We are called to follow Jesus. To be disciples of Jesus, but who is this one we are called to follow? There is a scriptural reference where Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do others say that I am?” “Master, thou art the supreme eschatological manifestation of omnipotent ecclesiastical authority, the absolute, divine, sacerdotal monarch.” And Jesus said, “What?” I’ve studied this stuff and I ‘m not even sure what that means!
In the Church, as in any organization, we often get lost in our “special” language and jargon, our doctrine, polity, processes, and procedure that we miss the question and if we do get the question, we squirm to come up with an answer. Who is Jesus, this one we are to follow? I can’t entirely escape theology and its peculiar language nor would I want to do that. Jesus, for me and in the history and teaching of the church, is love incarnate. Scripture proclaims that “God is love.” Jesus shows us that love. Jesus shows that God is for the people.
The disciples who first followed Jesus were fishers by vocation. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, I was no stranger to fishing – both fishing with nets and with rod and reel. Fishing with nets is hard work. Nets were set in the fall and spring of the year just offshore beyond the breakers when the spot were running. The spot is a whitish, silvery fish with a distinct black spot located behind the gill on each side of the fish. When the nets were full, we would pull them to shore and gather the fish. The fish were slimy and thorny. Back then, we didn’t have the wherewithal to protect our hands as we do today – those special gloves for handling fish for an example. I often wonder, “How did we do the things we used to do without all the things we need today to do the same thing?”
Those fishers, in becoming disciples, were told that they would become fishers of people. They would be fishing for the people. The article “the” is important. This definite article denotes something specific – people. God and Jesus are for the people! For everyone. Jesus healed the people. He forgave the people. He taught the people. Jesus cared for the people. Jesus ate and dined with the people.
I think of the slogan from the US – a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Sounds good, right? I often find that most run to the “for the people” and actually take it to be what’s in it for ME! What do I get for my taxes? Where’s my benefit?
This saying is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Some say it was in his inaugural address, but it was actually from his Gettysburg Address – can someone fact check this please?
“Lincoln evidently borrowed the now-famous three-part phrase. In 1384, John Wycliffe wrote in the prologue to his translation of the Bible, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People” (Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, 1951 edition). Bartlett cites Theodore Parker using this phraseology in a sermon in Boston’s Music Hall on July 4, 1858, noting that Lincoln’s law partner William H. Herndon visited Boston and returned to Springfield, Ill., with some of Parker’s sermons and addresses. Herndon wrote that Lincoln marked with pencil the portion of the Music Hall address “Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, by all the people, for all the people.” (James A. Langley, Washington Post, March 31, 2017).
I find there phrase, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People,” interesting for several reasons, but today I think of governance. As disciples, what is our rule? Our rule, our government is the reign of God. And God is “for the people!”
You and I are for the people! People matter! Someone said, “We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us and wealth classified us.” More than ever as people of faith – followers of Jesus, we are for the people – the hungry, the homeless, the immigrant, the child, the lonely, the sick. Divisions have kept us at a safe distance from each other. Today’s turmoil calls us to be together in new ways as communities of disciples who are for the people! For each other and our rule is the rule of Love. Our government is the reign of God which transcends all divisions! In God and in Christ, we are one! “It is precisely when we recognize our common humanity—when we recognize our own humanity in the face of the other—it is then that we also recognize the face of God.” (~Diane Butler-Bass) Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” And then he offers this prayer:
Use me, God.
Show me how to take who I am,
who I want to be, and what I can do,
and use it for a purpose greater than myself.
May you – may we find our greater purpose in love – love for God and love for the people! Amen.