As far as I can remember, the first time I heard about Jesus was in the prayers and hymns in church when I was a very small child. The first time I learned about Jesus was in Sunday School, a few years later. The place I came to really know Jesus was at church camp. I first began the deep dive into the story of Jesus in Confirmation class. This deep dive continued into an ever-growing relationship at camp, youth events, young adult gatherings, and through Bible studies. When I began attending seminary, I gained greater historical knowledge and a framework for critical theological reflection about the life, ministry, and Way of Jesus. At the same time, I was engaged in a number of faith communities worshipping, studying, and serving side by side with faithful folks who shared my desire to grow in following the Way of Jesus.
Along this journey, I have met a number of people who have questioned my understanding of and relationship with Jesus. I have been asked on multiple occasions if I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Honestly, I am always a bit baffled by this question, because I’ve known Jesus as long as I can remember. Some people push me to name the exact moment I accepted Jesus. My response to this is that there have been multiple occasions. Now, when I’m asked this question, I say that I accept Christ every day when I choose to follow the Way of Jesus.
On the other side of the theological spectrum, there have been fellow faithful followers of Jesus who have encouraged me to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone has chosen to follow in the Way of Jesus. Specifically, their worry is that sharing the story about Jesus might be offensive to those who have chosen to follow a different path.
The most transformative conversation for me in relation to this was with a colleague who is a rabbi. After an interfaith gathering he pulled me aside and asked, “Why does it appear that you Christians are so hesitant to talk about Jesus? Do you really think those of us who are not Christians will be offended? Honestly, I, for one, will have more respect for you if you unapologetically speak of the truth of Jesus, the One you follow.”
Others have questioned my understanding of Jesus. They have a completely different understanding of Jesus’ message than I do, and subsequently, a different understanding of what it means to follow in the Way of Jesus. They have a narrative of Jesus that is based on exclusion, which is foreign to my understanding and experience of the Jesus of Nazareth. My experience of both the story and my relationship with Jesus is, at its core, about God’s love for all of God’s creation. It is centered in Jesus’ reality that there are no outcasts, and that Jesus both embodied and invited those who followed him to live a life of love through service
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 25:35-36). For it is in following the Way of Jesus that God’s dream of the Beloved Community can become a reality and the kingdom of God will be made known.
My entire life has been and continues to be shaped by following the Way of Jesus. It is as consistent and life-sustaining as breathing. It is the relationship that all my other relationships are based upon, and is the lens through which I view the world. In this moment, those of us who have chosen to be a part of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement are blessed to be led by the Presiding Bishop, who articulates for us and for the world who Jesus is and what it is to follow the Way of Jesus. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God!