Are you … Jesus?

In honor of Facebook’s “Doppelganger” week, I’m posting my own very real doppelganger experience! This is a message a shared at a Luther College FOCUS worship (their praise worship) on March 17, 2002.

Are You … Jesus?

Thanks for asking me to be with you tonight. I have a very short Bible text to share, I Peter 3:15. Here Peter writes simply: And be ready at all times to give an accounting to anyone who asks concerning the hope that is in you.

My thoughts tonight are offered to woman who is not here, whose name I do not even know.  But she had a beautiful mind.  And she deserved more than I offered her at the time, so I am offering these words for her benefit tonight, as well as for yours.

Last Saturday I had the most unnerving instance of mistaken identity in my life.

I was up in St. Paul at a Rainbow Foods grocery store with my wife and daughter.  I had just finished bagging our fours sacks of groceries and had playfully piled them on top of 6-year old Susanna who was seated in the back part of the shopping cart.  She giggled as she found herself buried under groceries, and I swung the cart around to head for the exit.

A woman, maybe my age or a little younger was watching us with a curious smile on her face.  I figured she was just amused by our father-daughter antics.  As I pushed the cart forward she approached me and said, “I suppose the answer is ‘No,’ but you look so much alike I just have to ask—are you Jesus?”

I was completely caught off guard.  I smiled, uncertain whether she was joking or serious, and answered her.  “No, I’m not.”

She replied, too seriously for my comfort, “Well, I didn’t think so, but you looked so much like him I just had to ask.”

Then, after a pause she pulled a ten-dollar bill out of her pocket and pressed it into mine.  “Here, I want you to have this—just in case.”

I attempted to return it, but she backed away.  I protested, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

She looked at Susanna and responded, “I don’t care . . . you can spend it on your family.”

I didn’t want to create a scene, but I didn’t really want her money, so I suggested, “Well, the next time I’m in church I’ll put this in the offering plate.”

“Fine,” she said.  “That’d be just fine.”

As we headed for the exit she walked alongside us.  “You know, I figured you probably weren’t really him, but you know you look just like him, and you have such a pleasant smile, I decided I better ask.”

I smiled; I’m sure more nervously than pleasantly this time.  She continued, talking in the tone of voice you use when you’re sharing information with someone you’re sure already knows it: “Jesus came to die for us, you know.”

“Yes,” I agreed.

We reached the door and took off in separate directions into the parking lot.  As Margaret, Susanna, and I headed toward our car she called something after me, but I couldn’t make it out.  I smiled my most sincere smile and waved at her.  We went on to our car and loaded up.

Margaret backed the car out of the parking place and as we began to pull forward here was this woman, striding purposefully, almost frantically across the parking lot, waving us down.  She was clearly relieved to have found us again—I cannot say the relief was mutual, but I rolled down my window.

“Do you want me to follow you?”  This was a serious question on her part.  And I did not know how to answer it.  I did not want her to follow me, but even more than that I did not want her to be asking the question in the first place.

“No.  I do not want you to follow me.”

“Are you sure?  Because the Bible tells us to follow Jesus.  And I will follow you if you want me to.”

“No.  Look, I am not Jesus.  Here, let me give you this money back.”

“Oh, no.  No.  No.”  She seemed genuinely scared that I might not keep the money.  “You keep that.  But are you sure you don’t want me to follow you?”

“You follow your heart.”  If she wanted a sage-like response I’d try to give her own.

She was not impressed.  She was heartbroken.  “So the answer . . . is . . .  ‘No?’”  Her voice betrayed resignation, almost despair.”

“That right, the answer is ‘No.’”

“Okay . . . well . . . good-bye.”

“Good-bye.”

And we drove off.  My identity safely intact—and her hope dashed to pieces.

There is something humorous about this encounter.  It certainly isn’t an everyday occurrence, it isn’t something that would happen to most of us here.  And thankfully she didn’t begin by asking me my birthday, which, of all things, does happen to fall on December 25th.

And there is something tragic about this.  Clearly this woman and I were standing in the same grocery store but were on very different terms with the world.  Whether her perception of reality was more or less true than mine isn’t for me to say, but she certainly seemed to operate with a set of boundaries unlike most of us.

But, for me, there was also something spiritually unsettling about this.  She had asked me—with a mixture of disbelief but genuine hope—if I was Jesus.  And she had offered—with a very disconcerting sincerity—to follow me.

