April 3, 2016: Jesus is a victim of identity theft

Posted on : Mar 31st, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the US government, an estimated 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014. Anyone who has had their identity stolen knows what a horrific experience it is to “reclaim” your own identity. Now doesn’t that sound ridiculous? You have to reclaim your own identity? Sadly, it’s true.

In our world today, much of our identity is rooted in our 9 digit social security number. If someone steals that, we’re in real trouble. Some of the stories we hear about identity theft are unbelievable. Using our Social Security Number, someone can steal our identity, rack up astronomical debt, ruin our credit rating, and cause so much chaos in our lives that we can hardly begin to fathom how we are going to get this resolved. For many victims of identity theft it takes years and years to restore their identity, and some may never fully recover from the damage done to them.

While our current digital world makes it easier to steal someone’s identity, the problem is not new. It has been happening for years. Jesus was a victim of identity theft. Jesus’ identity theft wasn’t done with his social security number; it was done with his personhood and beliefs. When Jesus is put on trial before his crucifixion, he is asked over and over again, “Who are you? Are you the Christ, the Anointed One, the long-awaited Messiah?” Jesus never answers that question directly – because if he did, he would surely be put to death for heresy. He always answers it with “Why do you ask me? You have already said that I am.”

Then after his death and resurrection, the question of his identity looms large. People encounter the presence of the Risen Christ, but his appearance doesn’t match the Jesus they knew. No one recognizes Jesus as the Risen Christ by the way he looks. Jesus is always recognized as the Risen Christ by what he does.

I am convinced that over the years, almost all of us have victimized Jesus by stealing his true identity. We have stolen the true “Jesus of Nazareth” and created a Jesus in our own image and after our own likeness. For example, one of the current debates that has arisen around LGBT equality is called “Religious Freedom” or “Religious Liberty.” In essence, what that boils down to, is an attempt to use Christian faith to discriminate against gay and lesbian people. But where in the Bible do we ever encounter Jesus discriminating against people? And where do we find Jesus condemning people for being who they are? The only people Jesus regularly condemns are the religious authorities – who in our day are those who teach hate in the name of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t die for some. He died for all. And Jesus wasn’t raised for some. He was raised for all. Sadly, as our story of faith has been told and retold, Jesus’ true identity has been stolen. This Sunday we’re going to look at how we can restore Jesus’ credibility rating and true identity. Like everyone who has been a victim of identity theft knows, reclaiming one’s identity is a long, difficult process. But there is also a humorous side to this process as well. Since a central issue in the “Religious Liberty” debate is about wedding cakes, we’re going to have a little in-house contest to see who among our gay and lesbian sophisticated congregation can identify which of three wedding cakes is gay!

Easter Blessings to You and those you love, as we seek to become more spiritually alive this Easter,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Luke 24: 13-49

Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus  

The Road to Emmaus

Now on that same day two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘Jesus has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon (Peter)!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

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