“No man ever spoke like this man.” (Jn 7:37-52) These words from today’s gospel are of course are referring to Jesus, and I will soon get to speaking about our Lord. But for warm ups, I want to first take these words in reference to my mentor Fr. Dajad Davidian. It would flatter his sizable, but entirely lovable ego, to hear these words spoken about him. No man ever spoke like this man. For starters, there was his thick Boston accent, which when made fun of, he would say, ‘people pay 10 thousand dollars a year to learn to speak like me.’ But on a deeper level few men could speak Godly words and show Godly actions to practically any person in any situation. One day in his pastoral theology class at the seminary in Etchmiazdin Der Dajad proclaimed to his 40 students; “whatever you do don’t become celibate priests, get married!” Though overstated, he was trying to stem the tide of many young men becoming celibates for the wrong reasons. But he didn’t just stop with words. The seminarians complained; There are no young women in the seminary and we aren’t even allowed cell phones to call girls from home. Der Dajad said, ‘here use mine.’ And so the professor of Pastoral Theology at Gevorkyan Seminary in Holy Etchmiadzin dedicated part of his class each week to chatting up potential Yeretskins on his cell phone.
No Der Hayr acted or spoke like Der Dajad. Perhaps the most memorable example was his now legendary “khachaputooyts” or cross walks. On Good Friday in Watertown, MA, instead of just speaking the words of Christ in the sanctuary, we carried a giant wooden cross down the streets from church to church and Der Dajad reflected on the love of Christ to anyone who came to listen. When we tried this in downtown Yerevan in 1999 for the first time, we turned some heads. It seemed like the entire city was staring out the windows of their post-soviet apartments stunned by the spectacle, and hundreds of them joined our journey by its end. Several police officers ended up following us with great suspicion, but by Der Dajad’s third sermonette, they too became followers.
Truly no Der Hayr acted or spoke like Der Dajad. He seemed to be unique in the power of his words and actions; that is until you come to know Jesus in today’s Gospels. Then you see that Der Dajad was a totally original copy. For form the day Jesus opened his mouth he seemed to attract crowds and attract controversy. His words were so powerful and provocative that, in today’s reading, half the people want to worship him and half arrest him. Well from my story of Der Dajad, maybe you can guess what happened. When the police officers sent to arrest him got near him, they changed their minds! You can imagine the reaction of their superiors when the officers reported back to them empty handed. Well, why didn’t you bring him in? The officers answered, because “No man ever spoke like this man.”
Now remember, this isn’t just about powerful words, beautifully delivered; a bunch of people can do that. The officers meant that no man ever spoke with authority like this man. When Jesus spoke about heaven and hell, good and bad and the meaning of this life, he spoke like he knew what he was talking about from experience. When Jesus spoke about forgiving others who hate you and sacrificing everything for God and neighbor he spoke like someone who knew about these things from experience. As writer Ellen White put it “‘No man ever spoke like this man,’ because ‘No man ever lived like this man.’ This is where Jesus puts distance between him and Der Dajad, him and I and any other sinful human.
But the purpose of our life is, with God’s help, to shorten that distance between the way Jesus spoke and lived and the way we do. It also happens to be the simple and practical purpose of Great Lent, which begins next week; to practice thinking, speaking and living like Christ. The traditional fast of Lent, or the lighter version of giving something up is fine, as long as we are giving up something less Christ-like to do something more Christ-like. There are dozens of possibilities for this, because there are so many ways each of us can learn to speak and live by Christ’s example. I am giving up all phone apps in the morning and late night, except for my daily 5 minute Bible study plan, to help me begin and end my day in Christ. You might decide to give up some food that you don’t need, but maybe also give the money you would spend on it to a project in Armenia. You and I might try and stop complaining about problems, and instead realize how blessed we are and become part of God’s solution. The possibilities are endless, the purpose is one; to become more like Christ.
So as the Lenten season begins next week, let us take this blessed opportunity to grow into more Godly men and women. There are as many disciplines we can engage in this Lent as there are diverse personalities that will help us speak and live more like Christ. For although truly no man ever spoke or lived like this man, the amazing paradox is that the more we try to copy Christ, the more totally original we become as the unique child of God that he has made and calls us to be…now and always and unto the ages of ages, amen.