How big is your Jesus? That’s the question I’d like to explore this morning. In order to get the ball rolling, take a look at image you were given as you picked up your bulletin. This is The Cosmic Christ by Alex Grey. As you look at it, you see that Christ is pulsing with light and energy. The earth is close to his heart. Mary is just above the earth with her arms in a position of blessing. Surrounding him are various images that take us on a journey from atoms to the farthest reaches of the cosmos.
The print you have does NOT do this painting justice. I suggest you Google it later today. Take a closer look at all the details Alex Grey has packed into this icon. It’s a remarkable painting, worthy of our time and attention. As you look at this striking image, I’m certain you’ve already formed an opinion about it. You reaction to it depends on how big your Jesus is.
Most Christians like to put Jesus in the box of their own choosing. They have a preconceived notion of what Jesus looks like, how he behaves, and what he taught. This viewpoint is formed from what they learned in church as well as portrayals of Jesus in art and movies.
To be honest, this Jesus is pretty small. He often looks and behaves more like a white Protestant of European descent than he does a brown-skinned Jewish rabbi. Heaven help us if we try to pull Jesus out of someone’s carefully constructed box. We will find ourselves being criticized, yelled at, or labeled as a heretic. When we put Jesus in a box, we limit his ability to influence our lives. We also limit opportunities for us yo learn and grow in our understanding of who jesus is.
This is the issue in our gospel lesson. The setting is Capernaum which is ground zero for Jesus’ ministry. Peter’s house is there. Jesus stayed with Peter so much that even the gospels refer to Capernaum as Jesus’ hometown. The day before our gospel lesson takes place, Jesus fed over 5,000 people on the opposite shore of Lake Galilee.
When the crowds caught up with him in Capernaum, we see that there are several different boxes people are trying to put Jesus in. Some are looking for a free meal. They see Jesus as the Horn of Plenty, Some are looking for a miraculous sign. They see Jesus as a Magician or Miracle Worker and want to be wowed and entertained.
But Jesus told them he was neither of these things. He wasn’t going to jump into their box. Instead he said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Finally, when our gospel lesson begins various groups of people are arguing with one another regarding what box Jesus should be put in. Here we see a third group emerge who saw him as one of their own. “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. We know his people. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven.’ He was born in Nazareth. He’s one of us.” Jesus then tries to clarify what he had said earlier. But I have the sneaking suspicion that most people left Capernaum with their box intact, and Jesus in it!
Friends in Christ, it’s hard for people to see beyond what they already know. This is especially true when it comes to deeply held religious beliefs. We think we know who Jesus is. And we don’t like anyone messing with our opinion, including Jesus himself!
This brings us back to my original question: How big is your Jesus? As we turn to our second lesson, I have to warn you to hold onto your box, because it’s probably going to explode. Colossians tells us that the Jesus we know, who walked the earth, taught and healed, who was crucified, died and rose from the dead, is ALSO the Christ who rules the Cosmos and has been with us since the beginning of time. Say WHAT? Our Jesus Box has just exploded!
St. Paul writes, “Christ existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see…Everything (that’s a big word) EVERYTHING was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.”
Mind sufficiently blown! And in case you think Colossians is an isolated Bible passage, the same thing is said in Ephesians 1, John 1, Hebrews 1, and 1 John 1. All five of these biblical books begin with a similar statement about Jesus. He is more than just the Crucified One who gave us life for us. He is also the Cosmic Christ who is redeeming all of creation from the smallest quark and atom to the limits of the known universe and beyond. Let that sit in your Jesus box for a moment and see what happens!
The term Cosmic Christ may be unfamiliar to you, the term was first used by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the early 1900’s. The clearest definition of Cosmic Christ I could find comes from contemporary theologian Ron Rolheiser, He writes, “Christ is more than just an historical person who walked this earth for 33 years, though he is that. He is more than a great teacher, marvelous miracle-worker, and extraordinary moral-exemplar, though he is that too. Indeed Christ is even more than the God-man who died for our sins and rose from the dead, though that is a crucial part of his identity.
Christ, the scriptures tell us, is also someone and something within the very structure of the cosmos itself, the pattern on which the universe was conceived, is built, and is now developing. This concept challenges the imagination, implying far, far more than we normally dare think. Among other things, it tells us that Christ lies not just at the root of spirituality and morality, but at the base of physics, biology, chemistry, and cosmology as well.”
As you can imagine, the comments on discussions regrind the Cosmic Christ are not pretty. Those who speak of such things are often called false, teachers, heretics, tools of Satan, and it goes downhill from there! People do not like their view of Jesus challenged. They like him to stay in the box, even if the Bible tells them otherwise. They like their Jesus the way they like him, and have little patience for anyone who tells them differently. Their Jesus is pretty small. They aren’t thrilled with the idea of him cavorting around the cosmos. But five books of the Bible tell us that this is EXACTLY where Jesus is. Jesus is UNBOXABLE, and personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally my sermon was going to explore the concept of the Cosmic Christ in greater detail. But after we’ve all witnessed the riots in our sister city Charlotte this past week, after we’ve heard endless rounds of nasty barbs between Trump and Clinton, after I held a memorial service on Friday for a family whose baby died unexpectedly in the mother’s 9th month of pregnancy, my sermon took a sharp detour.
The detour it took is that my Jesus needs to be as big as possible. I don’t need my Jesus to simply “Walk with me and talk with me and tell me I am his own.” I need my Jesus to permeate every cell and atom in my body, every angry emotion in my soul, every hurt and angry protestor, every scared police officer. I need my Jesus to permeate every jaded politician, every judge in this nation, every individual who just might be the one to lead us forward toward peace and harmony. I need my Jesus to permeate every grieving family, every seemingly hopeless situation, every polluted stream and toxic soil.
I need my Jesus to be big enough to hold and redeem us all: humans, plants, animals, families, terrorists, polluters, communities, nations, our world, and yes, even the Cosmos. I am tearing up my Jesus box and throwing it in the trash. I am allowing Jesus to be who he wants to be and not who I want him to be.
If you’ve had a week similar to mine, I suspect that you need your Jesus to be just as big as I do. You need Jesus to be the Cosmic Christ who “existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,” who “made the things we can see and the things we can’t see,” who “existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” Can I get an AMEN on that?
But I’m not quite finished yet because today is our 30th anniversary as a church. In the time I’ve been the pastor of this congregation Jesus has jumped out of the box several times! I have the sneaking suspicion he’s not finished yet! Through the past 30 years this church has experienced amazing moments of grace and providence, as well as agonizing challenges and defeats. We have sent young men and women into the world with a deep knowledge of Jesus. We have buried many of our friends who helped us to become the church we are today.
We have touched the lives of those in our community and in our church through countless acts of service and compassionate care. We have baptized babies and married couples. We’ve educated and inspired those who have walked through our doors. We’ve offered Holy Communion to anyone who is hungry for Jesus. We’ve defined ourselves as a welcoming, inclusive community, where all are welcome, and we really mean it!
As we set our sights on the next 30 years, I am certain that the Cosmic Christ is big enough to lead the way to whatever future Christ has planned for us. So, let’s resist the temptation of putting Jesus in a box. Let’s allow him to be as big as he wants to be. Let’s have the faith that Jesus Christ is Lord over us, over our city, over our nation, over our world, and over the farthest reaches of the cosmos. Amen.
Copyright ©2016 by David Eck