New Smyrna Beach, Florida
What is it about Easter that grabs some of us and repels others? Are there not themes in the Easter story that we can all celebrate regardless of our spiritual path?
When we attend church on Easter, what do we expect? For at least four decades,
as I have become more Unitarian in my thinking, I have been finding it increasingly difficult to find themes in Easter for us all to celebrate. For sixteen of those years I have been right here, a member of this congregation.
In virtually every Christian church (except for a few UU Christian churches)
we would expect words about the death and physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
and his empty tomb. There might also be some mention of his after death appearances.
Even some UU Christians would focus on these things.I am, quite frankly, amazed at how traditionally Christian some UUs can be!
It has been said, and I agree,that most UUs are much more interested in what happened between the birth and death of Jesus than with those two events, however they happened. There is much more to be gained from the words he spoke and the life he lived.
Thus today I am going to talk about the in between years about Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth. Yes, that was his real name,not Mr. Christ, though that name was assigned him years after his death o name his place as Messiah for his followers.
The details of his life as they are related in the Gospels may well not be true in their specifics but those stories represent the man his followers remember.
Jesus was a rebel! He would have fit well in UU social justice work. He would have been working alongside many of you at the Star Center feeding the homeless or volunteering at Family Renew or volunteering at local hospitals.
He would have applauded the new Catholic pope washing the feet of women and non-Christians at a juvenile detention facility rather than washing the feet of priests in a Cathedral! The Gospels express Jesus way of living:
“When you give a feast, invite the poor, the lame, the blind
and you will be blessed.” 
“This is my commandment,
that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
“I was hungry and you gave me food….
As you did it to one of least of these, you did it to me.”
How did Jesus stand on peace-making? It is a strange thing that happens to us over the years. When I was a child, then a youth during World War II. oh how we hated the Krauts and the Japs. We even hated the Italians though I don’t think we had a derogatory name for them. But now, nearly seventy years later the Germans and the Japanese are among our nation’s best friends. In 1945 if anyone had told me
I would ever own a German or Japanese car, I would have said they were crazy!
There were some terrible things that happened in that war. I struggle even now to understand at what level the words of Jesus can help us on the way to peace in such an awful conflict. When do we need to meet force with force
and when shall we … “Turn the other cheek…. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” When I reflect on those awful years
I become aware that our enemies weren’t the people of those three nations.
It was Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito. Sixty years ago I was working as a machinist at a factory in Ohio. One day at a company picnic for families,
several of my fellow machinists were exchanging war stories. They discovered that some of them had been flying bombers in World War II. A few were in the U.S.Air Force stationed in England. A few were in the German air force. They had been bombing each other’s bases, not because they hated each other as persons
but because they were following orders.
Clearly Jesus was a man of peace. His words are a challenge to our modern world.
His words are a challenge to us to transform potential adversaries into friends and neighbors, pre-empting the tragedies and bloodshed of armed conflict.
How did Jesus stand on immigration? on race relations? Interesting that Jesus made a hero of the hated Samaritan, the foreigner,
who was the real neighbor. The Samaritans were the near-neighbors of Judah and Israel. Yet they despised each other. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?
I suspect that Jesus would rejoice at the rich mix of people that we now are as a community and a nation, racially, ethnically, culturally.
We come from so many places. I expect that Jesus would echo the words of Jeremiah Wright in passing harsh judgment on the way this continent was stolen from its original people. We could well learn a bit about human relations by hearing Jesus’ stories again.
What else do we know about Jesus? Children were attracted to him.
Thus he must have had a welcoming smile and probably a compelling personality
and a hearty laugh (as shown in these artist’s view of the Nazarene,
remember there were no cameras). The one artist caught a sense of what it might have been like, walking for hours under a hot sun.He showed that he cared about children when he rebuked his disciples for keeping children away from him. He said “Let the children come to me.”
Quite apart from the many doctrinal questions of traditional Christianity, we can learn a lot by immersing ourselves in the parables attributed to Jesus. What they teach is central to the message of Jesus. Jesus was a rebel when it came to the law.
He was found humanizing the ritual laws, especially when he said,
“The sabbath was made for made for man, not man for the sabbath.”
So what do we have? A rebel, who was faithful to his beliefs
to the point of his death. He could have bailed, given up,
become a safe unknown person, and stopped making what were considered
treasonous statements by some in authority. The song “Lord of the Dance”
suggests a life of joyful purpose, a spirit that could not be beaten down, that even death could not defeat, a spirit that calls us today to follow in his footsteps
and “join the dance”.
So we can celebrate his in between years, the life, traditions about him that have given rise to generations honoring the man of Nazareth.
As we celebrate his life, “Let It Be A Dance”!