It’s funny what comes to mind every day. I had a great conversation with a parishioner yesterday which prompted thoughts of former parishioners. One former parishioner in particular came to mind, Joe D. Waggonner, as a result of yesterday’s conversation. Mr. Joe was a member at Benton UMC when I pastored there, and I had the privilege to serve with Dr. Donald Webb in conducting his funeral in 2007. Mr. Joe was also a retired congressman from the 4th District of Louisiana. Mr. Joe was a man who knew people, who could name drop political names on a first name basis, yet every time we visited, he wanted to talk about Jesus. As a matter of fact, almost every Sunday he attended worship he would come out by me and say, “Just give ’em Jesus!”
Of course, that memory also prompted another memory, not of a parishioner, but of a mentor. Rev. Jimmie Pyles, who was my District Superintendent when I went to seminary, used to always remind me (and I’m sure many others) “Just tell ’em about Jesus.”
“Just give ’em Jesus!” What a statement! What a reminder of what the world needs. The world needs Jesus. Unfortunately, the more we see the world in need of a Savior, the more we find the world is rejecting the very one God sent to redeem it. It’s hard to “give ’em” Jesus anymore. God, now there’s another issue, but Jesus is just not in vogue these days. We can feel free to talk about God all we want, after all, God is so generic, and that allows everyone to participate in the conversation. Let’s not get too specific and talk too much about Jesus, though. That can be too divisive.
No one would ever say Jesus was unwelcome in our public conversations about deity. Well, that would be exclusive and intolerant, wouldn’t it? But it’s almost an unwritten rule that when I’m invited to pray in public that I shouldn’t pray in Jesus’ name. I might be seen as intolerant and exclusive. After all, we’re all God’s children, and to insist on Jesus as the “only” way to God’s salvation, well, that’s too exclusive and just down-right arrogant. It’s like the world is ready to accept God, but we can keep our Jesus.
How can we not give them Jesus? Isn’t that what we’re called to do in the Gospel? Don’t we believe there is something special about Jesus that sets him apart from all the others who claim religious followers? But then, doesn’t that make us (and Jesus) rather exclusive? Quite the conundrum, huh?
I don’t believe Jesus is exclusive. I am thinking of his words in John 12:32 when he said, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” I think Jesus was saying that the ground is level at the cross. There is something exclusively inclusive in what Jesus had to say that day. Perhaps there is something exclusively inclusive that we have to say to the world as we seek to “give ’em Jesus.”
There is something that makes Jesus exclusive. He’s the only one who claimed to BE God. We believe Jesus is Emmanuel–GOD with us. That is a unique claim, and we have agreed with that claim for over 20 centuries. We agree with that claim every week in worship when we profess our faith in the traditional “Apostle’s Creed.” When we speak of the Trinity, of God who is Father, SON, and Holy Spirit, we’re saying we believe there is something different about Jesus, and I can’t help it, but that’s a little bit exclusive. Asking me to give that up is like asking a Muslim to give up Mohammed, or at least asking a Muslim not to talk about Mohammed.
Perhaps my confusion lies in the fact that we can’t “give” the world anything. Maybe a better word is “offer” them Christ. “Give” them, “offer” them…it’s all semantics. Don’t ask me to not talk about Jesus. Let’s keep Jesus in the God conversation and see what the Holy Spirit might do. I’m not saying anything about the eternal state of anyone’s soul. I haven’t been given that privilege. That’s God’s. I also know that Jesus used a parable where weeds and wheat were growing together, and it wasn’t for the worker’s to pull up the weeds while the crops were growing, so I’ll leave the judgment part to God–to the God who has been revealed, I believe, in Jesus Christ.
I’m not trying to enlist arguments for or against ecumenism or anything like it. I’m just wondering if I can be faithful to the Gospel by removing Jesus from the equation? That’s likely to make me unpopular because it can sound a bit exclusive, and the most terrible thing a person can be these days is exclusive.
What to do, what to do? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll just try to “give ’em Jesus.”
Until next time, keep looking up…