While growing up, there was a little chorus we would sing in Sunday School “What do you think about Jesus? He is alright!! What you think about Jesus? He’s dynamite!” In those days of innocence, Jesus was slowly taking hold of our youthful minds, especially as we sang those children’s songs. Eventually, one learns “Do you trust and love Jesus?” is a life-changing question. When Jesus was first inserted into the Sunday school disciples, our instructors fumbled and struggled with because sometimes it is easier to tell other Jesus’s simple stories for children rather than to explain how He affects our lives and to confess Jesus had changed their own.
Jesus has come to symbolize a lot of different things to a variety of people as we all struggled to come to terms with our faith and how faith intersects with our experiences. An example this type of struggle is spelled out in the story regarding a group of blind men, who have never come across an elephant before and who had to learn and to conceptualize what the elephant is like by touching it. Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant's body, but each could only touch and feel only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then describe the elephant based on their limited experience and their descriptions of the elephant are different so different from each other’s. Though oftentimes this story can be viewed as a negative, I wish to share in some ways this story best explains the bigness and greatness of God. God is so great for us, as ordinary human beings, it can be almost impossible to fully grasp His awesomeness. I fear those who believe they have captured God and placed him in a bottle for their use.
When Jesus posed the initial question to the disciples it was for those who stood on the periphery and observed him. Then Jesus turned to those whom he shared a high level of intimacy and posed the same question. Who do you say that I am?
My friends in Christ, I very much want to use the men and the elephant story to explain how you can gain a better understanding of God and your faith in Him. When understanding faith, at its very heart, is much greater than a belief; faith is really about intimacy. Being in an intimate relationship with God through Christ Jesus is what we as Episcopalians believe lies at the very heart of the gospel. The popular reading in 1 Corinthians 13 declares “it is more than knowledge about God or hope for the future, but really about being in an intimate relationship. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13) Christianity is about responding to the question “How deep is your love?” Recently I heard my daughter singing a modern day version of that pop song and smiled because we grew up with the Bee Gees asking the same question, “How deep is your love?”
In the Book of Proverbs, God takes the title of Wisdom and declares it is only those who share an intimate relationship would survive the storms of life “but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:33). The call for intimacy with a God, who is so big and great, remains an elusive challenge for us. Thus our response is to place ourselves on a pathway of Revelation. We follow the pathways of Jesus and allow God to reveal Himself to us as we simultaneously experience self-discovery. This experience is vitally important because sometimes we spend a large portion of our lives not knowing who we really are and live an illusion that tells us what we want to hear. Christianity sets us a pathway where we begin to discover we are not as important as we think but more valuable than we accept or understand. Jesus had to scold Peter for him to eventually come to terms with that understanding/revelation of himself.
Our worth and value is grounded in our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. We live not for world valuation but for Christ’s validation. This self understanding and faith in God changes the way we view our lives and our time, gifts and talents. These are now harnessed for the greater good of God. Worship then becomes an expression of our intimacy with God, and not part of an entertainment package. When we gather it is about offering who and what we are not just what we think is worthy or valuable.
I sing the Eucharist with horrible intonation because it is all I have to offer. We give sacrificially because it is the best we can do for a God who gives us everything. We care for the hungry, poor, homeless, broken, lost souls because God is in them as much as he dwells within our poor sinful broken hearts. We worship and sing not just to soothe our souls, but for those who cannot because they are bedridden, imprisoned or struggling with mental illness. We pray aloud not just to share in the liturgy but for those who are oppressed and for the Gospel sake. We give generously to the work of the church not only because it is our duty but the work will ensure we prepare the next generation of Christians to tell of the greatness of God. Who is Jesus to me?
He is my all in all. He is the whole elephant!