Simply Put... God Is As Nice As Jesus
One of the things that grind my gears is that for some reason unknown to me, whenever there is a gathering of Christian leaders or a national tragedy there are those who claim the title of a disciple of Jesus Christ who feels the need to spew hate and misquote the Bible to make their point at that particular moment.
Last February when I was in St. Louis for the special called General Conference of the United Methodist Church every day, every gosh darn day, as we walked from the parking lot to the decommissioned NFL arena we had to walk past the Westboro Baptist Church. The Westboro Baptist Church felt the need to tell the delegates, members of the press, and observers that G-d hates fill in the blank. “G-d hates you,” they said to me because they assumed from my hipster haircut and perfectly trimmed beard that I did not agree with the vomit they were spewing onto the streets of St. Louis. This was not my first run-in with the Westboro Baptist Church but it was the most personal interaction I have had with the group.
While serving a church in Alexandria, the Westboro Baptist Church felt it necessary to send the church hate mail, so explicit there’s nothing within the letters I can share with you from the pulpit. Why the hate mail? Well, the church I served had decided to allow a Mosque to use our youth area for their weekly prayers as their worship space was under renovation.
The hate spewed by Christians in the name of G-d is not limited to church politics or Islamaphobia. After the 2016 Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, Florida two “preachers” - and I use air quotes because of what they spewed - were outed for their hate-filled sermons claiming G-d was happy with the killing of 49 people. These “preachers” felt as though they could honestly stand before their congregations, during a worship service, and the world, and claim that somehow G-d was thrilled that 49 innocent people were brutally killed.
This kind of “preaching” is not uncommon and sadly, there is more of it on the internet and it does not take much of a Google search to find video after video of “preachers” claiming G-d hates and is rejoicing in the face of murder or, even worse, G-d is punishing us, punishing the victims, because the victims do not fit in the political agenda of the “preacher.”
These “preachers” honestly believe that when they are done with what they have said is “the word of G-d for the people of G-d” but I know none of you and most of the people you interact with on a daily basis could not bring yourself to proclaim “thanks be to G-d” after watching those videos.
The problem though is that in many cases, what those vile spewing preachers know better than many is that what they are spewing is the “word of G-d,” the word of G-d with a lowercase “w.” Almost 2000 years removed from the resurrection of Christ we today often do not know what to do with the parts of the Old Testament people like the Westboro Baptist Church proclaim as the word of G-d. We know technically it is the lowercase word of G-d but aside from casting them off as not speaking for the Church, we do very little.
The problem is that during Jesus’ day, what the Westboro Baptist Church and those like them are preaching was the Law. There is no getting around it. Death, the ultimate punishment, was a common deterrent used to keep order within the community as it was the “Biblical” way to deal with those who did not conform to the Law that organized the community. Lawyers and Rabbis during this time knew this. They also knew that if they did not follow the Law they would be subjected to the same punishments they were prescribing for those in their communities.
A rabbi during this day would have been able to read any of the texts we struggle with today and finish by saying, “The word of G-d for the people of G-d, thanks be to G-d” without hesitation.
Last week in our reading from Luke, the parable of the Good Samaritan, we found Jesus being confronted by a Lawyer. This Lawyer was testing Jesus to see if the rabbi knew the Law, and thus was able to teach the Law in a way that was satisfactory for the day. But we find time and time again throughout his ministry that when he was presented with an opportunity to “follow the Law” along with the associated punishment, Jesus chose differently. It is easy to think the Bible says it, that settles it, but even a rabbi like Jesus reexamined the face value of the Law.
When a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus, a crime punishable by being stoned to death, Jesus calmly invited her accusers who were without sin to cast the first stone.
Working on the Sabbath was/is prohibited by the fourth commandment but Jesus found himself healing a man, saying, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
It was believed during Jesus day that the sins of a parent would be repaid to the following generations (found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy) yet when he was presented with the question Jesus said otherwise saying to a man born blind that God would never punish him for his parents’ sin.
In an eye-for-an-eye world, Jesus did not raise a sword in his defense as he was being arrested, telling his disciples, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
All of this becomes problematic for us when we do not have Jesus physically walking around us telling people to drop stones and swords. What are we to do with the Bible, the word of G-d, because the Bible is infallible, inherent, or inspired.
We find ourselves in “ordinary time” within the church. Post-pentecost, the green you see throughout the sanctuary signifies that we are now in the mundane or unremarkable season of the Christian calendar.
Paul opened his letter to the Colossians by quoting an early Christian hymn and the words chosen by Paul are anything but mundane or unremarkable.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
Jesus is the one in whom all things hold together.
Jesus is the one in whom the fullness of God dwells.
The fullness of G-d was revealed to all of creation in Jesus Christ. What Paul is writing to the Colossians is the same thing the Apostle John dared to write in his Gospel:
“Scripture was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.”
And then John doubles-down on that claim in his first letter:
"No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other (as Christ loved) then God is seen in us.”
Jesus is the fulfillment Paul writes continuing what John wrote about Jesus at the beginning of his Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Before the incarnation, no one had seen G-d. Moses experienced the awe of G-d in the burning bush but Moses did not experience the fullness of G-d. Daniel felt the protective presence of G-d in the lion’s den but G-d was not fully revealed. David, the anointed king of Israel felt the presence of G-d through prayer and petition, but G-d did not fully reveal G-d’s self to the Psalmist.
So in Christ, we have humanity’s first encounter with the fullness of G-d, fullness of G-d, becoming a physical reality in our world. Jesus is the capital “W” Word of G-d taking on flesh. Every Old Testament prophesy pointed towards Jesus as the fulfillment of those lowercase “w” words. Jesus is the fullness of what G-d has to say to us, and Jesus is the fullness of G-d made visible.
Author Brian Zahnd likes to say that because Jesus is the fullness of G-d made visible, G-d then is like Jesus, meaning G-d has always been like Jesus and there has not been a time when that was not true. The prophets of the Old Testament caught a glimpse of G-d but through the incarnation we have today have the fullness of G-d revealed to us in Christ.
As my buddy Tripp Fuller likes to say simply put… G-d is as nice as Jesus because Jesus is the fullness of G-d revealed.
We are followers of Christ, people who believe that who Jesus is and what he did is of such importance that we commit our lives to him. We have committed ourselves to the hard work of having faith in a man who acted with compassion and mercy when presented with the opportunity to implement the harshness of the Law. Compassion and mercy require more work, more investment in one another than the harshness of the Law.
After run in’s with the Westboro Baptist Church or others like them, it can be difficult to know what to say in or do in response. It is difficult to wrap our heads around the harshness of the words on theirs signs, the harshness of personal attacks, in comparison to the compassion and mercy of Christ.
Scripture tells us Jesus is the capital “W” word of God, the fullness of G-d’s image that is otherwise invisible to creation. Jesus is the full revelation of G-d when we otherwise rely on those who caught a glimpse of the infinite wonder of G-d.
That is our response to fraudulent preachers and Christians making bold claims about the One who showed extravagant mercy and compassion.
Jesus is the Word of G-d, speaking to us and holding the world together. We cannot speak anything of G-d that we can image Jesus saying.