You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do. -Anne Lamott
Years ago, Life Magazine featured a two-page spread of photographs, a mosaic of images of Jesus from around the world, portraying a Jesus who might have grown up in Africa or Asia or South America. To me, the most jarring of the images came from the Scandinavian tradition, which portrayed Jesus as a Bjorn Borg look alike. I’m not sure what the historical Jesus looked like. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a blondie.
For me, the collection of images indicate our tendency to make Jesus into our own image. You’ll be shocked to learn that people often use religion to affirm what they already value, confirm status quo, ratify existing (and dearly held) points of view. We hear reports that Jesus favors one candidate or policy over another. On social media, people claim they know exactly what Jesus would do about divisive issues of our time. All I know is the guy was full of surprises, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
I recalled the Life Magazine photos when I recently read an article by Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy who spent 48 years teaching at U.S.C., a theologian known for writings on Christian spiritual formation. In this article, he spoke about his work with churches and religious schools, trying to measure spiritual vitality. For him, this kind of growth was about growing in Christ-likeness. It stood in contrast to those Life magazine images, suggestive of the ways we try to make God or Christ in our own image. Dr. Willard challenged readers to think about how we might change to become more like Christ.
But what does that mean, to be like Christ? I’m sure there’s not one answer. But try this exercise this morning. Think of five attributes of Jesus, based on what you know of him. Can you make some commitment to be more like him in those five ways?
I’ll start. Here are five things that came to my mind about Jesus:
- He valued simplicity, born as a refugee in a stable. He was itinerant, often homeless, and navigated all that with joy and freedom from anxiety.
- He was big on forgiveness, even forgiving his torturers and executioners. It makes me think he knew how to manage the kind of petty resentments that drive me nuts.
- He made a commitment to be of service, washing disciples’ feet, maybe an episode from an ancient near eastern version of Dirty Jobs
- He paid attention to people no one else liked or noticed: the rich and wildly unpopular Zaccheus, the crazy guy in the cemetery, the woman at the well with a scandalous past, those incompetent and fickle fishermen (who apparently never catch a fish without Jesus’ help).
- He went off by himself and prayed a lot, recognizing the need to appeal to the one he called Father, to a higher power.
There’s more of course. I’ll stop there and ponder these five, focusing on them this week. Rather than trying to make Christ look more like me, I’m going to try to make some shift to look more like Christ, try to bring that shift to my work, to my responses to the troubled state of our world, to my relationships, my family and friends.
A clergyman I admire offered the following wisdom in a wedding homily. He charged the couple standing before him to be Jesus for each other. In other words, to be more like Christ.
It would be a good idea if we all in the church worked on that, mindful of what Gandhi said when pressed to convert to Christianity. He declined the invitation, saying: “I like your Christ, but not your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
A reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
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