Looking at Jesus
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
I understand there's
a game being played today? [The Ducks were playing Florida in the Elite
Eight bracket of the NCAA tournament -- during this worship
service!]. I'm not making that up, I just found out. So, I
apologize, because I think I'm in some stiff competition since I've
never been to a basketball or football game in my life. Except my
grandchildren--I do attend their games. So, I may be on another
planet, and I need to be on this planet that you folks are on.
I wanted to think
about Jesus today, and God, and the Bible, and how big they are -- how
big is Jesus? How big is God?
I'm also giving a
slide presentation, which I've never done in my life, a
PowerPoint. I figured it out last week, you're my experiment J.
So I apologize. I ask for your patience.
I also need to put on
a timer, so that I'm aware that there is a game being played J.
I'm a professor [at
Northwest Christian College], and professors can do anything in the
classroom because they have academic freedom. I've been at NCC
long enough (I haven't been fired yet), but I may never be invited back
into the pulpit here. I promise I'll behave myself -- more or
less. Students will put up with things with professors, but I'm
not sure what you'll put up with in the pulpit. So my sermon is
"G" rated, because I'm going to show some slides. I
won't get too creative -- I can do that with my students and they try to
get me fired, but my President just smiles. So hang in there with
This morning I want
to talk briefly about religious symbols and icons, and how they interact
with culture. A long time ago I read a book by J.B. Phillips
called "Your God is Too Small". I was a new Christian, I
think I read it in 1965. It was provocative -- this man said to
me, and I guess I'm saying to us, that our God is too small. As we
wrestle with God, with Jesus, with the Bible, with the church, my hunch
is (and I think J.B. Phillips is right) whatever conclusions we draw,
they're temporary. And flawed. What we start out with as our
understanding of the infinite is continually in tension with reality,
and continually being revised. At least that's been my journey.
So, my slides are to
start us on this journey to think about 'how big is God?'. One way
to think about God is that God is somewhat like the universe in that its
ever-expanding. I'm told it's not expanding at the speed of light,
but almost the speed of light. So by the time I give you a
definition of what the universe is, it's not.
And let me use that
for a metaphor to think about God, or I dare even say Jesus, that my
understanding and your understanding and our understanding is
limited. And that it's a continual process of wrestling with how
we get our brain around the infinite. How do we think about
it? How do we get our heart around God, who is infinite?
And it's problematic,
because when you're "done" figuring it out, you have to start
over. And you do that over and over.
Now, I've only been a
Christian since 1965, but most everything I understand about God in 1965
and what I believe now has been tinkered with. And probably that's
been the journey for you also.
I want to show you
some slides about the Bible, 4 slides, and then about 30 slides with
some pictures of Jesus. A lot of what I have to say is what you
think as you see these pictures.
The above image is John
chapter 1, King James version. That's right off of my mother's
Bible. I know those of you here today may not be able to read it,
but it's John chapter 1, verse 1, the prologue "In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God".
My mother was satisfied
with that Bible her entire life -- she read the King James her entire
life. I was raised on the King James, I memorized the King
James. And by the time I was 20, the "thee's" and the
"thou's" were giving me a headache. So, I started
reading more what my church might call more 'liberal' translations, of
the Bible. We got modern translations. But my Mom never went
to that, she always stayed with the King James version. I honor
the King James version, but for most of us, we move on. And if we
stay in the King James version, the static translation of 1611, that's
not how we talk.
Language changes, culture
changes. It's not static. And for most of our children or
grandchildren, when we read to them from the King James version, they
kind of roll their eyes and humor us. We are from another planet,
we're old, etc, etc. Won't you just get with the times. I
know when I show films at school, the first thing the students ask is
whether it's from 1990 or 1980, they don't want to watch it. This
is a class on history, you know, this is only 20 or 30 years ago, but I
forget that my students are 19.
So how do we live as
Christians in a post-modern world that is changing very very
rapidly? By the time I get it, it's obsolete. I'm told
PowerPoint is now obsolete and there's something else, and I don't. . .
get it. Dan told me I can't use chalkboards and overheads here, we
don't do that--we use PowerPoint. OK, so I learned it in a week
and after I learned something about PowerPoint, it's already gone, and
you have to get something else.
