As Christians, we make two main claims about Jesus Christ.
The first claim we make about Christ is that he is God.
As God, Christ is fundamentally different from us. Christ is the very Word of God, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. Through Christ, all things were made. Without Christ, nothing was made. Those things are true of Christ, and they are not true of us.
But our second claim is that Jesus is also human, like us in all things but sin. That similarity between Christ and us is what we emphasized in Vacation Bible School last week.
We taught the children that Jesus had a family. And we do too.
Jesus had a name. We do too.
Jesus had a home. We do too.
Jesus went to Church. We do too.
Jesus served others. We do too.
Each of the things we share with Jesus is important, and the similarities go even deeper than we might at first realize.
Start with the first lesson: Jesus had a family.
Like most families, Jesus’ family was complicated. To start with, it was a blended family. According to tradition, Joseph had children by a previous wife before he married Mary. And, of course, Joseph was not Jesus’ birth father.
Mary was not married when she gave birth to Jesus.
Jesus himself never married or had children.
And the people in Jesus’ family of origin were skeptical about his identity and calling, at least during his lifetime. John tells us Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him (7:5). Mark tells us that Mary and his brothers and sisters once tried to restrain him because they worried he was out of his mind (6:21)
Jesus’ family reminds us, if we need it, that the family life of the best of us is still complicated, that families come in lots of different shapes and sizes, that families do not always get along. That is good news for all of us, with our own inevitably complicated families.
Almost exactly the same can be said about the second lesson: Jesus had a home. That, too, turns out to be complicated.
Jesus was born in a manger far from home. After his birth, Jesus’ family fled to Egypt as political refugees.
Eventually they returned and settled in Nazareth. But when Jesus begins his public ministry, he leaves home to wander from place to place, dependent for his sustenance on the kindness of strangers. When one man asks to follow him, Jesus responds that even animals have dens, but he and his followers have no place to lay their heads (Luke 9:58).
Jesus’ experience of homelessness reminds us to be grateful for the homes we have and to sympathize with our brothers and sisters who do not have adequate housing or who find themselves far from their homeland.
Jesus went to Church. This may be the most complicated one of all.
Literally there was no Church during Jesus’ lifetime. But Jesus did go to the Temple in Jerusalem, and he called the Temple his Father’s House.
On the other hand, Jesus also said the Temple had become a den of thieves, and he predicted its ultimate destruction.
Most importantly, Jesus said the Temple that really mattered was the Temple of his body.
The lesson is clear. Church is really important because in Church we can come to know God in Christ better. The corollary is also clear. The Church needs ongoing reformation to ensure that it always points away from itself and to Christ.
Of all the lessons we learned at Vacation Bible School, the simplest was the last: Jesus served others. Jesus served sinners, and he served foreigners, and he served poor people, and he even served the rich and powerful.
We are called to do the same. We are called to follow Jesus’ example of a life of service. We serve others because they are children of God, because God calls us to share the love that God shows to us, because it is the only life that is ultimately satisfying for our souls.
Our gospel reading for this morning adds an important complement to the lesson that Jesus served others. Sometimes Jesus needed a break. And we do too!
As our reading begins, the apostles have just finished a successful mission trip. Jesus invites them to a deserted place all by themselves so that they can rest a while. But people keep coming so that they have no leisure even to eat.
They try to get away by boat. It does not work. Word gets out, and “people hurried . . . on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.”
Jesus and the apostles again try to escape by boat. And again people recognize them. “At once,” Mark says, people “rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.”
It is an introvert’s worst nightmare. People will not leave Jesus and the others alone ever. It is like they are drowning in the needs, the genuine needs of other people. I think about how tired I was every afternoon after three hours of Vacation Bible School. Jesus had the equivalent of Vacation Bible School twenty-four/seven for weeks on end!
Even Jesus needed a break sometimes. And, of course, we do too. Contemporary life can move so fast, our obligations can seem so overwhelming, our technology can link us to other people so constantly, that we do not get the kind of breaks we need, the kind of breaks that restore and renew us, the kind of breaks that give us an opportunity simply to rest, which is a way of being in God’s presence.
So Jesus served others. And sometimes Jesus needed a break from serving. The same goes for us.
I have saved the best lesson for last. Jesus had a name. And we do too!
We know him as Jesus Christ, almost as if Jesus were his first name and Christ were his last name. But that is not quite right.
Jesus is the name given to him at birth. That is the name Mary would have used when she called him to supper. Christ is not. Christ is not a name at all. Christ is a title. Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “messiah.” It would be more accurate to refer to him as Jesus, the Christ.
The same goes for each of us. We, too, have a name and a title. At baptism, we are called by name. And we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.” In that moment we receive the title, “Christian.” Henceforward, we could be known as “the Christian,” just as Jesus is known as, “the Christ.” And even if we do not always live lives worthy of our title, that title can never be taken away. Thanks be to God!
So this morning, I give thanks to the Christ, who had a complicated family life, who had a complicated home situation, who had a complicated relationship with the Church of his day, who served others through it all, who needed a break sometimes even if he could not always get it.
But most of all, I give thanks to Christ, who had a name and who lets us share it.
In the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.