January 2, 2016 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, January 3, 2016. Scriptures are:
For those who want to follow along, or prefer to listen, an audio link is provided below.
In the beginning was the Word . . .
Well, our Gospel reading today took us all the way back to the beginning.
Not just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, like Mark’s Gospel does. Not just to the beginning of Jesus’ life, like Matthew and Luke did.
No, John takes us all the way back to the beginning. Rewinds all the way back to Genesis 1.1. And makes a claim about the origin, the shape, and the destiny of the universe.
John begins his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
Here’s the thing you have to know about the opening of John’s Gospel. It’s not prose. It’s not a theological tract. It’s not apologetics. It’s not philosophical discourse.
It’s a poem. It’s a song. Look at it in your Bibles. John 1 isn’t formatted like the rest, is it? The margins. The line divisions. Look at it. It looks more like one of the psalms, doesn’t it?
That’s because it’s poetry, not prose. It’s a song that tells a story.
John’s Gospel was the last one to be written. Mark and Matthew and Luke had already told us about the life and death and resurrection and glorification of this man named Jesus. How he had healed the sick and fed the hungry and invited outcasts to eat with him. Generally, how wherever he went, he had given people their lives back. They had already told us how much his way of life had cost him—how he’d been murdered by the authorities. Because God’s kingdom—the kingdom Jesus brought—threatened to put their kingdoms out of business. And Mark and Matthew and Luke had already told us about how God had vindicated Jesus’ obedience—an obedience that led to his death on a cross—with resurrection and glorification. They had even told us already that those who follow Jesus—even if it kills us—will share in his resurrection and his glory.
But what they told us was all about the now and the future. This current life, and the life to come.
John knew that while all of that was fearfully and wonderfully true, there was even more to the story. John wants us to understand that the story of Jesus goes all the way back to creation.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, John sings. And then—the most surprising, shocking, sublime, subversive line of the song: The Word became flesh and made his home among us.
He doesn’t tell us how the Word was with God and was God. He doesn’t tell us how the Word became flesh. Faithful, brilliant Christians have been arguing about those lines since John unleashed them. But John himself doesn’t invite us to ask how. I suspect that how is actually quite above our pay grade.
John just wants us to know that the Word became flesh and sojourned among us. And that the man Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh.
God with us. God among us. God for us.
Play with that idea for a little while. Bounce it around. Hop on it like a trampoline. Squeeze it between your fingers like silly putty. Cuddle it close like a teddy bear.
The Word of God. Became a human. That human was Jesus.
In the beginning, when the earth was a gumbo of darkness and chaos, God spoke a word: Let there be light! The word that gives us light becomes the human, Jesus.
Think about the Exodus. The word God gave Moses to tell Pharaoh: Let my people go! The word that sets humans free becomes human. He is Jesus.
The true meaning of the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms—what they were all leaning into—is Jesus in the flesh. Jesus embodied the Scriptures. The Word of God became flesh and bone and blood and breath and lived among us.
John does not say that the Word of God became the Bible, leather-bound, with concordance and maps; and dwelled in our pews or on our coffee tables or even on our iPhones.
John says that the Word of God became flesh—a living, breathing human being—and dwelled among us in a particular place, and at a particular time. In Jesus, the Word of God became a person with a context.
I hope your mind is as completely blown as mine by that.
God’s skin in the game
When John sings to us: In the beginning was the Word / and the Word was with God / and the Word was God; and, The Word became flesh and made his home among us, what he’s doing is making a claim about how the universe really works.
He’s saying that this man—this particular human being people had known as Jesus—is the source, the meaning, and the destiny of all creation.
When John talks about the Word, the Greek term he uses is logos. It’s not just that there’s an individual word spoken. It’s about rationality. Order. The way everything fits together. You can see that our English word logic comes from logos.
So what John was saying is: Everything is from Jesus. Everything is for Jesus. Everything converges in Jesus. Everything finds its meaning in Jesus.
