"WWJD?" Palm Sunday by Pastor A.J. Houseman
In the 90s there were these really popular bracelets that had “WWJD” on them. Sound familiar? Did anyone have one?
They were super popular as giveaways at all kinds of church events. At Vacation Bible Schools and summer camps, as prizes for getting the right answer at Sunday School or sometimes just for showing up.
In case you didn’t know already, the “WWJD” stands for “What Would Jesus Do?”.
It was a morality campaign. To teach kids to ask themselves in any situation, what would Jesus do? AKA, what is the right thing to do? What is the right path to take?
The history of this phrase and subsequent theology comes from the book “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis written in the 1400s. The concept being rooted in the Pauline Epistles like our second reading for today from Philippians.
In the late 1800s, a minister in Kansas, named Charles Sheldon, wrote a sermon series on it called “what would Jesus do?” being his punchline. Each week he would tackle a new topic and pose the question.
It’s a fascinating tale really, Sheldon was a vegetarian, citing humane treatment of animals. He was an advocate for gender and racial equality and Christian socialism despite our capitalist society. Something maybe not too crazy of a concept in 2022, but in the late 1800s he was considered a mad radical.
In the 1990s, the phrase “what would Jesus do?” based on “The Imitation of Christ” resurfaced in Christianity in the United States in a movement for youth. It began at a reformed church in Michigan and slowly spread throughout the world.
You can see why, it's a pretty fundamental concept in Christianity. Love like Christ. Act like Christ.
I remember thinking as a kid in the middle of this movement that it was a pretty strange thing to think about. Do what Jesus would do. I mean, that’s just impossible. How can I ever do what Jesus did?
Or am I to apply Jesus to my situation? That probably seems more right…. But I mean, Jesus would never be in my situation. Jesus never went to VBS and had an opportunity to steal an extra juice box.
As an adult I find it even more outlandish of a concept. Because you see, there seems to be a moving target in modern Christianity about what Jesus would do. I mean, mostly it gets used to guilt us into the American concept of Christian purity culture. And those that use this theological concept of WWJD, I think, miss the fundamental point of what the author of “The Imitation of Christ” and Minister Sheldon were trying to get us to understand.
That concept is what our Holy Week journey is about.
I want to reread our Philippians lesson for today:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.”
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Hmm… That sounds eerily similar to WWJD, doesn’t it?
What Would Jesus Do? This week is our annual journey with Jesus to his death and resurrection. Today we began by processing with Jesus into Jerusalem, the City of God, where he will redefine the world as they knew it.
Because what would Jesus do?
Jesus, who we hear Paul proclaiming is a divine being with God, a part of God, an equal to God, giving himself humbly. All of himself.
I mean, we declare Jesus God. Period. All powerful and mighty. Lifted as a king above all kings.
And what does this Jesus do?
This Jesus spends his time on the side of the road healing the homeless, feeding folks without access to food. He spent his time advocating for equality. And not just amongst his people, but those that weren’t like him either. Those that existed on the margins of society.
He took power and shared it. He loved without reservation. And he thought of others every step of the way.
As we journey with Jesus this week and learn the answer to WWJD, I invite you to reflect on what our journey as members of the body of Christ is, in 2022. What are we doing to manifest the love of God through Christ? To serve and love.
Maybe it’s patching a damaged pride flag so our neighbors know they are welcome and beloved by God through Christ. Maybe it’s offering a place for a second chance in life after addiction, so our neighbors know that they are welcome and beloved by Christ.
Maybe, it’s just a simple post on Facebook reminding each and every person that God loves them.
We are never going to be Christ… but we can continue to share his purpose and legacy that God intended for us in the Easter story: Love.
A couple of years ago, I was hitting a bit of a sermon writing block. I was speaking to my aunt about it, just feeling kind of at a loss for words. I said, “I don’t know how many different ways I can come up with to say Jesus loves you!” And she said, “you know what, one is going to speak to some and another will speak to someone else sitting in the pews. Life is hard and we need someone to keep saying it. Over and over again.”
Because that is what Jesus would do. Remind you every single day that you are beloved. You are worth it. Worth the cross.
Because that is what the cross is… our reminder that each and every one of us is loved by God.
That is what Jesus would do. Every day. Share this love. The love of God.
Not the judgment of God… that is not for us to decide. The love. Not the 1990s morality judgment of purity culture. But the genuine, unconditional, irrevocable love that God sent in Jesus. The “no matter who you are or where you are or what you’ve done” love.
That was way too long to put on a bracelet. So let’s settle for “that’s what Jesus would do”. Amen.