Being Jesus

“What Does it Mean to Be A People of Courage: Being Jesus,” Susan Ryder

Nelson Mandela
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

St. Catherine of Siena Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!

Jeremiah 6:61This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

Galatians 6:9-10So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.

My sleep has been troubled lately – I have trouble falling asleep and once I do, I wake up often, restless and worried, tossing and turning. And when I do sleep, I have strange, vivid dreams. Last week I had one of those dreams that stayed with me for several hours after I woke up. In the dream I was with some seminary friends, and we were having some sort of deep theological discussion, the type we used to have after dinner in the dining hall. As I was speaking passionately about something or other, I started to morph into Jesus. It was very disorienting, as you might imagine, and I remember feeling panicked. I still looked like me, as far as I could tell, but I was no longer merely myself. Jesus himself was pushing up and out through me, like some alien creature in one of those scary movies I don’t watch. I woke up soon after, so I don’t know what happened next. Still pondering the dream later in the day I asked Bob, “What if that dream was a message – what if my subconscious was telling me that we aren’t supposed to be followersof Jesus and his teachings – what if we are supposed to BE Jesus?”

Here’s what I mean. There IS a big difference between being a follower of Jesus, and actually beingJesus. Just look at his disciples. They tried to follow his teachings, and they messed up a lot along the way. But that was okay because he was the teacher and they were the pupils, and that’s what happens. Some of them were “A” students, others not so much. But maybe part of the reason they had so much trouble getting it right was because they didn’t understand they weren’t just supposed to follow Jesus, they were supposed to becomehim, emulate him. I’m not talking about asking, “What Would Jesus Do?” – although that would be a great start, of course. I mean living as if they were Jesus.

It’s similar to a sensibility cultivated by a character from “The Walking Dead.” For those of you unfamiliar with the graphic novel or TV Show, Negan has a collection of followers. But rather than identify as followers, Negan requires them to identify themselves AS him. They actually ARE Negan. When they identify themselves to others outside the group, they conduct themselves as if they are a manifestation of Negan rather than merely speaking or behaving on his behalf. Granted this is a questionable example, since Negan is a psychopath. But the point is, their group mentality is to act as if they actually are Negan, to act and behave and think as Negan. So when someone asks a member of their group, “Who are you?” the response is, “I am Negan” or “We are Negan.” Ironically enough, the name of their group is the “Saviors.”

The last five weeks we’ve been considering what it means to be a people of courage – and what is more courageous than being Jesus – then and now? I’m not talking about the Christ figure, or the “post-Easter Jesus,” the Jesus of Christian experience and tradition, as Marcus Borg referred to him, but the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. We know that THAT Jesus lived in a dark time – during the first century Palestine, he was a member of a peasant class ruled by a foreign government maintained by corrupt local officials. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and the religious elite cooperated with their invaders, making a mockery of the basic tenants of their religion. For Jesus, the heart and soul of Judaism called him to act with compassion for the sake of the most vulnerable, who were being trampled by the powerful; it called for unity while those in power tried to divide; it called for love being more important than law, and for decency and kindness in the face of tyranny. So when he saw that even the leaders within his own faith community were complicit in the degradation of basic humanity – he called it out and fought against it. He courageously resisted. Are we called to anything less during our own dark times?

What we do is who we are – to act like Jesus is to be like Jesus – to be Jesus – and we need to be Jesus now more than ever. What would it look like to BE Jesus instead of just considering ourselves one of his followers? For me, it would not be about being perfect or infallible, never messing up or making a mistake. It wouldn’t be about walking on water, though I wouldn’t mind being able to turn that water into wine. Because for me perfection and miracles were not what Jesus was truly about. To BE Jesus would mean being a human being, foibles and all, who truly does my best to live with compassion as my core value, as if I myself am the incarnation of a Sacred Mystery. It would mean seeing myself as love personified. It’s one thing to say my teacher, Jesus, lives with compassion as his core, that he is the incarnation of the Sacred Mystery, and that he is love personified. That’s all well and good – but assigning him those qualities as my teacher and not owning them for myself, well, that let’s me off the hook somewhat. As a student of Jesus I can TRY to do and be those things, following his example, and if I fail or falter, it’s to be expected, because I’m a follower, after all, and that’s what followers and students do, it’s how we learn. But if I were to make a mental shift into considering myself to actually be like Jesus – or even to BE Jesus – how empowering that could be! And how courageous I might become.

These days, like many of you, I am angry and scared and barely able to dare to hope that things will begin to turn around and change for the better. What keeps my head above water is the realization that no matter what happens with the election on Tuesday, or in the days and months and years to come, I can still act with compassion as my core, incarnate the Sacred Mystery, and personify love. I can remind my LBGTQ friends they are loved, just the way they are. I can listen to those who are hurting, and offer my comfort. I can be kind to a political canvasser who knocks on my door. I can respond with love instead of hate when people behave deplorably. I can choose courage over complacency, kindness over revenge.

It is a mistake to see Jesus as an isolated, one of a kind individual. We all have the ability to be Jesus. Jesus said I am the vine and you are the branches – meaning we too, are part of that vine. He didn’t say I am the vine and you are the birds that sit on the branches of the vine, or you are that bush over there, or that rock that sits in the shade of the vine. He said that together we are the vine and the branches, and those who abide in him and he in them will bear much fruit. My hope, my prayer this day, is that each of us might be ever more willing to summon the courage required to be like Jesus. No matter how exhausted or frightened we may feel, we each have gifts that can make a difference in the world. In these coming days – may we all do at least one thing to support the broken; to welcome the stranger; to celebrate what is worthy; to do the work of justice and love; to be love personified.

Be strong. Stay connected.
Each day, act — so you may become a little more like Jesus. 

Last Night As I Was Sleeping by Antonio Machado (translated by Robert Bly)
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.