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+ Who do UU Say that I am? An Introduction to Jesus for Unitarian Universalists.

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Presentation on theme: "+ Who do UU Say that I am? An Introduction to Jesus for Unitarian Universalists."— Presentation transcript:

1 + Who do UU Say that I am? An Introduction to Jesus for Unitarian Universalists

2 + Some opening thoughts…

3 + Lauren Hill, “Every Ghetto, Every City” “ Every ghetto, every city and suburban place I’ve been make me recall my days in the new Jerusalem.”

4 + U2, “One” “Did you come here to play Jesus To the lepers in your head?”

5 + Archbishop Oscar Romero “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

6 + Dom Helder Camara “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

7 + Alpha and Omega We’ll begin and end today with Jesus’ question to Peter: Who do you say that I am? After all, that is really the only important question when it comes to Jesus. Not who I say he is or what he means. Not what any church or catechism or creed says, but what do you say? So, what do you say and think and feel about Jesus? We’ll take some time both now and at the end of the session to let you discuss with each other what you think. Maybe at the end of the session, what you think may have changed a bit, maybe not. Either way, that’s fine.

8 + First Images: The Gospels The first images we have of Jesus are the Gospels. Each writer of the canonical Gospels paints a different portrait of Jesus based upon how his community of Jesus Followers interpreted the teachings, life and ministry of Jesus.

9 + The Gospels are / aren’t The Gospels are documents written by 2nd or 3rd generation members of Jesus movement communities They are documents that represent the different ways different groups thought about and interpreted who Jesus was and what he said and what it all meant. The Gospels are NOT biographies or history books.

10 + Jesus in Mark’s Gospel When Jesus heals, he tells the healed person or the evil spirit NOT to reveal his identity as the Messiah of the Jews. Mark keeps Jesus’ identity as a messiah secret because he doesn’twant Jesus to be seen as a Theos Aner or Divine Man. Divine Men were wandering charismatic healers and philosophersand snake oil salesmen. One of their stocks-in-trade was that theywanted EVERYONE to know who was doing the healing and to bringfriends. Divine Men would preach and heal in town squares andmarket places, proclaiming their powers and greatness for all to seeand hear. They would ask for money for their services. Many, if notmost, were fakes. Mark doesn’t want his Jesus to seem like one of these to his reader, sohe sets up the secret messiah persona.



13 + Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is a prophet, rabbi, and teacher in the Jewish tradition. He is the promised Messiah of the Jews. Like the rabbis of his time, he teaches his disciples seated, using catchy, clever sayings, stories, parables and allegories. He uses the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” because observant Jews would find it disrespectful to use the phrase “Kingdom of God,” thus unnecessarily invoking God’s name. Matthew focuses on the Jewish tradition by presenting Jesus’ “New Law” in 5 major sections to parallel the Torah: 5:1-7:27 - Sermon on the Mount 10:5-42 - Missionary Teaching 13:1-52 - Parable Collection 18:1-35 Teachings on Community 24:3-25:26 - Apocalyptic Discourse


15 + Jesus in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is the “perfect Christian” in Luke. He prays, preaches, heals the sick, feeds the poor, ministers to the outcast (women, the poor, tax collectors, prostitutes, etc). Jesus is a missionary, moving from his home town to the center of Jewish faith in Jerusalem, and then his followers carry the mission to the center (at the time) of the world, Rome.


17 + Jesus in John’s Gospel An obvious Divine Man sent to earth to teach those who would listen. The perfect being as God incarnate. A mystical messiah, who seems to know he is playing the theological role assigned to him by a higher divinity (or later theological interpreters). Here is a character very different from Mark’s secret but human messiah, Matthew’s rabbi, and Luke’s pastor.


19 + Commentators, Theologians and Believers The next step in the evolution of Jesus, if you will, was that people who found meaning in the Gospel and Biblical stories, continued to have different ideas about what it all meant. People began to write commentaries on the Gospels, began to discuss Jesus’ relationship to God, and this influenced how groups of believers in the Jesus story related to Jesus and the story they told. In the centuries following Jesus’ death some came to believe Jesus was God, sharing in the divinity of God and spirit of divinity called the Holy Spirit. This would come to be formalized in Christian Creeds in an attempt (successful) to define a Christian orthodoxy or right belief. Yet, from the earliest days of the Jesus movement others resisted this attempt at a formalizing orthodoxy. They were called heretics. They are our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors.

