Text (sort of): Luke 2:22-40
We are straddling the in-between.
Christmas has not ended
but only the liturgical churches are still observing it.
It is not the new year yet,
but everyone is about to celebrate it.
Trinity is moving its offices and program space,
but the Sunday morning worship will stay here.
Straddling the in-between
is awkward and can also be stressful.
In such moments,
going back to the fundamentals
and remembering the rock upon which we landed,
is an important practice for wellness.
So, I am going back to Jesus,
who is the rock upon which our foundation is hewn.
I am going back to a sermon I preach regularly
in one way or another,
maybe even weekly to some extent.
But today I will be explicit.
Jesus bar Joseph
is the name of the historical figure
gleaming at the core of our religion,
as does the sun from the center of our solar system.
Jesus is Latin for the Greek, Iesous
“Jesus” instead of Iesous,
became the norm of Christianity
because Christianity became Romanized, and Latin,
was the language of the empire.
But the Greek, Iesous, nor the Latin, Jesus,
was his name.
Jesus had a Hebrew name,
not a Greek or Latin name.
That name was Joshua.
But since there was no “J” sound
in ancient Hebrew,
it was Yeshua (Y’shua).
Like all names, and especially all ancient names,
Yeshua had a meaning.
It meant, “God saves,”
or more precisely: “Jehovah is salvation.”
But we probably know all of that
and do not give it much thought, because,
well because that is what is normative for us.
It is impossible for us to know what the name
Yeshua meant to Jesus.
A lot of people in his generation
had that name.
A lot of people,
before and alongside him, were named, “God saves.”
A lot of people before, with, and after him,
believed that, in fact, God does saves.
So we do not know
what his name meant to him,
but we do know that the meaning of his name
came to define how people would remember him.
Now, because we are a highly secular culture,
there are a lot of people who think
that Jesus’ last name was, “Christ.”
But Jesus did not have a last name,
any more than millions of people
in some cultures around the world today
have last names.
Yeshua bar Joseph, was his name.
Or more accurately, Yeshua bar Yosef;
that is, Yeshua “son of” Yosef.
But Yeshua, long after his death on the cross,
began to receive a title alongside his actual name:
or Hebrew for Messiah.
But we also know that the title, Messias,
got changed like the name Yeshua did.
It became the Greek form, Christos or Christ.
Messias means, in Hebrew, literally,
When we say Yeshua Messias,
or Jesus Christ,
we mean them as synonymous.
In our world,
To say Jesus is to say Christ
and to say Christ is to mean Jesus.
That is because the Roman Empire
spread, inspired, converted or coerced that version
of Christianity across the globe
until you and I,
and most of the modern world,
took it for granted
that Jesus means Christ
and vis versa.
Even those who do not believe
Jesus means Christ,
know that those two words
are synonymous to Christians.
Those words, Jesus and Christ,
are laden with heavy baggage.
But that is why it can be refreshing
to go back, way back,
before the words carried all that baggage.
It is good to go way, way back,
when the words, Yeshua and Messias,
were just a name and a title
that more than one person bore
at more than one time.
You see, all the kings of Israel were
“anointed” – that is, messias.
Approximately forty-three kings,
over something like four-hundred
and thirty-three years,
were anointed when assuming power.
As I am fond of telling children and families
at baptisms, Messiah means “Oily Head.”
All those ancient kings were anointed with oil
as the symbol of sacred selection –
or divine favor.
But they are not the only ones.
In fact, six months before I was born,
Queen Elizabeth II of England,
was anointed with oil in a private ceremony
by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The reason she was?
Because the British monarch is believed
to have divine favor also.
I know, it sounds absolutely primitive in our world,
but there it is – a very long tradition
of anointing royalty with oil.
So Yeshua Messias means, literally,
“Jehovah saves, anointed one.”
Which begs the question, I’m sure you’re asking,
why should we care about any of these
peculiar and arcane names and notions?
Why not just go on with the old familiar names,
without knowing any of this messy,
possibly confusing, and somewhat troubling
dissertation on names?
This is where we are getting down to the rock.
