Saturday, September 8, 2007

He comes to us as One unknown...

September 7, 2007

Our reading from Colossians this morning is more hymn than theological statement. From its tremendous phrases we learn the glory of the cosmic Christ, the Lord who is Lord of all, the first and the last. And yet this is the same Jesus our first comrades in the faith knew as a fellow human, walking the dusty paths of Galilee, bringing the message of the coming Kingdom of God to the people of Israel. The Christ of faith and the Jesus of history – the same person – and so compelling, for humankind ever since. For example,…

From the website of the Nobel Foundation we learn that: "Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875-September 4, 1965) was born in Alsace... At the University of Strasbourg he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1899, and received his licentiate in theology in 1900. He began preaching at St. Nicholas Church in Strasbourg in 1899; he served in various high ranking administrative posts from 1901 to 1912 at the University of Strasbourg. In 1906 he published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a book on which much of his fame as a theological scholar rests. Schweitzer wrote a biography of Bach in 1905... Having decided to go to Africa as a medical missionary rather than as a pastor, Schweitzer in 1905 began the study of medicine at the University of Strasbourg... In 1913, having obtained his M.D. degree, he founded his hospital at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa, [where except for the period from 1917 to 1924 he spent most of the rest of his life].... At Lambaréné, Schweitzer was doctor and surgeon in the hospital, pastor of a congregation, administrator of a village, superintendent of buildings and grounds, writer of scholarly books, commentator on contemporary history, musician, host to countless visitors. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1952. With the $33,000 prize money, he started the leprosarium at Lambaréné....Albert Schweitzer died on September 4, 1965, and was buried at Lambaréné." []

Schweitzer’s work on the historical Jesus summed up the scholarship of the preceding two centuries, well enough indeed that it was not until California’s James Robinson (senior) initiated the new quest in the 1960s that much new ground was broken. Indeed the Westar Institute, sponsor of the Jesus Seminar, having finished its own work on the historical Jesus and looking for new worlds to conquer, followed in Schweitzer’s footsteps by turning to a study of Paul. Of course other people have followed Schweitzer’s footsteps in other ways, notably by serving to relieve poverty, suffering and disease. Even in the 1980 comedy “The Gods Must Be Crazy” a volunteer teacher en route to the bush is asked, “So, are you going to do an Albert Schweitzer in Botswana?”

Carlos Noreña, chair of the philosophy board of studies at UC Santa Cruz, once remarked on what could happen if you took philosophy too seriously. Albert Schweitzer seems to have taken his own scholarship quite seriously. While he continued to write – The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle came out in 1930 – once he had made the move to the mission field his main work, his exegesis in action, if you will, was his service to the poor. This follows quite logically from his conclusion to The Quest of the Historical Jesus:

"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: 'Follow thou me!' and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is."

Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), W. Montgomery, trans. (A. & C. Black, 1910). Chapter 20, conclusion (

Colossians 1:15-20
Psalm 100
Luke 5:33-39

Friday 7 September 2007, Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento

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