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Just Like Us
July 20, 1997

PHILIPPIANS 2:1-11

I wonder if Jesus ever sneezed. Did he have sinus trouble? I wonder if Jesus cleaned between his toes. I wonder if he ever lost his cool. Did you hear last week about the guy who shot his computer? He was so frustrated, he took his gun and shot it. The police came, found bullets in his hard drive, and took him to a doctor to be evaluated. Why? It makes perfect sense to me! I wonder if Jesus ever lost his cool. Did he catch colds and have tooth aches? I wonder how Jesus handled his sex drive.

Does it offend you for me to ask such human questions about Jesus? To say that Jesus was a human being just like us offended a good number of people in the early church. Surely, they said, Jesus was divine, Jesus was holy. Surely Jesus was not like us. Surely if Jesus were God, he couldnít have experienced all the pain and humiliation of being human.

The Apostlesí Creed, formulated and adopted by a Church Council about 150 AD came down firmly in the middle between two heresies, and affirmed that Jesus was both divine and human. The Nicene Creed, two hundred years later, affirmed that Jesus was "truly God and truly man." Between the heresy of believing that Jesus was God and not human, and the heresy of believing that Jesus was a human and not God, the Apostlesí Creed affirmed Jesus was both God and human.

Last week we affirmed that Jesus was not just a human, but "Godís only son, our Lord." Today we affirm that Jesus was not only God, but was a human being as well, a human just like us. The Apostlesí Creed goes to great lengths, devoting a sizable amount of space to make the claim that Jesus was a human. What was offensive to those who could not accept the humanity of Jesus, was the verbs the Creed uses in reference to Jesus: conceived, born, suffered, crucified, died.

The heretics believed that Jesus could not possibly have been conceived and born like us. It was impossible for them to believe that God could suffer, experience pain, and die. Surely Jesus did not really die, they said, but that it only seemed like he had died. The Creed comes down strongly: Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and descended to the dead, which means he was dead! The Creed writers used every possible means to say that Jesus died. Jesus was a human being just like us.

Therefore, God, through Jesus, knows what it is like to be a human. Jesus knows what it is like to grieve when loved ones die. At Lazarusí grave, Jesus wept. Jesus knows what it is like to be hungry, to be homeless. Jesus knows what it is like to be poor. Jesus knows what it is like to experience pain and die. Jesus knows from personal experience; therefore, God understands us, walks with us, supports us, loves us.

To believe that Jesus was a human being also means that we can be like Jesus. Jesus modeled a godly life for us, and we too can live as Jesus lived. It is easy to say, "Oh, after all, Jesus was Godís only Son; of course, he could live what he taught, practice what he preached." But, the Creed doesnít let us off the hook so easily. Because Jesus was a human being, just like us, we can live as Jesus taught and lived. In fact, we not only can live like Jesus, we are commanded! "Love your neighbor as yourself," Jesus said was the second greatest commandment.

What does it mean to be like Jesus? Letís look at one action Jesus modeled for us. The Scripture lesson read this morning is Paulís magnificent statement about the humanity of Jesus, and the modeling Jesus did for us. "Be of the same mind, have the same love," wrote Paul. Like Jesus, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4) Jesus emptied himself, Jesus humbled himself for the sake of others.

act

What it particularly means to us today to be like Jesus, to be of the same mind and have the same love is to stand up for people. Jesus was criticized royally for aligning himself with the poor, the mistreated, the powerless. Jesus looked out for their interests. In our time, the powerless are the children and the poor.

