Friday, October 2, 2015

Is Jesus Necessary?

My friend Marta invites Jesus into all her prayers. "I can't get anywhere without Jesus," she says. As Christians, we understand that Jesus is our Redeemer. We declare this regularly in creeds and prayers. If someone reminds us that we must accept Jesus as our personal Savior, we nod automatically. "Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel," Paul warned himself. 1 Corinthians 9:16 And at our Baptism, we promise "to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ."

And yet... As a card-carrying universalist (note the lower case "u"), I understand all of creation to be saved. No exceptions. I cannot believe that God created the vast sweep of humanity but planned to save only a portion of us. If God is in each of us through creation, surely that guarantees our salvation. God can't lose. "Thus says the Lord who created you, who formed you. 'Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine.'" Isaiah 43:1

And yet...Jesus himself states that "No one comes to the Father except through me," John 14:6, and "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again of water and the spirit." John 3:5 Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are filled with such statements of election, choice, and exclusion.

So is Jesus actually necessary? Yes, I would say so. Jesus is necessary but, more than that Jesus is unavoidable.

In the Incarnation, God became man - human. What this accomplished for all creation, humanity in particular, is to infuse us even further with the divine presence. God created us from love in his own image and then became like us in Jesus. Though he was born into a specific set of circumstances - first century Palestine, Jewish, poor, under Roman occupation, Jesus was born a human being, and thus transcended his social location. He became man for all of us. The grace of that Incarnation passes to all humanity, past, present and future.

His crucifixion and resurrection were also accomplished for every one of us. Jesus accepted all the wrongs of the world, all the sadness and shame and pain and took it to himself and then took the sting out of death. How could this have happened for only a portion of humanity? Even more, how could anyone be called deserving of this? They couldn't. And, likewise, no one can be called undeserving of it either. God decided once for all to accomplish this great act. It reaches everyone.

In Ezekiel we read "It is not for your sake, O people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy Name." Ezekiel 36:22 God makes God's decisions for God's own reasons. God is not going to let any of us be lost because it is not in God's nature (Name/identity) to do so.

No one can be saved without Jesus, but, as it happens, no one is without Jesus. God sent Jesus for the same reason that God does anything - because it is God's desire. For us, in our judgments, to consign some great or minor sinner to eternal punishment is to deny God, to deny Jesus.

So if our salvation is secured by Jesus, why bother being a Christian? Why follow this Christ?

The answer is this: to follow Jesus is to be full, to be free.

It's not about going to heaven. It's not about pulling yourself up by your spiritual bootstraps and pleasing God by your own lovely behavior. It's about following God's own Son, being part of his life and death and resurrection. Living your life entirely as his possession is absolute, perfect freedom. Nothing you see or hear, nothing you own or love matters except as it is from and of Jesus.

And this is freedom. It is through this freedom that we leave everything and follow him. It is through this freedom that we "hate" our lives, that we lose our lives and then gain them through him. It sounds drastic. It sounds impossible, actually, but his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

The lives that we gain in Jesus are bigger, the love that we feel is sweeter, the treasures that we touch and see are more magnificent because they are first his - every sunset, every child, every act of bravery is his. And we are free.

"O God, the author of peace and lover of concord,
to know you is eternal life and to serve you perfect freedom..."
Book of Common Prayer p. 99