Meet Holly. She’s a close friend of mine. We first met in about 2002, when she joined our ministry team for our Avenues Church. From the first moment I met Holly, her personality was evident. She’s strong-minded, feisty, feminist and opinionated. We got Holly on board as a creative way of introducing things that sometimes needed words and explanation. She fitted with our All-Age Worship and added to the visual atmosphere. What we didn’t anticipate was the way that she’d be received. Right from the start she was a winning addition to our team. And the enthusiasm surprisingly, was not just from the children. She added a bit of humour and colour and energy to our worship. She also, through her stark honesty, curiosity and contradictory nature, helped us to focus our thinking and ask more questions in a setting where interaction was encouraged. People interacted with her. They argued with her and asked her questions. They laughed with her and told her jokes and stories. She provoked reaction. And she was never short of something to say.
Of course, despite the arguments that Holly and I frequently have, Holly is always on message. The message I want to convey. While she might challenge what I say at times, she always comes around to agreeing with the point that I want to raise. This is hardly surprising. Even though Holly has her own personality, she’s a part of me. Holly is a puppet. The only person who controls Holly is me. I am the one who ‘thinks’ her, I ‘voice’ her, I ‘act’ her. She’s a version of me and my thinking. It is impossible for her to be anything different. Without me breathing life into her, she is just like a rag doll.
I’ve been pondering lately about the way I hear people sometimes talk about Jesus. Some people say they’re a Christian and then state their personal view on all the things that Jesus would and wouldn’t agree with. They challenge individuals, they hurt and damage and cause unhappiness, they create rules and put up fences – all in the name of Jesus. The things they say, don’t tally up with my view of Jesus at all. They sound to me like they are treating Jesus like their puppet. His message becomes what they want it to be and his voice becomes theirs and not his own. But Jesus is not like Holly. He’s not a puppet. And for any human to choose to be a mouthpiece for the person of Jesus is a brave and risky thing to do.
Of course anyone who calls themselves a follower of Jesus, a Christian, does become a mouthpiece for the person of Jesus. Whether they intend to or not, want to or not, inevitably others around them will immediately view them as such. The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is to take this responsibility seriously. How can we really know Jesus? How can we dare to act as if we know Jesus so closely it is as if we are actually Jesus himself? How can we actually be qualified to be the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ? What does this actually mean for us? What does it mean for Jesus?
This is where the concept of ‘follower’ can make us breathe a sigh of relief. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, then we acknowledge that we are on a journey following him. We’re a ‘follower of Jesus’. We’re not Jesus himself. We’re on a journey toward Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus. We’re following Jesus, moving towards him, being guided and supported and even carried by him, understanding him more and more as time passes. He’s in our sight, he’s urging us on, he’s guiding us, letting us rest against him, sustaining us, rejuvenating us. The journey is always changing. When we want to be on it, it is never truly stopped. And the joy of being a follower of Jesus is found in the journey itself. We’re not at the destination yet, we’re on the road towards it.
This is why groups of followers gather together to talk about Jesus, to share food and conversation, struggles and joys, to sing their praises to Jesus for the journey and to pray for their own needs and the needs of others around them. This is why followers of Jesus read the Bible over and over again and talk about what they’ve discovered about the person of Jesus in the pages of the gospels. This is why followers of Jesus after reading about his teachings, his miracles, his stories, look outward beyond themselves, to others around them, feeding the poor, housing the homeless, protecting the refugee, supporting the oppressed, advocating for the marginalised, healing the sick, grieving with the dying, crying with the ostracised. This is why followers of Jesus increasingly value the characteristics of grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, humility, kindness to name a few and incorporate these characteristics into their lives. This is why followers of Jesus look eagerly for Jesus at work around them in God’s creation and actively engage in being part of that work and bringing it to fruitfulness. This is why followers joining together share a memory meal of Jesus Christ. This is why followers of Jesus see potential in the journey.
If we call ourselves followers of Jesus we need to be people of faith who constantly strive to understand Jesus’ message and allow ourselves to be internally changed by Jesus. To keep travelling the Christian faith journey, constantly growing and changing and evolving in understanding. To view our faith as a work in progress, a moving forward work in progress, a frail, human, underwhelming attempt to understand and reflect Jesus to others who may or may not be on the journey too.
And when we open our mouths to say words that represent Jesus, we need to be ever so aware that Jesus is not our puppet.