A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, September 18, 2011
John 1:1-5; 8:12
Selection from The Journal of George Fox
Have you ever thought about the possibility of seeing Jesus in kudzu vine? That sounds like a crazy question, doesn’t it? I certainly had never thought of looking for Jesus in kudzu—until I read an Oped column by Ina Hughes in the Knoxville News Sentinel a few days ago.1 The title of the piece was “Don’t spray Roundup on kudzu shaped like Jesus.” Hughes begins by quoting what she calls the strangest comment she heard all summer: “You can’t spray Jesus with Roundup.”
Evidently, a telephone pole south of Kinston, N.C., has kudzu growing up it and stretching out in each direction across the power lines. Kent Hardison, who works at Ma’s Hotdog House nearby, went to spray the kudzu vine with herbicide. But then when he looked up at the pole and power lines, he saw an image of Jesus with arms outstretched on the cross. So Hardison said, “You can’t spray Jesus with Roundup.”
Well, columnist Ina Hughes goes on to note how people often claim to see the image of Jesus in common, everyday things: grilled cheese sandwiches, rusty sheet metal, bark on trees. One of the most common ways people claim to see Jesus is in the clouds. Hughes says that previously when she heard of such, her reaction was to laugh.
But then she says that “looking at the latest sighting, this rendition of the crucifixion in kudzu, I’ve decided maybe it’s not so funny. Maybe the joke is on people who aren’t or can’t or won’t see Jesus in the ordinary, but keep him confined to stained glass and Old Master paintings.” And then Hughes delves a little deeper and speaks theologically when she says, “If we can’t bring our religion into everyday life, what good is it?” Hughes admits that she has never looked for Jesus in grilled cheese sandwiches, or sheet metal, or even kudzu. “But,” she proclaims, “I have ‘seen’ him in the actions of everyday people and in unexpected places.”
There’s where the sermon is, in case you were beginning to wonder—seeing Jesus in the actions of everyday people. As Ina Hughes points out, Jesus can be encountered, in a manner of speaking, in the lives and actions of those who reach out to serve others. I have known a few people, and maybe you have too, who had such a sweet, compassionate, serving spirit that you sort of felt like when you were in their presence you were in the presence of Christ. I am guessing it was that way with those who knew and worked with persons like humanitarian Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But it need not be someone as well-known as them. There are “Christ-spirited persons” who demonstrate compassion and service every week as hospital volunteers, CONTACT volunteers, workers at the Ecumenical Storehouse, drivers for Meals on Wheels, volunteers at the Salvation Army and homeless shelters, and on the list goes.
There is a parable in the gospel of Matthew, you know, which I almost read to you today, where it talks about the day of judgment and how everyone will be rewarded according to his or her deeds. And some who are being rewarded are quite surprised when the King says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father. . . I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” Then those being rewarded will answer, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?” The King will reply, “Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:31-40). Translated, we encounter Jesus through other people. In this case, Jesus is encountered through the hungry, homeless, sick and imprisoned. We can’t minister to Jesus directly. But we can reach out to a fellow human who is in need and who is praying for help in some way; perhaps praying for the next meal, or the ability to stay in their home and not be evicted or have the power disconnected; or praying for someone to visit them in their illness or loneliness. There are times when we can become a blessing in the life of someone whom Jesus would reach out to help were he here in person today. One of the classic Christian teachings is that we can become the heart of Christ as we offer compassion in his name. And we can become the hands of Christ as we reach out to help in his name. The Pastor’s Discretionary Fund that this church makes possible is just one way that we, collectively, encounter Jesus, as it were, and touch a lot of lives every month.
One of the foundational Quaker teachings, you know, is the idea of “that of God” or “that of Christ in everyone.” In other words, father of Quakerism, George Fox, believed there is divinity, a piece of God, in every person. Part of the ramification of this is there is no need for a priest or intercessor, since each and every person has within him of her the God or Christ presence that will show the way, if that divine presence is only recognized and listened to. Fox (drawing on John’s gospel) also talked about the “Light of Christ” that enlightens every person. Quakers have traditionally believed that “this Inner Light is universally present with all human souls.” But another ramification of Fox’s “that of God” or “that of Christ” in everyone idea is we do well to respect every person we meet as a person of inherent dignity and worth.
To look at the idea from yet another angle, there have been many, Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Ellery Channing, just to name two, who have contended that the “Christ potential” is within each person. In other words, Christ was Christ by degree. Jesus reached the full Christ potential that was within him. Within each of us is the same potential; but most of us don’t recognize that potential or even want to consider it. Joseph Campbell, in his monumental work titled The Power of Myth, contends, “We are all manifestations of . . . Christ consciousness, only we don’t know it. . . . We are . . . to wake up to the Christ . . . consciousness within us.”2 The Buddhists, you know, have a similar idea. Buddhists believe that the potential for “Buddhahood” (I’m not sure that is really a word) is universal. Everyone has the potential of being enlightened, as was the Buddha, if they would just recognize it and pursue it.
But back to the idea of the Christ Spirit. The Christ Spirit may be seen as that ideal human spirit—the spirit of one who has reached the ultimate pinnacle of what it means to be genuinely, humanly good by being completely compassionate, caring, understanding, patient, kind, and serving.
You know, Matthew closes his gospel by having Jesus say, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The early Christians believed that though Jesus was no longer physically present with them, his spiritual guidance and comfort was ever-present. Ina Hughes concludes her column on Jesus and kudzu by quoting Kent Hardison, who discovered the kudzu-shaped Jesus. Hardison said, “It doesn’t matter what you do to it [kudzu], you can’t get rid of it. It’s always going to be around. It’s here to stay. Ain’t that a lot like Jesus?”
The bottom line is, Jesus, or the Christ Spirit, can be seen in just about anyone we meet! How our approach to life would be different, how the world would be different, if we sought to see the Christ Spirit or that of God in everyone we encounter. If we did so, surely we would relate to others differently than we often do. Someone has said, “When we seek to discover the Christ spirit in every person we meet, life becomes an exciting adventure and a joyous experience.”3
So, when you think in terms of the Christ Spirit as being that Christ potential that is within each of us; and when you think of the Christ Spirit as being that ideal, Christ-like spirit of compassion and service that shows up in those who reach out to others; and when you think of the Christ Spirit as “that of God” or divinity in everyone, even the hungry, homeless and hurting we may encounter on the street; then seeing Jesus everywhere doesn’t seem as farfetched as it previously did, does it? Amen.
1Knoxville News Sentinel, 3B, Sept. 7, 2011.
2Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 57.