A boy of about nine went to the Yankee stadium one cool September night armed for action. He had a pair of cheap binoculars around his neck and was wearing an oversized Yankees cap and a small Little League glove. He was ready to catch a foul ball. Sure enough, a foul ball was hit into the lower left field stands. It was heading right for the boyís glove when suddenly, a man about 35-years-old, wearing an expensive knit shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, reached over the boy, jostled him aside, and caught the ball. The boy was crushed. His mother tried to comfort him. There was a moment of stunned silence from the people around them, and then someone shouted, "Give the kid the ball!" Then another shouted, "Give the kid the ball!" A couple of rows joined in unison, "Give the kid the ball!" Horn Rims shook his head and put the ball in his pocket. That inflamed the whole left field crowd, and with one voice they took up the chant, "Give the kid the ball. Give the kid the ball." The players began to glance up from the field to the stands to see what was going on. Finally, a man got up out of his seat, walked over to Horn Rims and spoke some words patiently and gently to him. Horn Rims hesitated, then reached into his pocket and handed the ball to the kid. Someone exclaimed, "He gave the kid the ball! Then the whole section thundered, "He gave the kid the ball!" Applause rippled around the stadium. Then an even stranger thing happened. When another foul ball landed in the left field stands, the man who caught it walked over to Horn Rims and gave it to him!

To be like Jesus is to stand up for children. Jesus stood up for the children who were being pushed around by the disciples. Children are powerless to defend themselves. Children canít stand up to people like Horn Rims. Children have no political power. Jesus stood up for children.

To be like Jesus is to stand up for the poor. The poor have no political power. The poor are vulnerable. None of us yet know what the ramifications of welfare reform will be. Many families have lost their food stamps. Love INC had a meeting of pastors last week. We donít know yet what to do, but we do know the churches will need to be alert, and ready to help. It is easy for us to say, "Let them work. Let them get out there and scrap for a living." It is easy for us who know how to type resumes, fill out forms, read, write, and speak English. A case worker in a welfare office said, "Everything is designed by people who are educated and in power, even the forms. When the welfare recipient walks in, she is walking into another world, another language which seems almost consciously designed to make you feel little, dumb, and out of control." Perhaps a service we can provide is to help people write resumes, teach them how to apply for jobs, and how to be comfortable with forms.

A poor woman in Honduras expressed eloquently what it is like to be poor and powerless. She said,

Maybe thereís democracy for the rich, but certainly not for the poor. Let me give the example of what happened to my friend Carmen. Carmen was married to Juan, and they had six children. When the children were still quite young, Juan got cancer and died. Poor Carmen was left to fend for herself. She had a small piece of land that she and the children used to grow food to feed themselves. It wasnít much, but at least they werenít starving.

Hector Gonzales, a big politician, had some property next to her house. There was only a small road leading to his property, and he wanted to build a bigger road so his car could get through. But the land leading to his property belonged to Carmen. When Juan was alive, Hector had tried to buy it from him, but Juan refused because they needed the land.

Soon after Juanís death, Hector decided to go after the land again. He claimed he was the legal owner. Carmen is a poor, shy woman. She wouldnít scare a mouse. So when this big Hector came around saying the land was his, she didnít know what to do. And, of course the director was on Hectorís side, since Hector was a big shot and his political party was in power.

Carmen came looking for me. "Elvia, Elvia," she said, in tears, "I need your help. Hector Gonzalez wants to take away my land. Iím a poor widow. You know I need that land for my children. Itís the only thing my husband left me. How can he do this to me? "

The next day we took her land title and went to see the director. The director told us he couldnít decide the case, that weíd have to take it to court. Well, of course Hector could afford a good lawyer and Carmen couldnít. So who do you think won the case?

To believe that Jesus was a human being just like us means that we have the capacity and the ability to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus means to stand up for children, to stand up for the poor, to challenge the Horn Rims and Hectors of this world. To be like Jesus is to turn the worldís values upside down. What is important to our culture is nothing to God, and nothing to us in the long run. To stand up for children and to stand up for the poor is not an easy task. When you stand up for people, you run the risk of being misunderstood, maligned, ostracized, and crucified. Look at Jesus. The famous poet, Anonymous, wrote,

I counted all my dollars while God counted crosses;

I counted gains while he counted losses;

I counted my worth by the things gained in store,

But he sized me up by the scars that I bore.

To be like Jesus is to stand up for children, to stand up for the poor. We can do it because Jesus is our model and Jesus was a human being just like us. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.

ã 1997 Douglas I. Norris