I Don’t Know the Nazarene!
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.
This is the all-too familiar story of Peter’s denial of Jesus Christ. Never, ever did he think that he would deny Jesus. He had boldly stated that he would not. And yet, here in the moment, when challenged that he had been with “that Nazarene!” he denies it. Not only does he deny having been with him, he denies knowing him, or anything about him.
Allow me to think out loud with my writing today to my Nazarene brothers and sisters. This is the “tribe” of which I am a part, and the one into which I was born. There are times when things that happen within the tribe can be troubling or disappointing to me and/or to others.
Where I live here in the region of East Ohio the Church of the Nazarene has had a long history with one of our churches being founded in the same year as the denomination. Ohio has the largest concentration of “Nazarenes” than any other part of the United States so we are a familiar face. However, there have been times when we were not such a pretty face. There was a period where we became trapped in a legalism that seemed to create an almost choke-hold on some, and sadly, as a result there were many who walked away from us and in some cases, left Christianity altogether. It’s not always a pretty story.
But sometimes we have made excuses for leaving. There may have been things we didn’t like, but had we gotten our eyes off of Jesus? For the Church of the Nazarene should be about “the Nazarene.” Even with her warts, bumps, and bruises, the Church of the Nazarene has continued to point people in the direction of “the Nazarene.” From time to time I run into those who left the church, because they weren’t happy about something. For so many their lives have become a total wreck. The amount of divorce, sin, hatred, and even poor health that I run into is pretty devastating. These folks want to declare, “We don’t know the Nazarenes!” but in reality they have been shouting for a long time, “We don’t know the Nazarene!” Maybe we ought to stop making the Church of the Nazarene the scapegoat for the fact that we don’t know “the Nazarene.”
If we would keep our eyes on “the Nazarene,” even when we are disappointed by the people within the tribe, we would not deny the tribe, but maybe we would simply seek to become a clearer reflection of “the Nazarene.” Jesus gave himself up for you and for me, but also for his bride, the church. I believe the church plays a greater role in Christianity than some would like to admit. We have tried to make Christianity a personal thing, but it is also a corporate thing. Just as God in the holy Trinity is bound by a community of holy love, so you and I are to live out our love for “the Nazarene” within community.
Don’t deny “the Nazarene” and don’t deny the Church of the Nazarene either. For some of my friends, it is the Church of the Nazarene that breathed life into you and nurtured you, and now you’d like to deny you were ever a part of her communion. How about claiming that you are “a Nazarene” and that you want to be a part of a fellowship that is pointing people in the direction of “the Nazarene.” I want to know “the Nazarene” more and more every day of my life and I will continue to serve him through the tribe that has helped to raise me, the Church of the Nazarene.
Just about a month ago I was privilege to preach a number of revival/spiritual emphasis services in Olathe, KS at Mid-America Nazarene University and College Church. That week I was overwhelmed by the number of people present who had a profound influence on my life. A woman came to me after the first service and said she had been my 6th grace Sunday School teacher back in Idaho. Here was a woman who had helped to form me when just in elementary school. On the platform was the organist, Carolyn Pickering. She had been my piano teacher back in my teen years. This woman had loved me and encouraged me through those years and gave me a love for classical music. The trombonist on the platform was my Jr. High band director — at a secular school! He had been there to help give me self-confidence when I moved into a new community at the age of 13. Dr. Cunningham was present — the man who had been pastor of College Church when I was in college. He had stood in that massive pulpit and brought the word of God. He came over and gave me a hug after one of the services! And then there was Pam Smith, my nursing professor who had loved and encouraged me when I didn’t know if I could really do all that they expected of me to become a nurse. I remember long hours sitting in her office and talking. I could continue on, but just reminiscing makes me realize how foundational the Church of the Nazarene has been in my personal and spiritual formation.
I will not deny “the Nazarene” nor the Church of the Nazarene. I am grateful for both!
Lord, may I be generous in giving all for you. Amen.