Let's go on to the next
This is a modern
translation, this is the New Revised Standard Version. When I used
the NRSV, when I preached in a Singapore seminary, the president of the
college came up to me and said "This is the last time you ever set
foot on this campus. We will never use the RSV, and you won't use
it either". I said "Oh, OK", I apologized.
It's not that 'new', but
for some folks it's really new. Is your religion, or my religion,
and how we approach it, a static thing? Do you pour it in concrete
for the rest of your life? I wish it was so. How do we hang
on to faith? How do we change with an ever-constant changing
world? I'm forced to change. I don't want to change,
I'd like to have something to hang on to, but it doesn't work that way.
This is the Greek:
If you want something to
hang on to, let's go to the Greek New Testament and if you read that,
this is John chapter 1, verses 1-18, in the Greek. Probably you're
not impressed. Who speaks fluent Greek? Nobody. But
that's what the text says. We have to put it in another language.
Finally, this is a
language I speak:
John chapter 1 goes
something like this [Chuck then read the first few verses in
Indonesian]. So what?
If you look at the Greek
text that I put up, the word "Word" is "Logos", a
Greek word. The writer took the Greek concept and put it into a
Jewish concept. In the above passage, the writer is taking Muslim
concepts and putting them into a Christian context. Because
there's no other words in Indonesian except all the known words from
Arabic. If you want to talk about God, you have to use
"Allah", there's no other word.
What I'm saying is that
when we read scripture, it has to be culturally contextualized, we
say. It has to be relevant and understood by the people who hear
it. And it varies from place to place. Even the most
conservative Christian would not be against Bible
When I was a missionary in
Indonesia I was working in the largest Muslim country in the
world. If I talked about Christ, Jesus, I have to make it not only
in their language but in concepts that they can understand. So I'm
forced, then, to take this stuff that you may be comfortable with and
make it understandable. You go from the known to the unknown, so
they can understand. No one is going to fight that, we support the
Bible translators, they're trying to translate the Bible into every
language in the world. That is necessary.
Now, we're comfortable
with that. Let's take the next step:
I took this (above) out of
the basement of a Baptist church here in town, in a child's
Sunday-school class. And when you're 5 years old, that'll probably
work. Jesus is good, Jesus is happy. Jesus is a white
man. Jesus is middle class. And if you're white, you'll
probably buy all of that. But, it's problematic for a number of
reasons. One is, my hunch is you don't have a picture of this in
your house. It's childish. And in our journey as Christians
we grow, we mature, we change, we are stretched. And so the
picture of Jesus is adequate for our Sunday-school, but it's probably
not used in any adult class, and you know the reasons why. I want,
you want, a more mature faith.
Here's a Rembrandt
I hope you can all see it,
I apologize for the lighting. That's a more mature picture, but
probably not a picture that appeals to most of us.
Here's a picture of Jesus
The above is a mosaic,
very old picture of Jesus. Is it important that we have a
discussion about what Jesus looked like? Well, yes and no.
Let's look at the next
What did Jesus look like,
originally? This is a picture of a man selling peanuts in
Palestine, it was on a web site. Jesus was not white. He's
just not. That's a fact. But in our Sunday-schools, Jesus is
white. Can we do that? If I preached a white Jesus in
Indonesia, it won't work. It won't go down. Because my
Indonesian brothers and sisters will say "I don't want a white
Jesus, I want a Jesus that I can relate to". In cultural
terms, that makes sense to me. If you were to put an Indonesian
Jesus in front of my face forty years ago I would have said I can't
relate to that, it doesn't make sense.
So people all over the
world related to Jesus in different ways based on their culture and
their language and their understanding. So this Jesus, then, looks
different to different people. I put him as a peanut-seller in
Palestine. This guy (above) is 55 or so, Jesus didn't live that
long, but you get the picture -- Jesus was from a Semitic culture.
He didn't speak English, by the way. Jesus didn't speak
English. He spoke Aramaic, and Hebrew, and Greek. Jesus
never spoke English, OK?
Here's Jesus looking at
It brings up images of
Jesus worrying about his people. Maybe that's what Jesus looked
like, I don't know, we're all guessing.
I like this one, Jesus as
CEO, Mr. Businessman J:
Can we do that?
That's outrageous. Not my Jesus. But people do it.
People make Jesus into things they want to, that they can relate
to. This looks like Jesus as an insurance man, a CEO. Can
people do that? Well, they do. They do in American culture.
For you ladies, Jesus as a
You can't do that.
