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29th July 2018
STAYING CURIOUS ABOUT JESUS
Scriptures: John 6:1-21, Ephesians 3:14-21

In the late 1990s, when we were living in Adamstown, the church across the road advertised an important speaker via their noticeboard, which announced "ALL LIFES IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ANSWERED.

From this I deduced two things; firstly, that the speaker was deemed to know the answers to all the important questions, and secondly, that the decision had already been made as to what the important questions were.

I guessed that they would be things like "How do I find God?, "What is the meaning of life?, and perhaps one of the great questions of recent history, "Who is Jesus?

This telling us the answers to questions we have not actually asked approach is in stark contrast to the views of author Alberto Manguel, who I heard being interviewed by Phillip Adams about his book, entitled "Curiosity. He tells of his 4 year old granddaughter who kept asking him why questions. Finally, in exasperation, he said to her "If you dont want to know the answers, why do you keep asking all these questions? Her reply, "So we can talk.

Questions keep communication open. Dogmatic answers close the doors to enquiry.

I also have granddaughters who ask a lot of questions. A few years ago I received a phone-call on Easter Sunday from the then 7 year old. She was with her father, fishing in St Georges Basin. She told me that her dad had just caught a big bream. Her follow-up to that was "Granddad, what does Easter mean to you?

Her curiosity comes out of her education at a fundamentalist Christian community school, where she is questioning the force-fed answers about God and faith. Just the other day, she came to me with another big question- "Granddad, is Jesus God?. When I told her what I thought, including that the answer was not cut and dried, she said "Yes, I was wondering about that. My silent response was "Halleluliah. Stay curious about Jesus.

Someone in our neighbourhood is also thinking about who Jesus is, and recently chose to express their opinion with this graffiti on the back door of the church "JESUS WAS A GAY BLACK MAN.

When I first saw it my immediate reaction was to have it painted over. We were also getting negative feedback from a few passers-by about it. Then I had another thought. Someone is communicating with us; probably thinking that we are shocked! We may or may not like what they are saying, but do we want to just shut them down? As time passes, I am hearing that the graffiti is causing some interesting conversation around the neighbourhood. This has led to a discussion with one of our members who lives locally about the possibility of putting up a "have your say notice board somewhere on the property. After all, we feel free to tell the community what we think on our notice board. Are we open to having them speak back to us? Are we curious about what they might have to say?

Besides, would does this graffiti bother us? In the Uniting Church it is normal to accept all people, whatever colour whatever sexual orientation, as equal. Jesus may not have been black like the average African, but he certainly was not white. Probably swarthy- of Middle Eastern appearance. So what? About his sexuality, we know nothing beyond what we may presume. There is no mention of him being married, but we do know that he had a number of close male friends, and quite a few women were his camp followers and sponsors. The gospels also reveal that he was not afraid to have physical contact with women, even those of so-called "ill repute.

The fact is that when we are dealing with the Biblical record, we are not dealing in "facts as scientifically understood. For example, someone may ask "Did Jesus actually multiply the loaves and fishes, or is there some other explanation. And "Did he really walk on water, or did he use a convenient sandbar? These questions are based on a false premise. The bible is a record of faith and witness. You cannot prove or disprove anything from this literary record; unless of course you subscribe to the literalist view that every word is inspired and infallible; in which case, you can get into awful difficulty trying to harmonise the apparent contradictions.

The Creeds that emerge in the early church, as people struggled to articulate the Christian faith from the evidence at hand, are themselves not "facts about God and Jesus but statements of faith. Today some people cannot actually recite the Apostles and Nicene Creed because the cannot anymore believe some of the statements therein. And thats fine, just as it is fine to have modern creeds, that may more accurately reflect what we believe. And they may change in time too. Its fine to be curious and open about who Jesus is.

I feel no need to argue about speculate about Jesus skin colour or sexuality. My point is, can we stay curious about Jesus, or do we want to shut down debate with answers from the catechisms and the ancient creeds? What is the spiritually or psychologically healthy approach to our faith? Curiosity, or dogma. Question marks or full stops?

Who is Jesus? Nearly all of the answers to that question come from the scriptures, especially the Gospels, and also the epistles. Outside of them, there is scant evidence indeed about Jesus existence. And the biblical witnesses are not all the same. John, for example, following his gospel prologue In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God, sets out to show how this is so. Todays passage gives us two of the seven so-called "signs of Jesus divinity- He miraculously multiplies food for the multitudes, and he walks on water. For John, Jesus is the glorious, powerful Son of God, who is in control even when being overpowered in Gethsemane.

The other three Gospels are however, more ambiguous, bringing out his more human qualities like tiredness, frustration, family issues and inability at times to heal people

St Paul does not, to my knowledge, say anywhere that Jesus is God. Rather he says "For in him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. (Col 2:9). This verse helped me to respond to Brooklyns question by saying I cannot really say if Jesus was God or not. What I do believe is that the Spirit of God was in Jesus in a very powerful way, and that spirit showed itself mainly by his love. In fact, when we love one another, we too are showing the spirit of God in our lives.

Theologian the late Marcus Borg says "All we need to know about God, we see in Jesus.

What I get from all of this is that I actually do not need to have a definitive answer to the question Is Jesus God. What I need to stay curious about is how knowing Jesus can broaden and deepen my life, and draw me closer to a compassionate relationship with creation. To do this, it helps to stay in conversation with the scriptures, my fellow believers, and those beyond our circle who write to us in unusual ways.

For example, I get some very interesting responses on twitter. I recently sent out a message to challenge those government leaders who used racist rhetoric to try and sway voters in the Super Saturday by-elections. I quote Mark 8:36 "What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world and lose their soul in the process? One man responded "I hate all religion, but I like your opinion I call that a crack in the door. This is a door I want to open rather than close, and dogma does not achieve that. Curiosity just might.

Dogma, be it religious or political, is the weapon of the tyrant; the junk food of the weak and the gullible. When others seek to give you not only the answers they think you need but also the questions you need to ask, it is time to ask "Why, and to keep asking "Why. Staying curious is the great defence to the invading of our minds by those who would shape and mould and use us to their own advantage. Beware the censors, who too quickly paint over the graffiti of life before anyone gets the opportunity to respond. Beware fascists and other tyrants who burn the books, kill the teachers and poets and philosophers.

Amid all the questioning, this is one thing I know from a lifetime of staying curious about Jesus. He died to set us free, and there is no way that I am going to waste that spilt blood by letting any conniving politician or false prophet tell me how to live, especially when it contradicts what I hold in faith about the way of the Son of Man.

Alberto Manguel observes that literature asks the questions, while dogma closes the door. Jesus advises us to be as wise as serpents in the way we deal with those who walk the corridors of power. So please, lets not be too quick to dismiss the questions of others, to obliterate their thoughts with new paint until we have spent some time wondering about what was in their hearts to make them say it.

Above all, may we stay curious about Jesus. Surely there is so much more to know, so much more to discover, so much more to wonder at to the end "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

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