It is the Season of Epiphany, beginning with the story of the Magi on Jan. 6, and continuing through the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Feb. 10. The liturgical, or historic, expressions of the Christian faith focus on the stories that make God “manifest” in Jesus. A simpler way to say that is to say, “if you want to see God, look at Jesus.”
My passion, as a Christian pastor, is to help people see God more clearly in the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It can’t be denied that the church has often failed in its attempts to share that love because we are imperfect human beings. I must add that I also have failed often in my attempts to share the good news in ways that are truly good and gracious. But, in well-earned humility, we keep trying. I enthusiastically want you to know the loving and gracious God that is made “manifest” in Jesus Christ.
Our world is very diverse, and it has become a part of our ethical foundation that we not judge the differences in people around us, including the religious differences and expressions of others. I too share that value, and want to honor and respect the faith of others, while finding common ground for fellowship and service. But, as a Christian, I also want people to see God in Jesus, and I want them (you) to find joy and hope in this broken world through that Good News. So I’m going to make one more attempt here and now.
First, consider these 10 teachings of Jesus and see if they don’t paint a picture of God in a way that draws you a little closer. Perhaps other faith figures have taught some of this. But, in my opinion, it all comes together in Jesus in the way he related to people and in the stories he told.
1. God loves you unconditionally and never gives up on you.
2. God cares for each and every single human being, bar none.
3. According to Jesus, the greatest commandments (greater than the Ten Commandments) are “love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” All Christian ethics, therefore, begins with love as action and not as emotion.
4. God loves even the most unlovable.
5. God is like a loving parent, like “Daddy” or “Mommy,” and not a distant power.
6. In Jesus’ love, we are taught not to get even or seek revenge.
7. We are taught to forgive without limitation, and we are taught to forgive others over and over.
8. Jesus is counter-cultural, especially in teaching acceptance of outcasts, grace for sinners, the equal value of women and men, and the importance of children and youth.
9. Jesus reminds us to be concerned only for the troubles of the day and to leave things in God’s hands as do the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
10. Jesus teaches us to not to worry nor let anxiety or fear control us.
These are only some of the unique and life shaping things that Jesus teaches as he brings God’s love to us in down-to-earth ways. There are many other things that could be added to the teachings that make God “manifest”, and all of them begin with love.
Then, if you would consider the ultimate claim of Jesus as “God made manifest”, I want to share three things to trust that make these teachings more than just expressions of an attractive philosophy. It is my faith and my calling as a pastor to articulate the following:
1. God actually took human form in Jesus to be with us in down-to-earth ways. (We call that the Incarnation and we celebrate that at Christmas.) This was God’s way of saying “I am with you” in everything.
2. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s way to tell us that the powers of death are defeated, and though we will still feel pain and sorrow, we are finally saved from that.
3. Resurrection (whether you understand it physically or spiritually) is real and is a promise for life where “all things are made new” in the loving presence of God. Therefore, we can stand confidently against all of the powers of death that we see and experience here and now. We are people with hope, even when terrible things happen.
As a Christian pastor, I want you to hear the good news (which is really what Gospel means), and I want you to hear that what you trust has power to shape your life. Living in a diverse world with real questions about the broken nature of the church and the people in it, makes it easy to disregard faith. I feel real anguish about that, for I realize how imperfectly I myself have tried to share what is supposed to be good news. But I pray that you allow yourself to trust all that is good and trustworthy about the real ways that Jesus reveals or “manifests” God.
The Rev. Mark E. Becker is pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Stillwater.