I’ve joked about Joseph and Mary’s son. But in a good way.
I’ve mentioned Jesus’ name publicly and privately. I have used his name in prayers, speeches, and intimate conversations. As a preacher, I’ve quoted words from the Bible that I believe he said. I’ve also quoted Gospel verses attributed to Jesus, likely crafted decades after the resurrection, that a writer/follower thought Jesus should have or could have said . . . but did not. (Now I’ve irked those who take the Bible literally . . .)
Of course, I’ve uttered and muttered his name. I’m a Christian clergy, ordained in word, order, and sacrament, Jesus is #3 on my list for the reason for my lifelong journey as a born again and again and again person of faith. And a person of foolishness. And I might as well add as a person of big sins and little mistakes, ah-ha moments of clarity, and the pre-retirement daily trudge through dreary meetings or filing denominational paperwork.
And yet, sometimes the best I’ve done for and with and because of Jesus was by remaining . . .
The name was not spoken.
His sayings and parables and miracles were left alone.
He was not invoked as the Son of Humanity or the Prince of Peace.
I think about this for two reasons, one recent from news out of Pennsylvania, one still rattling around memory lane from before I turned thirty.
In late March 2019, State Representative Stephanie Borowicz, a first-term Republican from Pennsylvania’s Clinton County, stood before the legislature to pray. I’ve done what she did: give an invocation before a meeting gets underway. Her prayer happened before the swearing in ceremony of other newly elected representatives. Among those was the first Muslim woman about to be officially recognized as a member of that governmental body.
In a brief prayer, Ms. Borowicz used Jesus’ name thirteen times. Good for Him? Good for her?
And yet, maybe not? Was her prayer a faithful moment or political statement? Calculated or spontaneous? Reverent or ridiculous?
I don’t know what Rep. Borowicz was thinking.
I also don’t know what Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell thought. As a Muslim woman soon to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature, and as someone with over 50 guests to witness her swearing in, she—and everyone else—quietly waited until the “Amen.” I suspect, as a Muslim, that Ms. Johnson-Harrell is extraordinarily familiar with the name of Jesus. Muslims revere him.
In this First Amendment land of “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” was Rep. Borowicz blatantly disrespectful of other citizens? Or was she freely exercising her God-given (and Constitutionally-protected) ability to say—and to keep repeating—Jesus’ name?
I wish Rep. Borowicz had chosen silence.
Silence is not just golden. I believe it is often the better way to follow Jesus’ way.
But that’s just me.
Not yet thirty, serving in my first congregation, wearing big boy pants and eager to preach the good news, I went to a nearby church for the monthly clergy association breakfast. There, we’d eat cold scrambled eggs, brag or complain about our ordained efforts, and plan a few events for our community. As a new associate minister, I smiled, introduced myself, and tried to avoid embarrassing God or my senior pastor.
I sat beside the Rabbi. And he was the Rabbi. In a gathering of mostly Christians in that Bay Area city, the Rabbi (whose temple was across the street from my church) was likely the only non-Christian. There may have been a pastor from a Unitarian congregation. Perhaps someone was there from the Unity Church. But at that point in time, Jesus’ gang outnumbered everyone.
Before breakfast, the current president of that clergy association stood to say grace.
And lo, Jesus’ name was invoked early and often.
There was no YouTube in the semi-good old days, so I can only trust or mistrust my memory. On he prayed, blessing those cold eggs and encouraging us to go forth and do good . . . in Jesus’ name.
I don’t know what the Rabbi thought. Most Jews are familiar with Jesus. After all, from cradle to cross, Jesus was a Jew.
I was embarrassed. For the Rabbi. Maybe even for Jesus.
My reading of the Gospels (like all believers) is shaped by my upbringing, education, professional experiences, and personal biases. Those influences lead me to conclude that Jesus didn’t call attention to himself. God is oft absent from the parables. Jesus, I believe, seemed to delight in his Jewish tradition along with condemning its first-century foibles. He seemed to put more emphasis on how we treat our neighbor—our relationships with the other—instead of admonishing his followers to follow the letter of the law.
Rightly or wrongly, I believe I may best bring Jesus into my personal and professional relationships by keeping his name out of it.