But the Ernie Banks I remember is the first clerk of session with whom I served upon my ordination and installation in early 1984 as pastor of Trinity Church in Satellite Beach, Fla.
An ever-smiling, retired Air Force colonel, an avid sailor, Ernie was enjoying serving the Lord in our congregation between day trips in his handsome cabin cruiser, which he docked near his home on the nearby Indian River stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway.
What stands out in memory of our short time together — he moved away to the Georgia hills a couple of years into my tenure there — is our first new members’ examination. I had instructed these inquirers in the basics of the faith in preparation for meeting with the session to be examined regarding their intentions to serve the Lord with our congregation. Having coached the inquirers to be ready to share their personal “spiritual journey,” I was startled for a moment when Ernie took over the meeting and through his effervescent smile asked, “Who is Jesus Christ to you?”
Oh, oh. That wasn’t the question I’d told them to prepare for. I worried that stage fright might erase their memories and render them speechless. But their responses thrilled us all. They testified to a clarity of faith and conviction that I had not heard through the four preparatory classes I’d led.
Surely he wasn’t the first to ask the question, but I still think of it today as The Ernie Banks Question.
’Tis the season to be asking the Ernie Banks Question. Advent’s nativity scenes and carol sings open a brief window in time when conversations about Jesus can be less threatening, more socially acceptable. ’Tis the season to press beyond surface conversation to ask our family members, our classmates and officemates, our pew neighbors just who Jesus is to them, to us, now.
If the answer harkens only to a historical figure, it comes up short. If it speaks only of a role model, or a moral sage, or a noble martyr, the embodiment of one’s self-congratulating politics, it comes up way short.
Such answers have been catalogued in the annals of the great heresies of the church. Rightly so. They bleach the color out of the Savior.
On the other hand, if the answers speak of the one who, being equal to God, did not consider such equality something to be grasped but made himself nothing, being conceived under the cloud of community suspicions, born among farm animals, carried by massacre-fleeing parents into a foreign land, grew into a man who at once submitted to a prophet’s baptism and yet challenged the claims of the religious elite, who opened eyes to the way of living designed by God but long squandered in the courts of human misjudgment and the parlors of self-service …
… If the answers speak of his betrayal and denial, his suffering and death, and how his self-sacrifice caused this sinless one to bear the sins of us all … and …
… If the answers speak of the gift of new life made possible by his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to heaven, his bestowal of the Presence of God, the Holy Spirit, who now lives in and among us …and
… If the answers declare that he has and is continuing to change our lives not simply by us striving to follow him but by the indwelling power of Jesus’ virtue, of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying fruit, gifts and callings …
… Then …
The Ernie Banks question will have led not only to a rich conversation but to God-honoring, faithful conclusions.
’Tis the season to ask the right questions and to proclaim the amazing, awesome good news of Jesus and his love.