When we say Jesus and Christ;
we are talking about two different historical figures:
one is a clear theological construction
and the other is an historical figure
obscured by the dust of time.
We need to understand the difference.
Marcus Borg liked to distinguish them
as the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith,
or the pre-resurrection and post-resurrection Jesus.
Yeshua bar Yosef
is the man who was born, named,
circumcised, and consecrated at the temple,
and who grew up to form the sacred spiritual wisdom
that has been filtered through the Gospels.
That is Jesus.
is the god formed from creedal belief,
doctrines, and the politics of the historic Church,
and which evolved centuries
after Yeshua bar Yosef
was dead and buried.
One offers us wisdom about God
and about God’s best dream for us;
and the other IS God,
and the object of faith.
Here is the bedrock.
It is possible to be a Christian
and acknowledge the difference
and believe in both;
and it is also possible to be a Christian
and believe in one but not the other.
For the sake of intellectual honesty
and spiritual integrity, if nothing else,
we need to acknowledge the difference
between Jesus and Jesus Christ,
and not pretend that they are the same.
But I think it is also important
because in the twenty-first century,
our culture unbraids these two from each other
even if we do not.
Jesus-the-man, and Jesus-Christ-the-theology,
are fairly easily untangled, and
we do it without stress all the time.
For example, Yeshua bar Joseph,
the historical human being we call “Jesus,”
took a saying made famous by Rabbi Hillel,
and turned it into his core principle:
Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
And then he connected it to a teaching
If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer him the other.
But we know without any stress or shock,
that these two connected and primary principles
of the man Jesus,
were not preached or practiced
by the Christ that the Church emphasized
when it went on Crusades
to enforce belief at the end of a sword,
or later, to replace culture by force of empire.
The same is true with the doctrines
surrounding Jesus Christ,
who the Church defined as a man without sin,
who then died to save us from our sins.
The historical man, Yeshua,
sought out baptism by John the Baptist,
which was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Plus, the man Jesus never
actually talked about himself
the way the Church has described
Even so, the two became woven together
into one monolithic tapestry.
Now, I am not advocating for one or the other,
or for one over the other;
and in truth,
anyone who cares about Jesus
can’t help but blend the two together.
All of us are the products of a greater history
and the culture we were raised in.
But whichever one you believe in,
or even if you are a full-blown advocate of both,
I am pleading for us to acknowledge
and make the distinction
between the man of history
and the Christ of faith.
Most people in Geneva, New York
and the United States of America,
do not know either one very well,
and when they are wrapped up together,
do not think Jesus is credible –
merely a myth or legend.
Yeshua bar Joseph,
Wisdom teacher and prophet
who dared to speak truth to power,
is someone that needs to be heard today.
That Jesus does not require belief,
only sharing what he taught.
We are in an even bigger in-between time
than any of the little ones
I mentioned at the beginning.
We are in-between the time
when Christianity was the dominant
non-governmental cultural institution of our lives,
and the future Christianity
that is now in flux.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry,
likes to talk about the “Jesus Movement.”
I do not have any personal knowledge about
what he means by that phrase,
but here is what I think.
The big monolithic institutions of Christianity
the big, conglomerates
we have imagined were universal,
are giving way to micro-religion:
smaller units that must be entrepreneurial
and much more authentic to their core
in order to flourish.
Whether a congregation numbers in the thousands,
or is a house church made up of a dozen members,
Christianity will find its vibrancy
in this century,
as a movement rather than an institution.
Denominational identity like Episcopalian,
Roman Catholic, and Lutheran
may survive, but
they will become looser affiliations
than what has been known in the past.
It is all about Jesus, the man.
It is all about the spiritual wisdom
of a first century teacher, prophet, and sage
whose abiding wisdom
bubbles up through the ocean of time
and still offers us air to breathe.
Our mission is to share that wisdom,
to fathom it and practice it,
and offer it as the life-giving force that it is.
Whatever else we do,
if we do that with energy and passion,
we will find ourselves smack dab in the middle
of a reformation and movement toward the future.
We are in the in-between,
but the future is calling to us now.