By: The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
As I begin to write this, I’m thinking that it’s going to be very short. That’s because what I want to say, what I want everyone who reads this to take to heart, truly and deeply, is this: IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS. This has been put into my mind by the strong emphasis of our Presiding Bishop, the Most. Rev. Michael Curry, who consistently refers to the Church as “the Jesus Movement.” Yes, that’s it: it’s all about Jesus. The measure and meaning of your life, the gift of love and friendship with respect to all those who give your life real context, your experience of, and relationship with, the Eternal God, the imperative of baptism, your worship, your choice of what Christian ministry, service, and stewardship you undertake as the concrete expressions of how you are, in fact, a disciple of Jesus, it’s all about Jesus. Furthermore, and perhaps most pointedly for my purpose here, the Church itself—certainly your congregation but also more than that, all of the Church which is ours as a gift from God: the Diocese of Virginia, The Episcopal Church as a Province of the Anglican Communion, and that very Communion that spans the entire globe—it’s all about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, God’s very self, born into human life as our own flesh and blood. It is this Jesus who shows us how you and I are to live and why we are to live that way. Now, here’s the kicker: if our participation and understanding of “church” in our lives don’t ultimately boil down to that single, very personal realization and reference point—that it’s all about Jesus—then we’re just wasting precious time and spending increasingly limited reserves of energy pointlessly.
My assertion in these words may seem so very obvious to some, but I do not take this point for granted. For one thing, I have to say that all too often I encounter people, Christians, who quite obviously have taken their eye off that ball. I also have to say that more often than I care to think about I can easily be one of those people. That’s why it is so important that there are many people and times in my life (both as a bishop and in my personal relationships) that remind me of this single truth—it’s all about Jesus—and call me back to it. You, too, need such people, such occasions, in your life.
Are you really with me about this? I admit that right now, as I write, I can virtually hear people react to my mantra—it’s all about Jesus—with a comment to the effect that what I’m saying is just so simplistic as to be utterly naïve, unnecessary. So, I also imagine that more than a few have already stopped reading, having turned the page not being convinced that this is something that is actually an “issue,” something to engage and decide if it’s true, something that is simply a given and not anything we must be convinced about all over again.
But, I insist: “it’s all about Jesus” is a very radical point of view. I think it’s radical because it seems that so many people, so many structures and institutions that carry something of “Jesus” in their name and logo, actually want to be about something else, and they work very hard to do just that. Power and control are usually around somewhere. That means that money is also very much in the thick of things. Preserving the status-quo (very much an anti-Jesus premise) is never far removed from many choices that must be decided. Fear—fear of risk and fear of the unknown—is deeply embedded in our heart of hearts. And the politics, God help us, the politics. Of course, I could go on and on with the forces that are not at all “about Jesus,” forces and common values that would very much prefer that we actually don’t become convinced that “it’s all about Jesus.” I wonder . . . do we, as the Church, have the courage to face those things for what they truly are? If we do, then we will conclude that whatever we do in our congregations, what we are together as a diocese, must meet a single test: Does this serve Jesus’ vision of humankind and society that we know as “the Gospel?”
We hear and read a lot these days about the “decline of Christianity” in our culture. The Church is often portrayed as increasingly impotent or even irrelevant, especially in Western civilization. But, make no mistake. The world—our world—wants Jesus desperately. I’m convinced of that, and I’m convinced that they know Him when they see Him. This is particularly true about adolescents and younger adults (countless surveys say so), who are known to be the most “spiritually seeking” generations in many decades. It’s clear to me: for them, it most certainly IS all about Jesus. So, I ask you: is that really true about us, who are the Church, the “Body of Christ,” founded by Jesus to gather and guide our discipleship of Jesus as the Lord of life?
OK, I was wrong about the length of this article. But sometimes, the road back to the starting point is a long one. For me, it’s a journey worth taking, because Jesus is there.