Sounds like a harmless title, maybe even a little boring. But what the Christian Church says about Jesus--as a unified body, not as any one denomination--bears repeating in the hyper-denominational atmosphere that some Christians have misguidedly pushed on the culture today.
As you read this, ask yourself if you have heard it before, and what it means to you if it is anywhere near true. The material comes from the Forward Movement, which is a nonprofit organization within the Episcopal Church devoted to helping Christians and others learn about Christianity.
"Jesus calls us to the 'kingdom of God.' This kingdom is a community of people who live [voluntarily] under the rulership of God by following Jesus. That means we are called to follow Jesus' example of loving God and neighbor by being humble and open like a child, and through ministering to other people.
"Jesus reached out to people who were not popular in his culture, such as Samaritans, tax collectors, and known sinners. He healed people of spiritual and physical diseases. Jesus instructed us to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the imprisoned. We are called to do likewise.
"Christians live in the kingdom of God now on earth and more fully after our death, in the nearer presence of God throughout eternity."
How do our various parishes and congregations measure up to those simple dictates? It is quite true that you don't need to be a Christian to feed the poor, but the opposite is not true; you cannot condemn or ignore the poor and call yourself a Christian unless you like to live in a state of delusion. And it does seem that there are many people doing just that right now, and not all of them are politicians.
There is such a thing as the "Prosperity Gospel," which was very popular a few years ago and taught that working for the sake of amassing riches was not only right and proper, but the resulting wealth was a sure sign of God's favor. Out of the Prosperity Gospel came the current political thought that being poor is somehow related to defects of character, something that is entirely un-Christian.
Forward Movement goes on to say:
"In Jesus, God reached out to us. God loves us no matter what, forgives us, and gives us the gift of love of others. Paul, an early follower of Jesus, wrote about God's love: 'It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.'
"But to love God and our neighbor is not something we can do on our own. Even the kindest, most loving of us fail to live as we are intended--in love and harmony with God and God's creation. This failure is called sin."
The concept of human imperfection, by itself and compared to the concept of God as perfect, leaves pretty much in despair, don't you think? This is the Jewish dilemma: they believe that God is perfect goodness and justice, but like all human beings they are stuck where they are as human beings. But the above is not all of the Christian message. The rest is this:
"The good news is that those who put their faith in Jesus--that is, entrust their lives to him and follow him as closely as they can--begin to live a new kind of life. They can walk in love as Jesus did. They grow into the people God created them to be. They experience the Holy Spirit empowering them and changing situations."
If you do not believe that such a life is possible, you have probably never really tried it. Many people actually believe that Jesus was a very good person who lived a long time ago and tried very hard but was overcome by the Roman government, while his friends remembered him with what became a new religion. That is not even a fraction of what happened.
Christians believe that Jesus is not dead--not trapped in his life and death two millennia ago--but that he is a living presence who reaches us in our lives. The despair that we can become trapped in by the existential predicament of knowing the gap between ourselves and God can lead to depression in anyone, from good people to terrible people. But when you believe that this so-called Holy Spirit can take you up into the eternal life that is going on outside of the physical universe (or even if you don't but you wish it were true), nothing can prepare you for the far-reaching transformation that is possible in your life.
Preachers can cheapen this kind of transformation by dumbing it down to things like pray-away-the-gay, and I think that most people are not fooled by that kind of claptrap. Many of those who preach it are hypocrites of the worst sort. Those who preach the complete depravity of human nature and live in terror of a righteous God's judgment are also on the wrong track. The three-part Christian message that I have taken from a Forward Movement publication is a concise and accurate statement of what Christians believe. There is nothing else that you need to believe in order to enter into a Christian life, despite what you may hear from people who need certainty and tell you that they have it through their denomination.
Still, Christianity is a faith, not a philosophy, and you are sincerely invited to join a group of Christians somewhere. I recommend the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson, or the Rincon Congregational Church here, or the Church of the Good Shepherd in Sahuarita, which is of the United Church of Christ. There you will find people who are accepting and loving, no matter who you are.