Reinhold Niebuhr said it best for me, especially for me who with some friends, keep being deluged with their “Jesus is the only way to God” mantra. He said in describing Jesus Christ, “Jesus is the supreme revelation of God’s love.” In my limited knowledge, no one has said it better.
With that I go with Marcus Borg [God rest his soul] in writing about the Bible, “I don’t take the Bible literally; I consider it seriously.” When I hear from “everything in the Bible is fact and true,” I only ask if the proclaimer likes shrimp…or wears polyester. Why? Because you’d be condemned to eternal damnation if you took Leviticus seriously.
And then [This is leading to Jesus…in a surprised way…very surprised way] from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach all times; if necessary, use words.”
Ah, that sticks…Velcro and not Teflon. For all my life I’ve used words. Even when I got lost in a sermon manuscript, more than 40 years ago, said to the congregation [we had a fabulous relationship], “I’m lost.” Verne Fish, such a dear friend who sang in the choir, said and it wasn’t a whisper, “What’s New?” I replied, “Hey, I think this is a good paragraph; give me a minute.” He then said, and it impacted me to this day, “Forget the script; speak from your heart. You’re better that way.”
Truth is I kept to the manuscript, especially in the churches which had two worship services and a parking lot only big enough for one service. The sermon HAD to not be on and on and on. And I’m sure, many times, if not most, brevity trumped depth. When I entered conference ministry, preaching in a different church each Sunday, I never had a manuscript—however, for the cynics, I didn’t preach the same sermon 52 consecutive Sundays! Borrrrrrrring!
With all this, back to Niebuhr…since I believe Jesus is God’s Supreme Revelation on what best living is all about, I do my best to live like Jesus. Never become Jesus. Mercy, never even think that. Still, in one worship service I disappeared and Jesus appeared.
It was in Lakewood, the church that never forsake creativity. I worked with our organist—such a dear friend, phD in organ from the University of Colorado, James Yeager, who went on to be a teacher at a Jesuit Seminary in Columbus—to create a worship service with a Circus theme. That meant he played circus music [I don’t know how to spell calipee] as someone who was a circus employee struggled…maybe stuck in a box as a magician pierced the box with a sword, maybe carrying water buckets all day in horrible heat for the elephants, maybe stumbling on a tight-rope. In a critical “I don’t know I can make it” moment, a mime walked down the center aisle, went to the distressed person and liberated them, all the while the circus music themed us on.
It was the only sermon in more than 51 years of music I didn’t say a word…or have a script!
Following the worship service, we gathered in the courtyard, bunched together and released hundreds of balloons. Such a joy.
But. It didn’t end there.
The next morning, still having the beard [it wasn’t fake] but the white paint and cross and overalls and white painter’s shoes put away, I went to the grocery store.
Checked off my list, stood in line to pay.
I didn’t know a church member and her daughter were a few check-out stations over. Suddenly [she didn’t need a microphone and it certainly wasn’t a whisper!], the daughter looked at me, then proclaimed for the store and all creation to hear, “LOOK MOMMY! THERE’S JESUS!”