Be Grateful for the Sea: Old First E-pistle 01.31.20 

Be Grateful for the Sea: Old First E-pistle 01.31.20 

Early in the week, Tony and I were talking, and he said something about “Jesus living in me.” He said it in a way that reflected deeply the sense of trust it provided him. 

I’m not sure why my mind went where it went. I wasn’t feeling ornery. Or that I wanted to shake up or upend my friend’s faith. But I responded, “I wonder where we get that sense that resurrected Jesus lives in us individually?” 

It was, I believe, just an innocent question. His was not an unusual claim for a Christian to make. That Jesus lives in us. I think I heard it as far back as Sunday School when the teacher went around the circle and said, “I see Jesus in Taisha and Tommy, Robert and Sally…” naming every child present. Or don’t we sing it literally or essentially or metaphorically in much of our Christian hymnody, particularly the devotional music. (It didn’t take much googling to find this exemplar of the genre.) 

In the churches that focus more on individual salvation and personal confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior, this language of “Jesus lives in me” is employed more often. 

I know what I am wary of (not in Tony!)… That over-individuated Christian pietism ends up isolating and insulating. A “me and my Jesus” faith that is so self-protected and self-referencing that it easily becomes self-righteous. 

Have you ever met a Christian who is so sure of their faith (that they’ve got Jesus nailed down!) that whatever she or he says or does has to be right? For me, my Christian faith delivers a good dose of humility because my faith is in God’s grace — that which I cannot do for myself, but what only God can do for me.  

As I wondered about how we imagine the resurrected Christ is in us, a bunch of various strands popped in my head. 

Most basically, after the Ascension, the resurrected Jesus is in heaven “seated at the right hand of God,” and we are given the Holy Spirit, occasionally explained as the Spirit of Jesus, who stays with us in life. In this word picture, if Jesus is living in our heart, it would be through the Spirit. 

I also know that the promise “Christ will be with you always” is absolutely central to my faith; it is how God stays near me. 

And I accept the responsibility that as a Christian, by my baptism, one of the ways I serve is to represent Christ. 

It also occurred to me that I like the exhortation that we are to look for and see Christ in one another; I use it often as part of the prayers before a meeting. 

And that what I am trying to preserve by rejecting too-individuated a hold on Jesus is some spiritual accountability — if I come up with some cockamamie religious idea, I want other Christians and the church to be able to call me out on my mistake and help me reconsider critically and grow faithfully. 

Finally, I thought that my concern about too-individual a claim on Jesus would be solved if the references in the Bible were to “you-plural.” As in, Jesus lives in you-all. There is for me great  power and challenge in the teaching that Christ lives in the body of Christ, the church; that he is mystically in the life we share and the witness we offer together. There are some of those “Christ lives in y’all” references in the writings of Paul. 

But, Tony is right (again, humility is a deliverable of my faith!): Paul also makes multiple references to Jesus living in the individual Christian. In reference to baptism and the cross (Romans 8:2 or Galatians 2:20) for example. But he also writes simply that Christ can live in the individual’s heart (Ephesians 3:17-19). 

The Gospel of John, in its mystical linking of Christ to God and us to Christ, talks of how Christ is in us individually and communally. 

So, despite my wariness and discomfort, it’s not just some piety for the kids. Or for the conservative church. The risen Christ is to be found in each of us Christians… 

Hmm. I probably need to sit with this challenge for awhile… 

But, as I read what conservative churches and their theology say about this, I noticed that they often insist that there is nothing poetic or metaphorical about the language. They believe that Christ is literally living in each of us. Ok. 

But it seems to me that when we talk of God and Jesus and the Spirit and the Resurrection and Eternal Life, we have no choice but to get metaphorical or poetic? That doesn’t mean something isn’t real. Instead, it simply means that we are talking about things that are beyond human limitation.… Perhaps the most real things — because they are beyond our comprehension — can only be spoken of with metaphor or allegorically or in a poem. Isn’t that why Jesus used parables? 

Which is all to say, I am glad Tony knows that Jesus lives in him. And I am glad that we sing at Christmas that we receive the Christ child in our hearts. And that some know a feeling of the power of the Spirit. And others feel this closeness — a warming in their hearts — an assurance that Jesus is always with them. Or know deeply that Jesus loves them. And that I know I am never alone, even when from a human point of view, I most certainly have been. I rejoice that some people, they cry in church during communion or on Easter morning. 

Some people find or know or are given their Christian faith as a more internal experience. For others, it’s something they come by in relationships and in community. Amen. 

It’s all just humans struggling to make some sense of our vague brush with the beyond, the eternal, that which is ineffable. We are trying to perceive and then articulate that which is so much more than we can think, understand, know, limit or control. 

And so we end up floating in a large sea, not quite sure how. We’re really not walking purposefully on dry land… with solid ground beneath our feet. (And maybe a good rule of thumb is to doubt those who claim they are!)

Be grateful for the sea, even as you sense its limitlessness. And however you interact with it, feel it, describe it, make it part of your life, find yourself in it or lose yourself in it… 

See you in church, 

Michael