Do we look like Jesus? (3/3/23)

Friday, March 3rd, 2023

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

Psalm 17:15


I pray you are covered with Christ as we journey through the Holy Season of Lent. I am struggling over the lingering question: Do our churches and faith look like Jesus? Can we say yes? I am not speaking of looking like Jesus architecturally or artistically (e.g. carved in stone, Tiffany stained glass, Jesus covered in gold or European Jesus). 

I wrestle with something more profound.

If someone walks through our door, will they find a place where they belong? Will the person wearing dirty clothes feel they belong? Will the immigrant who does not speak English or the single mother or father with three screaming kids? Maybe that guy who smells like alcohol and needs a shave. Anyone who does not look, think, act, or talk like us.

This is a time of Lenten reflection, and we all like to believe we welcome everyone.We know that despite the smiles, and the quick wave, one can immediately feel unwelcome in a place where you are silently treated like you do not belong. You sense it, you feel it, you know it. You walk in, seeking a personal and spiritual connection. Still, you sit alone, notice that people glance over, and then you just want to leave. After the service, another obligatory hello. No one looks you in the eye, asks about you, or sits with you and listens.

Imagine this Church. From the moment you walk through the door, no matter your economic status, identity, place of birth, gender, the color of your skin, or language, you feel something so different from the world. Every person, word, smile, and prayer speaks to you. Their attentive presence, listening, and concern convey that you matter and belong. You feel it. You close your eyes and know, "This is home, where I belong." The same feeling people felt in the presence of Christ.

We may not know what Jesus looked like, but we know his words, actions, life, and love. We know his heart. Look out into the world, and what is most troubling is that we have separated ourselves from God and one another. What is heartbreaking is that many have become indifferent to the suffering of others. If it doesn't affect me, we do not feel responsible. If we do not care outside of the Church, the Church we attend does not look like Jesus. We will never know the mind of God, but we know the heart of Christ. 

Over my time as bishop, I have called this diocese to be the Church of the Poor and the Church of the Merciful. When I say the Church of the Poor, some automatically get uncomfortable. It is good that the Gospel is unsettling. I doubt that anyone who met Jesus walked away feeling anything but unsettled. Yet this call to poverty and mercy is a beautiful identity and awakening. Let us remember that poverty takes various forms: economic, spiritual, personal, physical, mental, and social. Each one of us is poor, for we are all lepers reaching out to touch the hem of Christ. If we are merciful to one another, we are blessed.

Let us return to a faith and a Church that is gritty and messy. Together, let us have a revolution of the heart. Let us have hearts like Jesus. A people, a diocese, where we look like him, think like him, walk with him, act like him, live like him, and love like him. I ask that for the remainder of Lent, you read and pray over Luke 15. I love the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25. However, the three parables in Luke 15 speak to our call: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son. As your pray and read, ask yourself these questions:

1. Is Jesus the only thing that matters in our lives and Church? Or is he among the numerous selections on the drop-down menu of our lives?

2. Who is missing from our Church?

3. How are we searching for them?

4. Are we forgiving? Merciful?

5. How are we different from the world?

6. Is this a place of unconditional belonging and love? Even for those who we may consider “different."

As we move toward Easter, we can find ways to look like Christ. I know I have tons of work to do. Let us commit together. Let’s be different. Let us be the Church of the Poor and the Church of the Merciful. A Revolution of the Heart. Just don't say the love and peace of Christ; we live it. 

God bless you always. I walk with you on this pilgrimage of faith and life. Pray for me, and know I hold you in my prayers.

Your brother Daniel,

Bishop Signature Updated 2021

The Rt. Reverend Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez

XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania