This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat of St. Luke’s in the Meadow, Fort Worth; and the Rev. Kevin Johnson of St. Alban’s Theatre Arlington, gave in the form of a fireside chat for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost on August 23, 2020.
The 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16A, August 23rd, 2020
Webcast Conversation between the Rev’s. Karen Calafat and Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson: Well, good morning. Thank you all for being here this morning. COVID is a strange time and we are coming to you this morning from my living room. Today, I’m here with Karen. We decided that since the gospel is very much about conversation. Conversation between Jesus of Nazareth and the disciples, specifically a conversation between Jesus and Simon, yet to be called Peter, where Jesus asks the disciples and Simon, “Who are people saying that I am?”
He drills down into Simon specifically and says, “Yes, but who do you say that I am?” We thought that would be a good thing to talk about this morning. Thank you for being here, Karen, and coming over this morning. I guess we’ll just start with that. Who do you say Jesus is?
Karen Calafat: It is a thought-provoking question. I think if I had to answer that question when I was 10 years old, it would be a very different answer than I have today. When I went to church camp as a 5th grader, I felt really coerced into going to the altar call, which happened to be around the campfire. All the other kids had gone to the campfire so I thought, “I’d better go to this campfire, too.” It was all about accepting Jesus as your Savior.
I didn’t really know what that meant. I wasn’t sure what I needed to be saved from and I wasn’t really sure who this Jesus was. After that campfire event, the pastor’s wife, who was a little overbearing, came to me and said, “Well, you could run from me but you can’t run from Jesus.” I had this ingrained idea that Jesus was someone to be afraid of, someone scary and judgmental. I wasn’t sure what I had done. I carried that thought about Jesus well into my young adulthood, that this Jesus was someone to be cautious about, a dangerous person.
I do believe that Jesus is dangerous. Jesus calls us to do things that are difficult and beyond our human capabilities to do. Jesus calls us to love those that are unlovable. Jesus calls us to stand up for the hard right against the easy wrong. Jesus is dangerous for sure, but as I’ve grown into my more mature years, I’ve come to know something different of Jesus. I really developed that experience in walking with a friend through her last few months of life. We joked around about having a Jesus aversion. We were much more comfortable talking about God, but calling on Jesus’ name was something scary.
She desperately wanted that spiritual relationship before she died. Many, many, many hours of conversations led us to this place of– she needed to call on the name of Jesus because that’s where she was going. Our Jesus aversion lifted and we realized that going to Jesus was a safe, comforting, life-giving place, a place full of mercy and grace and acceptance and love, a place of affirmation and empowerment. I think I still live in the tension of Jesus being a dangerous person because of what Jesus models for us and calls us to do that’s countercultural, and Jesus being a person full of mercy and grace, who loves us and wants all good for us.
Kevin: Can you say more about what that’s been for you?
Karen: It’s been liberating and it’s been challenging. I think from my early impressions of Jesus, I never want to put that impression on anyone else, that Jesus is there to judge and condemn and be bearing down on anything they might be caught doing wrong, or focusing on our sins and our shortcomings. I never want to pass that image of Jesus along to anyone.
I think it’s an important foundation for me to have because I really want to err on the side of embodying Jesus as a grace-giving, loving, challenging, not a roll with the flow person, but a person who calls us to be so much bigger and more than we might otherwise be, to love in ways that challenge our human capabilities but make the world a far better place.
Kevin: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but do you feel like finding the liberation of Jesus has empowered you to be more risky in the call of Jesus?
Karen: What it reminds me of is one of my favorite compliments that I’ve ever received, was this woman said to me, “I can breathe around you.” I think having a relationship with Jesus has allowed me a level of comfort that people can breathe around me, all sorts and types of people.
Kevin: That’s really powerful. In many ways, you become, have become, are, I think, a conduit for the Christ. Does that make you nervous to hear that?
Karen: That’s powerful.[laughter]
Karen: It’s very humbling. Yes, it makes me a little nervous because I know my own shortcomings and failures.