20 + Origen (Origen Adamantius, 185–254, CE) Believed the mortal body of Jesus was transformed by God into an ethereal and divine body, the activity of Jesus was essentially example and instruction, and his human life was only incidental as contrasted with the immanent cosmic activity of the “Logos.” Origen regarded the death of Jesus as a sacrifice, paralleling it with other cases of self- sacrifice for the general good. He also believed "the fabulous pre-existence of souls," and "the monstrous restoration which follows from it" thus making him one of the earliest Universalists (everyone is saved). He was formally declared a heretic in the 6 th century.


22 + Proud to be Heretics Unitarian Universalists have always been proud to be heretics. ‘ α ἵ ρεσις = hairesis (from ‘ α ἱ ρέομαι = haireomai = "choose" A heretic is one who has not given up the right to choose what to think or believe. Heresy stands in opposition to orthodoxy, also from the Greek, ortho- "straight" + doxa "belief. Who is to say what is right to believe? In a responsible search for truth and meaning, might the best thing to think and believe change as time goes on and we learn more about our world, our circumstances, our past, and/or as more information comes to light? Or might we just change our mind(s)? Right belief also means little without right action (orthopraxis).


24 + Some Major Christian “Heresies” * Adoptionism- God granted Jesus powers and then adopted him as a Son. * Apollinarianism- Jesus’ divine will overshadowed and replaced the human. * Arianism - Jesus was a lesser, created being. William Ellery Channing’s Jesus. * Docetism- Jesus was divine, but only seemed to be human. * Gnosticism - Dualism of good and bad and special knowledge for salvation. * Modalism - God is one person in three modes. * Monarchianism - God is one person. * Monophysitism- Jesus had only one nature: divine. * Pelagianism - Man is unaffected by the fall and can keep all of God's laws. * Socinianism - Denial of the Trinity. Jesus is a deified man. * Tritheism - the Trinity is really three separate gods.


26 + Michael Servetus (1511- 1553) On the Errors of the Trinity (1561) Servetus - was one of the most outspoken critics of the established Church of his time. It earned him the singular distinction of being burnt to death by the Catholics with the aid of the Protestants.

27 + On the Errors of the Trinity “The philosophers have invented a third separate being truly and really distinct from the other two, which they call the third Person, or the Holy Spirit, and thus they have contrived an imaginary Trinity, three beings in one nature. But in reality three Gods, or one threefold God, are foisted upon us under the pretence, and in the name of a Unity.” “Any discussion of the Trinity should start with the man. That Jesus, surnamed Christ, was not a Hypostasis but a human being is taught both by the early Fathers and in Scriptures, taken in their literal sense, and is indicated by the miracles he wrought. He, and not the Word, is also the miraculously born Son of God in fleshly form, as the Scriptures teach - not a hypostasis, but an actual Son. “ “The doctrine of the Holy Spirit as a third separate being lands us in practical tritheism, even though the unity of God be insisted on.



30 + Faustus Socinus (1539- 1604) Racovian Cathecism (1605) – Rakow, Poland, The Polish Brethren or Polish Reformed Minor Church

31 + The Racovian Cathecism on Jesus Is Jesus God? The Socinians answer, "... there cannot be more beings than one who possesses supreme dominion over all things."18 This one supreme being is the Father of Jesus Christ. God the Father is the one true God. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. The Socinians reject the traditional description of God as a Trinity. To worship the Trinity is polytheism and is contrary to the way of salvation.19 The writers of the catechism find error in the doctrine that "there is in God only one essence, but three persons."20 Instead, it is asserted that "the essence of God is one, not in kind but in number... it cannot contain a plurality of persons, since a person is nothing else than an individual essence."21 Socinians acknowledge that Jesus is rightly called "God" in the Scriptures in the sense that he has received from that one God superior authority "in heaven and earth among men, power superior to all things human, or authority to sit in judgement upon other men."22 Jesus, therefore, can be called God in some sense, but he is separate from and totally dependent on the one true God.

32 + Rationalist Unitarians Regard Jesus as a non- divine and human Prophet. Rationalist Unitarians include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker and American Religious Humanists.


34 + Marcus Borg’s Spirit Person Although Borg is not a Unitarian Universalist, his conception of Jesus as a “Spirit Person” resonates with many UU’s. This image of Jesus comes from his 1994 book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.


