; and as fully alive and attuned to the divine, Jesus reflects God’s glory in human life. The divine power and inspiration embodied in Jesus’ life and ministry does not exclude other revealers of the divine (Gautama, Lao Tzu, and Mohammed), nor does it minimize God’s intimate presence in our own lives and in twenty-first century “saints”; rather, it emphasizes Jesus’ own unique historical revelation of God’s quest for the human wholeness. Moreover, just as Mary the mother of Jesus, in the lively and intimate call and response of God’s grace and human creativity, opened herself to God’s vision for her, Jesus also was uniquely inspired by God. God’s choice and calling of Jesus was not coercive, nor did it limit Jesus’ freedom, but rather set Jesus free to reveal the divine wisdom and power in ways that continue to transform us today. Jesus’ unique revelation of God is intended to awaken and inspire us to embody God’s vision of wholeness.
We are part of this story of revelation and incarnation. Trusting Jesus opens us to the Christ-spirit within and around us, enlightening all creation and illuminating our own lives.
Jesus’ mission was to bring abundant life to humankind and, implicitly, to all creation. He did not hoard his power, but invited his followers to do greater things than he did. Jesus opened his first followers, and still opens us today, to deeper visions and greater energies residing within our world. As an early Christian leader proclaimed, Christ became human so that we might become divine, expressing in our lives God’s vision for us and the world. Following the path of Jesus means that we expect great things from God and great things from ourselves as companions in God’s realm of Shalom. It invites us to live in an enchanted reality in which divine energies move through our cells as well as our souls, through the non-human world as well as human achievement. As Jesus promises, we can do greater things in our own openness to the dynamic call and response of a living God, whose Christ moves within us.
Bruce Epperly is pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. A resident of Cape Cod, Bruce has previously served on the faculty – or on an administrative or ministerial capacity – at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Lancaster Theological Seminary, and Claremont School of Theology. The author of twenty seven books in spirituality, ministry, healing and wholeness, and process theology, his most recent books are Letters to My Grandson: Gaining Wisdom from a Fresh Perspective and Loosely Christian: Answering God’s Invitation for a Creative Faith for Today.