And all I could say, was “Follow your heart.”

She had, in effect, asked me to give an accounting for the hair on my head and face.  And while her question was misplaced, the more I have mulled it over, the more I wish I had found the presence of mind to redirect her question along the lines of Peter’s words in the passage I shared with you earlier.

So this is what I want to say to this woman who caught me so off guard.

No, I do not want you to follow me.  But here is what I will ask you to do.  Look for the pattern of God’s Kin-dom in the world and follow that.  That’s right, Kin-dom: “Kingdom” without the “g”; the realm of God’s kin, God’s family.  Go find and follow this pattern that shows up in this world as God goes about creating, preserving, and restoring real kinship between persons and all creation.  Look for this pattern, these places where hope is dwelling.  And keep your question nearby.

Wherever you see this pattern be ready to ask persons for an accounting of it.  Go ahead and ask them, “Are you Jesus?”  Because the question itself reminds us that the Love of God is not limited to one man who lived 2000 years ago but that this Love longs to find men and women even today willing to lend their limbs and their lives to the work of Love.  God wants Jesus to be found again and again today—not in persons whose hair and beard happen to look like his, but in persons whose lives harbor love that happens to look like his.

Sweet sister, this is where I want you to look.

Look for persons whose words and images help us see the Surprise of God still today.  That’s what Jesus’ parables did.  More than anything else when Jesus described the Kin-dom of God he tried to turn our expectations inside out.  The last will be first; the little will be large; the lost will be found; the least expected will be festively welcomed home.  So find the story-tellers and poets and artists today who do this, and ask them, “Are you Jesus?”  And remind them in your knowing voice, “Because, you know, he came to tell stories that unleashed the Surprise of God.”

Then go look for those persons today who, like Jesus, tirelessly tend to those whose earthly needs are unmet.  Those who feed the hungry, teach the illiterate, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick.  Find these persons who are convinced that whatever awaits us after this life is not meant to invite us to overlook those who suffer in this life.  Ask these people, “Are you Jesus?”  And if they react in surprise remind them that their work echoes Jesus’ own.  That he didn’t heal people just to pass the time; he did so to pass along the Love of God—just like they are.

Then go on and find those whose human spirit is too discontented, too maladjusted to patiently bind up wounds.  Those who set themselves to re-making whole societies and whole churches so that fewer persons get wounded in the first place.  Those who dare to feel God’s holy indignation at injustice and who are willing—often at peril to themselves—to give voice to that indignation before the powers that be.  Their anger and passion is hardly unknown to Jesus.  After all he exploded against the religious leaders of his day for being more concerned to keep people out than gather people in.  So find these people and ask them, “Are you Jesus?”  And if they seem startled, give them that knowing look and say, “Well, you know, Jesus came to cleanse a lot more than just one Jewish Temple, and there’s a lot of cleansing in church and society yet to be done.”

And, dear woman, go and look for those persons who are throwing dinner parties today where absolutely everyone is welcome.  Find those men and women—and children—whose readiness to include others echoes Jesus’ own in being unlimited by boundaries, unfazed if rules get broken along the ways—because, as Jesus said, when the wine is always new, you better be ready to change the wineskins now and then.  Find these persons who welcome the outsiders inside before the rest of us are ready for that, and ask them, “Are you Jesus?”  And be sure to remind them, “Because you know, Jesus came to continue the work of gathering the outcasts into God’s Kin-dom.”

And, sweet woman whose mind is so beautiful as to ask questions from a place I cannot begin to imagine, No, I am not Jesus, but thank you for asking.  And I hope that had you watched my life for longer than those few moments in the grocery store you would’ve still asked the question, prompted less by the length of my locks than by the length of my love.

You remind me of my 6-year old daughter.  When Susanna knows company is coming for dinner she flits around the house in anxious excitement moving from room to room, from window to door, asking me again and again, “When will they be here, Daddy?  Is it time yet?”

I never asked your name, so embarrassed was I by the foolishness of your question.  But I recall that sometimes what passes for human foolishness takes on a different quality from God’s perspective.  So I am willing to guess now that maybe your name is Sophia, the curious, anxious, excited Wisdom of God wondering when everyone else will find their way home for dinner.  Keep asking your questions, Sophia.  And I will keep working on my answers.

And may we all.  May we all.  Amen.

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