I was accosted after a communion service one Sunday. "You didn't say anything about the importance of the blood of Jesus!" This lady wasn't asking, she was telling. As pastor, I get "told to" a lot. "Don't you think Jesus died for our sins? Don't you believe his blood was shed for the forgiveness of those sins?" She had definite ideas about Jesus.
This Sunday we call the "Reign of Christ" is all about the leadership of Jesus over all our big ideas. But as this example illustrates "my Jesus" and "your Jesus" can be entirely different people. This election proved that. Which is fine as long as we respect where each of us happens to be, and then learn to live as one. As we renew our sense of ministry as an Economic Justice Covenant Church, the lines of demarcation between who Jesus is and what it means to follow him are getting sharper. So to understand this "Reign of Christ" in our lives who this Jesus is matters. First, How in the world are we expected to navigate the complex and confusing terrain of faith and not study the Gospels? Yet, in any given week, maybe 12 of you grapple with the core principles of our tradition and deepen your understanding of Jesus, and each other, through community Bible study. As we prepare to invite Frank Allis Elementary School, and this entire neighborhood into our lives, we'll need the Good News to make sure Jesus is always before us, guiding us.
Just as important, we need to know the belief and practice of this "United Church of Christ." In the UCC founding Constitutions we declare "Jesus Christ" as the "sole head" of our church. He's the boss and we dedicate ourselves to study his word and follow his lead; not by ourselves or just with the people who think like we do, but in "unity" with everyone. Our motto comes from the Gospel of John, "That they all may be one." But we don't stop there. We expand the idea of this Reign of Christ in our lives by acknowledging the word of God deepened together through the guiding presence called the Holy Spirit. This creative union, and not our personal opinions or comfort zones, is what inspires everything we do in the world. We act as one under the direction of a God who's with us every day. No easy thing in this demanding world. But here's where things get really sticky. We declare in our founding document as a United Church under Christ a sacred responsibility in every generation (not just in one time, but in every time) to shape our faith in how we worship, how we think and act, and especially in the honesty of how we share that thinking and acting together.
We don't just come together for worship on Sunday or in a few ministry projects and call it a day. Our forefather's and mother's declared a commitment to know who Jesus is and reinvent our expression of this Jesus in every moment of our lives together. When I hear the "complaint train" coming at me from people with no intention of making an effort and are just wagging their tongue at me to fix whatever's bugging them, it hurts in ways few realize.
We can't say we follow Jesus yet refuse to be challenged with the deeper meaning of the faith we profess. In our Bible Jesus says, "Follow me." He knows even on our best days many miss the mark, not out of a lack of desire, but because there's too much of our will at play and not enough of God's. And doing stuff? Well, even our best work can have little value unless we know who we're doing it for and why? We can't claim Jesus Christ as the sole head of our lives and not take the time to understand what this Jesus calls us to become.
Like the person who thought her Jesus was the only one, I'm constantly bombarded with people who refuse to believe there's a better idea than their own. If we're to dedicate ourselves to having Jesus lead us, we better take the time to understand what he's saying, what he expects, and how others feel about it.
Kate Mathews Huey looks at Paul's Letter to the Colossians and sees a church struggling. For the people in Colossae, as with us, she says "Christ (can't be) one more among many competing approaches to life...Christ is at the very center of the meaning of everything for all people. The question of Jesus Christ isn't of secondary but primary importance...not just something we think about on Sunday morning or when someone asks us what church we go to, but a question that shapes our whole life."
Most of us church people have definite ideas about the God we follow. But rarely do we share those ideas because we're afraid, "What if someone doesn't agree with us?" Fair enough. But, if we don't allow our ideas to be challenged and be challenging in a healthy way, we can't continue to learn and grow. And we aren't living as a "united" church.
As a United Church of Christ we believe Jesus is our way. We also respect the many other paths seekers choose to follow. We believe there are many ways up the mountain to the one God. This idea alone ruffles more than a few feathers among the faithful. Yet, to be dedicated to unity we've got to learn how to get along within a group of very diverse thinkers. These days of Donald Trump challenge us in ways we've yet to understand. It's easy to hide behind our "gated" politics. But, listening only to people who think like we do risks the unity our church stands for, and denies the way of Jesus in our lives.
The God who gives us the church also gave our us the ability to think. Being united doesn't mean all of us have to believe everything exactly the same. "United" means we dedicate ourselves to hang together and struggle honestly, continuing forward under the banner of the Christ.
As we read along in his book, John Dorhauer says no matter what's going on around us in this wonderful and challenging movement called "church," we must move beyond our resistance and engage with the ideas and people around us. We must be willing to follow the Christ seeking unity especially when it comes in conflict with our own thinking. Not unity for unities sake, but an honest dialog which seeks above all else the common good. The Christ who reigns over us brought Good News that scared even his most ardent followers. Worse, it caused the most anxious and worldly to do more than disagree, but persecute and kill him.
How far are we willing to go to live united under such a Jesus today? The answer lies just beyond our resistance.