Rev. Jonathan Portrait

Rev. Jonathan Mitchell

To speak humanly from the height or from the depth
of human things, that is acutest speech.
—Wallace Stevens


I put together this website to support my ministry in Southern California—and beyond. Here you will find written and audio sermons, class notes, and blog entries from the past.

This site has been inactive for almost a year now, but today I am picking it up again, with the posting below of my Easter reflection for 2017. The audio file is an outdoor iPhone recording, with all the ambient sounds that go with an outdoor setting. The written version is a cleaned-up transciption.

I am also posting a sermon I delivered last Labor Day Weekend in Glendale Ohio.

Blossoming of the Cross

Message: Living Christ


From Handel's Messiah

I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand
at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God. 
(Job 19:25-26)

For now is Christ risen from the dead,
the first fruits of them that sleep.
(I Corinthians 15:20)

From Walt Whitman's Song of Myself, section 6

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?  

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
     end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.  

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

We just blossomed the cross. The wood was once alive and now it is covered in blossoms. You know, birth and death, death and birth -- there would be no flowers, or blossoms, if there were no death. If plants lived forever, they would need no seeds. No need for seeds, no need for blossoms.

Maybe that's not absolutely true. Even if plants lived forever, they might still produce seeds in order to spread, or to replace plants that were eaten or destroyed. At a deeper biological level, though, without generation succeeding generation, there would be no evolution of life. Blossom, seeds, death, sprouting, blossoms, seeds, death, sprouting . . . , that is the cycle by which life evolves. Life in the beginning did not arise out death; it arose out of the non-living. Death is part of the cycle of life, and evolved to serve life.

On Easter, we celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord. The death of Jesus of Nazareth was for the continued growth and unfolding of life in the Spirit.

Every year we read the accounts of the resurrection. They are nothing if not mysterious and puzzling. And yet at least this much can be asserted: The powers that be in Roman Judea in the first century thought they could kill him; they thought they could silence him. But they failed. The tomb is empty, and a number of his followers experienced him as still alive.

Over the last week I listened again to that aria from Handel's Messiah. And it just has the most wonderful sense of peace and confidence. Just in the melody, just in the words chosen: I know that my redeemer liveth and in my flesh shall I see God.

I named this reflection Living Christ. And I chose that name on purpose to be ambiguous. Living Christ could be the Christ that still lives. Or it could be that as Christ lives in us and as we live in him, we are living Christ.

Using the phrase Living Christ was in part inspired by the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote a book called Living Buddha, Living Christ. You you may know, neither Buddha nor Christ are names, they're titles. Buddha means awakened. Siddhartha Gautama woke up and became the Buddha. Jesus of Nazareth became the Christ. Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah and both of the them mean the anointed one. Jesus of Nazareth became the Anointed One. Part of Thich Nhat Hanh's point in the book is that the Buddha is the Living Buddha as we live the life of the Buddha. As we awaken to our Buddha-nature and the Buddha lives in us, Buddha lives. So for Christ, the Anointed One. As we ourselves realize that we too are anointed ones, the Anointed One lives in us, and we live in the Anointed One. We are living Christ.

What does it mean to be anointed ones? What does it mean to live Christ? The original anointed ones were the kings of Judah. Anointing with oil was part of the ritual by which they became commissioned as the kings of Judah. It was their job to govern the people of God, while serving God. Of course in actual history they may have carried that out in very faulty ways at times. But nevertheless the theory was that the anointed one, the king of Judah, was commissioned by God to lead God's people under God's justice -- to govern a just society under God.

When Jesus became the Anointed One, it was the same commission at a more spiritual level. He was anointed to bring people into the kingdom of God, to bring people into the kingdom of heaven. The question for us is: Do you believe? Do you believe that you were anointed? Do you believe that you are commissioned to bring the spiritual kingdom of God into existence? To bring God's compassion and wisdom into this world? To create a heaven here on earth? Do you believe you are so commissioned?

I think that is a call for all of us. Christ is a reality that lives within. Christ is also a reality that, as it says in Mark's telling of the resurrection story, goes before. The question is: where is he? And where will we see him? I invite us all to open up to the fact that we are anointed to a life of living Christ.