“We would not accept (Jesus’) humanity if we could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not a white man.” – Clarence Jordan
I recently bought a book that contains a series of sermons by Clarence Jordan entitled The Substance of Faith and other Cotton Patch Sermons. Clarence Jordan created an integrated farming community in Americus, Georgia at the height of segregation in the South. He was an outspoken voice against racism and segregation and translated much of the New Testament in the vernacular of his day. I would like to share part of a sermon that has particularly impacted me as I and many others have been dwelling on the incarnation this season.
“The greatest danger to Christianity was not when Jesus was a little babe in Bethlehem with old Herod trying to kill him. That wasn’t the most dangerous point in the life of Christianity. I think the most dangerous time was in the second century after Christ, with the rise of the gnostic heresy.
It was a heresy which did not, of course, begin in Christianity; but because it had much in common with Christianity, it sneaked in and almost took it over. It came to its highest apex under the brilliant preaching and teaching of a fellow name Marcion.
The heart of Gnosticism is dualism- that is, the idea that God is all good and all-pure and that the earth and all matter is all-evil….They imposed this philosophy upon Christianity. God couldn’t really become one with us in this evil old world. So they said that Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh, he just seemed to have flesh…He couldn’t become human because this body is evil and this savior from God couldn’t really have a body because it would be evil for him to have done so.
This fellow Marcion has raised his head time and time again and I think he is walking the streets of this nation daily. People reject the incarnation by the deification of Jesus…Any attempt to make him human and embarrassingly present is angrily denounced as sacrilegious. By carefully preserving our image of him as God, we no longer have to deal with hims as the Son of Man. Preachers by the dozens who vehemently affirm his deity shamelessly deny his humanity if he is black and poor.” (“An Ancient Heresy Incarnate”)
I think we are still doing this to Jesus today. Perhaps after the horror and genocide of World War II we have finally understood that Jesus is not white. We get that he is not an American or a Republican or a Democrat. But I see Marcion rising up again, and I think every generation is called once again to remind us that Jesus is not only fully divine, but fully human. We also have to work out what that means. To quote Clarence Jordan once more, “(The humanity of God) establishes that from here on out we can’t deal with God without confronting him in our brother.” Jesus says as often as you do it to the least of these you do it to me! He is saying this at the final judgment (Matt. 25). Because God has now become human, there is no human who has not been affected or touched by this reality. The image of God has become the image of Jesus. When we look at our fellow men and women we no longer see simply that person but we should truly believe that we are to treat them as we would Jesus himself. The incarnation then has some serious implications for how humanity must now interact each other. To harm another person is effectively harming our creator who is now our brother, who seems to very much share in the sufferings of humanity.