Well, you know it doesn't work to say "no" to that, because
people do it anyway. There's a web site on "Wrestlers for
Jesus". There's a cowboy church here. How can we build
fences around Jesus? How dare we do that. Of course Jesus
wasn't a cowboy or a wrestler. What's your point?
Here's Jesus as an
Here's Jesus as Chinese:
When I was showing this
picture in a classroom of Chinese students who Fred [Brandenfels]
brought in, a student got up and got in front of the class and was
angry. She said there's no way that Jesus can be Chinese, that no
Chinese person can be a Christian. Impossible. And I started
arguing with her in the class, and she just shut down -- there's no way
that Jesus can be Chinese! Jesus, and I'm quoting "is an
American". Discussion over. She was a 4.0 student,
smart, bright. But could not conceptualize that Jesus was bigger
than a white American.
Here's Jesus in India:
Here's Jesus in Korea:
Here's Jesus in the Philippines:
Here's Jesus in Indonesia:
That's a montique, and the
montique is similar to Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana.
Now Jesus looks like a Hindu. You can't do that. Well, they
do. And that's how it gets inside their head.
Here's Jesus in Bali:
He's blessing the
children. Jesus is a Balinese now.
Here's Jesus in Sri-Lanka:
Here's Jesus, now in
Jesus in Ethiopia:
Jesus in Tanzania:
Jesus in Zaire:
So what kind of Jesus do
we preach? A white, middle-class, kind of looks like me and talks
like me, Jesus?
There's something about
taking Jesus out of that context. It's interesting, God made
humankind in God's image. Now we've returned the favor -- we take
God and make God in our image. That's just a basic point in
sociology. We do that. Our religion is a reflection of our
culture. Everybody does this. Is it bad or good? I'm
not here to discuss that, what I'm saying is that's what we do. We
make the infinite anthropomorphic. We need to understand these
abstractions in some way that makes sense to us. So we turn Jesus
into a cowboy. Is that good, or bad? I don't know -- I
wouldn't turn Jesus into a cowboy, but I can't do the gate-keeping and
keep other people from turning Jesus in to a cowboy, or a wrestler, or
on and on.
Here's Jesus in New
Jesus in Mexico:
There's lots of these
images out there. My slide presentation, I told you, is
"G" rated. There's lots of things that you'd have to
close your eyes on.
Here's an ugly Jesus:
This is from South
America. This is a liberation Jesus, about liberation
theology. Jesus is not very attractive. Imagine Jesus
hanging in our church looking like that. I don't think so.
But if you've been in South America, Central America, you go into
cathedrals and you see not-sanitized pictures of Jesus. They're
Here's another one from
This was done by an artist
that had been tortured. This is an angry Jesus. Again, could
we put that in here? I don't know.
This one I like -- Jesus
on death row as a black man:
What is your conception of
Jesus? Can we do that? Can you conceptualize Jesus that
Jesus in a feminized form:
And one more -- Jesus as a
Is that possible?
How big is Jesus? A few years
ago, a lady asked me "Word's out Chuck, that you said Jesus was a
black woman, in the church, and they're talking about it".
She was mad. "Is that true? You can't do
that". Let me go to the next step -- Jesus is a black woman,
and she's homosexual. "You can't do that". And I
said "I do". That's how I understand Jesus. Now,
that's not historical, I know that. That's not the way it
is. I understand that. But for me, to conceptualize Jesus,
and to carry that around in my brain, I've done something that maybe you
haven't. And I'm not saying that you need to do that, but that's
where my head's at. And she said "The students are angry, the
churches are angry", etc, etc. And I said "Well, I'm
sorry. That's where I'm at in this point in my life in
understanding what Jesus is like".
I don't want to deny Jesus as a literal
person. I'm not here to argue history. What I am trying to
do is to hang on to my faith in a post-modern world, and I need my Jesus
to be really really really really big. I need my God to be really
really really Big. I need my church to be really really really
big. The small church, the narrow church, the gate-keeping church,
was what I was raised up in. And I'm not saying, just reactionary,
I'm trying to hang on to my faith, and belief. And at this point,
this is where I am.
I'm saying that my God is too
small. I'm saying that your God is probably too small. I'm
saying that we need a God who encompasses the whole planet and all our
differences. All our languages, all our religions, all our
That, to me, is the good news of
God. Thank you.
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