Kevin: Yet at the same time, I’m guessing, because of the freedom that you found in that safe place, it allows you to let the Christ breathe through you so others can breathe around you.
Karen: Wow. It’s pretty powerful. [laughs]
Kevin: It is. It’s really cool. Good for you.
Karen: How about you, Kevin? Who do you say Jesus is?
Kevin: [laughs] I got asked this question recently in this assessment retreat that I’m taking about church planting. It really caught me off guard, frankly, being asked, “Tell us about your experience of Jesus. Who is Jesus to you?” It took me a while to, like I think you’ve said, to get beyond my initial response which was, “That’s too preachy, too Jesusy,” because that’s not our tradition, that’s not my way of relationship with the Christ.
Once I let that question settle into my soul, who do I say Jesus is and what is my Jesus encounter? I was reminded, really recollected, the experience that I’ve had, that I’ve actually called on a variety of times in my life. I got into centering prayer quite a few years ago. It takes practice, right? It just isn’t like one of those things that pops in. You have to work at it and practice, practice, practice.
One morning, I was praying and I finally got to that quiet place in which all the distractions were gone, and my ego was gone, and my fear was gone, and my anxiety around this all was gone, and my need to control and plan [laughs] and make things happen was gone, and I was able to just be. I found myself standing on the edge of a mountain lake, completely calm water. No ripples, no currents, it was just completely calm and this crazy color of blue that I’ve never seen before. The lake just went on and on and on to, really, infinity. I found myself walking into the water and at some point, I literally became one with the water, which was just pure peace.
That’s the closest word I can come to it. We talk about the joy that passes all understanding, and that’s the closest, I think, I can get to describing that, which was just a pure calmness, a peace, an okayness, safety. I realized that this was the Christ. This was Jesus. In those moments when I’m feeling really unsettled, or afraid, really afraid, if I’m purposeful about it, I can go back to that space, even if it’s just for an instant, and find Jesus, find that peace, that safety, that breath, I think, that you talked about. I can breathe. I have to tell you that it has literally saved my life, on occasion.
When you talk about Jesus as Savior– I’m reading a book by a guy named Sam Wells, who talks about how the church has talked about three different purposes of Jesus. The first purpose of Jesus that the church globbed on to was this idea of the afterlife, that we die and that the struggle, the problem, is death. Therefore, Jesus saves us from death, moves us into the afterlife.
The second purpose that the church has globbed on is that the problem is sin. Jesus then saves us from sin. His argument is that, really, the problem is isolation, that we find ourselves alone, completely disconnected. That disconnection, that aloneness, that isolation, all that– You said yourself, you said, “I know my own shortcomings.” In that isolation, all those things percolate up and becomes very untenable. The purpose of Jesus, the effect of the Christ, is about pulling us back into relationship, back into the–
Karen: Having enough grace for ourselves, that we can extend that grace to the others, not be afraid of being caught making a mistake, or being caught being weak, but trusting that in those weaknesses and mistakes, Christ’s mercy and grace is powerful.
Kevin: Knowing that, having that experience to be able to go back to that moment with your friend, June, and say, “I’m going into Jesus. I can breathe, finally.” In my experience, about just being completely one with the peace.
Karen: It seems that peace is an experience that not only serves you well in this crazy world and these untenable times, but that that peace can flow through you to those around you.
Kevin: I hope so. When I remember. [chuckles] When I take the time to remember. That’s my problem. [laughs] I don’t think I’m alone with that problem.
Karen: Not at all.
Kevin: Yes. When I take the time to remember, to re-member, to make it real again. That’s exactly right.
Karen: It is. It’s a powerful gospel.
Kevin: I think so.
Karen: I think it’s a question that is not easily answered or quickly answered, but a question that is important because it really is the foundation of who we are as Christians, who we say Jesus is.
Karen: I would say to you all tuned in today, who do you say Jesus is?
[00:15:29] [END OF AUDIO]