36 + Jesus as “Spirit Person” Spirit persons are known cross-culturally. They are people who have vivid and frequent subjective experiences of another…dimension of reality…. They share a compelling sense of having experienced something "real"…. Their experiences are noetic, involving not simply a feeling of ecstasy but a knowing. What such persons know is the sacred. (pp. 32, 33) "Spirit persons share a second feature: they become mediators of the sacred. They mediate the sacred in various ways" (p. 33)


38 + Jesus as “Spirit Person” It is important to note that the experience of spirit persons presupposes (a) reality very different from the dominant image of reality in the modern Western world. [Which], derived from the Enlightenment, sees reality in material terms.... The experience of spirit persons suggests that there is more to reality than this—that there is...a non-material level of reality, actual even though non-material, and charged with energy and power. The modern world view is one dimensional; the world view of spirit persons is multidimensional. (p. 34)


40 + Some contemporary UU Thoughts on Jesus “I find spiritual wisdom in Jesus' affirmation, even to the nobodies of the world, the marginalized and oppressed, “You are the light of the world.” Everyone, each one of us, is precious.” Rev. Bruce Southworth The Community Church of New York New York, NY


42 + Some contemporary UU Thoughts on Jesus While much energy has gone into finding “the historical Jesus,” I find myself drawn in a different direction. I am not so interested in knowing who Jesus was, but I am very interested in knowing who Christ is. The distinction may surprise some, but it is helpful. Searching for Jesus as he really was is a quest limited by historical distance and by the presuppositions of the searchers, as Schweitzer, among others, has pointed out.

43 + Some contemporary UU Thoughts on Jesus Christ, as the incarnation of God's love in human flesh, is not just a figure of the past; he is a present reality. This living Christ is found in the Church, the community of those who speak his words, eat at his table, and become his hands, feet, and voice in a needy and often crucified world. Even those who are uncertain about God can recognize the presence of a Christ-like spirit in the people of a redemptive community. There are also those who, in recognizing his presence in our midst, know there is a gestalt of grace by which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts we contribute. Rev. Thomas D. Wintle First Parish Church in Weston Weston, MA


45 + Some contemporary UU Thoughts on Jesus When someone asks me point blank how I feel about Jesus, dark clouds fill my vision. I hear a dialogue in my imagination: Q. Who can disagree with a message that has offered such consolation and inspired such sacrifice and commitment? A. Who can support a message that has been used for such oppression? The bottom line is that I cannot and will not separate the message or the person of Jesus from the history of oppressive acts undertaken in the name of Christianity. The institutionalization of Jesus' message has caused untold harm and prevented untold good, and it would be wrong, after two millennia, to forget. One cannot recapture Jesus of Nazareth in any direct way; the road is too cluttered. In the words of Melville's inscrutable scrivener, Bartleby, “I would prefer not to.” Dr. Leonore Tiefer The Community Church of New York New York, NY


47 + Some contemporary UU Thoughts on Jesus For most Christians, Jesus remains a mythic figure, a touchstone for spiritual focus or feeling. But the best of today's scholarship—which I identify with the work of the Jesus Seminar—reveals a man who is believable but problematic: His personal lifestyle fits with that of itinerant cynic sages from about 400 BCE to 600 CE: He had no job, no home, and no family, and he begged for his food. He wanted people to reject the world's values and realize what he called “the kingdom/sovereignty of God.”

48 + Some contemporary UU Thoughts on Jesus He was best known as what we would today call a faith healer. His “Golden Rule”—turn the other cheek, repay injustice with forgiveness—was youthful idealism, not seasoned wisdom (ask anyone who works with battered women). Most today find it easier to defend Confucius' earlier advice: Reward goodness with kindness, but repay evil with justice. His ideal world (the “kingdom/sovereignty of God”) was potentially here, within and among us. This would be a world in which we treat one another as brothers and sisters, children of God—period. End of sermon. End of religion. The mythic Jesus remains appealing partly because the real one is, in spite of his flaws, both disturbing and challenging. Rev. Davidson Loehr First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin Austin, TX


50 + Some contemporary UU Thoughts on Jesus Injustice results less often from malice than from willed inattention. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite did no active harm to the wounded man on the highway. They just passed by on the opposite side of the road, distancing themselves from the uncomfortable sight. Relentlessly, Jesus keeps bringing the oppressed back into our field of vision. Guy C. Quinlan The Unitarian Church of All Souls New York, NY





55 + Alpha and Omega So, I ask again: Who do you say Jesus is?


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