Missing Jesus

It’s been an unsettling couple of weeks. Yes? For you too?

If you hang out on the internet for any length of time at all, you’ve been privy to the rancor and the line-drawing, the judgment and the derision coming at everyone from all sides. I wanted to walk away and I did for a little while. But I knew I had to come back. There is too much at stake to stay away. I will not ignore and pretend I don’t see the suffering and the marginalization of my sisters and brothers, here and around the world.

I am about to get real personal here, and to be honest, I’m real scared. I know many of my readers may not see things the way I do. And that gives me pause. But there is too much at stake. There are many pressing concerns in the time and place in which we find ourselves. There is no way I can address everything in this short piece that might concern any of us, so I’ve had to choose just the one or two that are occupying my mind most.

I have seen an awful lot of rhetoric and posturing from some who claim to be followers of Jesus that looks and acts a whole lot like unbridled fear and a mischaracterization of Jesus, who incidentally was always, always on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. The executive order on immigration and refugees has revealed what in my mind is the dehumanization of image-bearers, which is necessary to justify and defend turning away desperate and traumatized people from what is supposed to be a place of compassion and freedom. This is not a reflection of the Jesus I know. Furthermore, when we turn away refugees and immigrants, we turn away, we refuse, Jesus. Every man, woman and child on the face of the earth bears the image of God in them, and when we refuse them, we refuse Jesus.

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We often think that if we had lived in Jesus’ time we would surely have recognized and embraced him. Surely WE would have seen him for who he was. Surely we would have seen his compassion for the woman at the well, for the blind man, for the “other.”  But would we really have seen him for who he was? Do we even see him for who he is now? In the ways he appears to us today? Because he comes to us now in the broken, the downcast, the oppressed, the immigrant, the refugee, the LGBTQ, the homeless, the differently-abled, the physically, emotionally and mentally ill, the foreigner. He comes to us in ways we could not have imagined and we do not recognize him. Have we been blinded by our prejudice, our privilege and our judgment? We think we know Jesus when we see him, yet we refuse him and turn him away when he does appear to us.

We turn him away because we do not love him – because we have not fallen in love with Jesus. When we’re in love with Jesus, when we allow him to love us and we in turn are able to love him, we no longer have anything or anyone to fear. As long as we fear anything or anyone, we do not have the love of Christ in us. The love of Christ is fearless, because nothing and no one can separate us from that love. The worst thing that can happen is that we die because of our love, and why wouldn’t we be willing to do that when he who loved us first loved us to death? He died for us. Because of his love for us. He gave his life for us, while we were his enemies. Who are we, that we would not die for our enemies, real or perceived? What if dying, literally, is the seed by which others come to know and receive the love that Jesus has for them? I know, this is hard to take in, to embrace, this life of literally being willing to die. But until we are willing to go there, to be willing to give our literal lives, maybe we don’t really truly love the Jesus we claim to follow.

What if we came to the place where we could say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?” What would it take to get to this mindset, where living is for Christ and His kingdom, and to die is for Christ and His kingdom? It makes no difference. It doesn’t matter. To live is to live with Christ and his power in us. To die is to die and be in his presence. So it makes no difference; either way there is nothing to fear. Nothing to fear. Because we’re crazy in love with Jesus.

Until we are willing to love Jesus recklessly, with abandonment, we are going to fear. We are going to self-protect. We are going to hunker down with our prejudice and privilege. We are going to divide people into groups of “other.” We are going to dehumanize the “other” in order to reject and turn away Jesus in the name of Jesus. We are not going to be willing to lay down our lives for our perceived enemies. We are not going to be the force of love this world needs right now. We are going to continue to marginalize and oppress the marginalized and oppressed. We are going to continue to forget that we are human too, and flawed, and imperfect. We are going to try to prove we don’t need the grace and mercy of a loving Savior who loved us and gave his life for us. And we will deny him once again. Unless we love Jesus with all our hearts.

Refugees and immigrants are our brothers and sisters. The differently-abled are our brothers and sisters. The homeless are our brothers and sisters. Those identifying as LGBTQ belong with us. Whether we believe in the same God or not, we are brothers and sisters. Whether or not we are the same color, religion, ethnicity, ____________, you fill in the blank, we are brothers and sisters because we, all of us everywhere, carry in our being the image of God. When we turn the other away it is because we do not see the image of God there, and we do not recognize Him because we do not love Him.

We dare not look away now. We must press into these places of suffering and pain. We must see as Jesus sees, and love as Jesus loves. There is too much at stake. Real people’s lives are at risk and not only those fleeing war and poverty and death. Our own very lives are at stake. We risk losing our lives when we turn away those who are most in need, the most destitute, the most unloved, those who bear the image of God in them. It is a matter of life and death for everyone, not just the those who have been marginalized and oppressed. It is a matter of life and death for those of us who want to be safe and protected in our privilege and judgment, for those of us who have the power to show compassion and love, and to meet the most basic needs of those most desperate and unloved.

God help us all.

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