By Bob Setzer
Not infrequently, Jesus shows up in some pretty surprising places. According to recent news reports, the face of Jesus has been seen in a pizza sold in Australia, a poppy petal photographed in the high desert of California and the swirling images on a tie-dyed T-shirt in Cleveland.
But of all the Jesus sightings reported in the news of late, the most interesting occurred in Kinston, N.C. There a utility pole draped in kudzu created a jaw-dropping sensation. Locals say the kudzu, hanging from the pole and electrical wire, looks like Jesus hanging from his cross.
Kent Hardison, a commuter who passes the kudzu draped utility pole each day, considered blasting the offending vine with herbicide. But peering at the vine he had an epiphany: “It looks like Jesus!” And then the sobering realization hit home: “You can’t spray Roundup on Jesus.”
As a preacher always on the lookout for new material, I appreciate Hardison’s keen eye for signs of God’s Kingdom in the world. The theological word for such postings of the eternal in time is a “sacrament.” A sacrament is something that points beyond itself to the divine and/or becomes a channel of God’s presence to believers.
Even so, this kudzu in the Tarheel state has become a sacrament to many. As Hardison observed in the local paper: “It doesn’t matter what you do, kudzu is going to be around. Ain’t that a lot like Jesus?”
Who can argue with that?
At our church this summer, we are unpacking the parables of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday. One of their most striking features are all the places Jesus sees God’s truth. God’s kingdom pokes through in the most surprising places: in seed and soil, weeds and wheat, leaven and flour, booty hidden in a field, a glowing pearl and all kinds of fish dragged up in a net.
And all that’s just in Matthew 13. Continue traipsing after Jesus in the Gospels and you see him discover the kingdom in even more shocking places: a crooked accountant (Lk 16:1-9), a nosy neighbor (Lk 11:5-8) and an indigent with a sign that says, “Will work for food” (Lk 16:19-31).
With Jesus, it seems, there is no place and nobody where God is not already present, quietly, mysteriously at work.
Granted, the Bible says there will come a time where God will separate the wheat from the weeds, the good fish from the bad and the sheep from the goats. But that time is not yet and when that time comes, God, not us, will do the judging.
Our job as followers of Jesus is not to judge the world, but to point with irrepressible, heart-thumping glee at all the places where he is already at work in wild and wonderful ways (quite often without our help).
So, keep looking for the living God in the sparrows, the stranger, the enemy and maybe even in the kudzu. You never know where Jesus is going to show up next.