John is saying that this human they knew as Jesus of Nazareth is the source and the key and the meaning and the significance of everything. That all history leads to and proceeds from him.
John is saying that no one can ever accuse God of being aloof. God is no unmoved mover. Jesus is God’s way of showing that God has skin in the game.
And always has.
Think of it like this. Think of the world Jesus came into. Grew up in. Lived and moved and had his being in. Galilean peasants occupied by brutal Romans. And sold out by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. And all sorts of nasty things are happening to them. And imagine that God drops a scroll on them from heaven that says:
If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two … You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you. (Matt. 5.39-44)
I don’t know about you, but if I’m one of those Galilean peasants, and God drops this scroll on me telling me to love the Romans and pray for the Herods, I’m going to tell God to go kick rocks. Probably I’d say: You know God, that’s real easy for you to say up there! Why don’t you come down here and live with my enemies for a while? I bet you’ll change your tune, then!
But that’s not how it happened. The way it happened is that Jesus—the Word of God become flesh—said those things.
And the Herods and the Romans killed him on a cross.
And along the way, he was slapped. And his clothes were taken by the authorities, leaving him naked. And he was forced to carry a burden that wasn’t his.
And so he wasn’t telling anyone to do anything; to feel anything; to go through anything; that he didn’t go through himself.
Because the Word who was with God and who was God has been crucified, the God who tells us to love our enemies can say to us: See, they did it to me, too.
Like I said—skin in the game.
Furthermore, in one of his letters, Paul says that the brutal, barbaric, unjust death Jesus experienced on the cross is how God loves his enemies. God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us, Paul says. And he also says that we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies (Rom. 5.8, 10).
It is in the life and death of Jesus—with human skin and human bones and human blood—that God says to us, This is what my love looks like. And I will always love you relentlessly, even if it kills me.
In other words, Jesus tells us to love and pray for our enemies, even if it kills us. And then he does it himself. He even dies praying for his enemies: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23.34).
And God doesn’t stop speaking there. God refuses to let our sin, our rejection of God, have the final word. When Jesus raises from the dead, and returns to his Father in glory, God is speaking a promise to us. He’s saying: I will not allow sin and shame and war and rape and pollution and greed and genocide and death to have the final word. I am making all things new.
The Word of God became flesh and made his home among us means God has always had skin in the game, and always will.
The Word becomes flesh
So we now we understand that, The Word became flesh and made his home among us, means that God has skin in the game.
But what about us? What does that mean for the church? What does that mean for you and me?
Probably the most important thing it means for us is that the Word became flesh isn’t just an awesome thing God did a long time ago. It’s God’s plan for the church in all times and in all places.
What I mean is that, as mind-blowing and earth-shattering as it is that the Word became flesh; truth is, God is more concerned with how the Word becomes flesh. Here and now.
See, Jesus didn’t just go back up to heaven to wait until it was time to come back. He left a flesh-and-blood people in the world to continue the work he started. And of course, that’s us.
Jesus has left us here for no other reason than to make his words; his life; his death and resurrection; live on in our lives. In what we say. In what we do. In how we do what we do. We are here dwelling in the midst of the world to make the word of Jesus become flesh.
I think that’s why Paul liked to use the metaphor of “body of Christ” for the church. He used it not once, not twice, but at least three times in his letters. In 1 Corinthians. In Ephesians. And in Romans. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that when Paul calls the church “the body of Christ,” it’s more than just a metaphor. It’s simply the truth of what we are.
I would go so far as to say that the Word becomes flesh and dwells among the world whenever the church is paying close attention to living by the Sermon on the Mount. Because Jesus was basically preaching his own life.
Think about it. To live by the Beatitudes means to honor and welcome the oppressed and the mourning and the beat-down and the hungry. Why? Because that’s who Jesus welcomed and honored. What’s more—because God has welcomed us in Jesus.
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to be reconciled to one another instead of killing each other. Why? Because God has reconciled us to himself in Christ. He tells us not to put away our spouses. Why? Because God has not put us away. Jesus tells us to speak the truth. Why? Because God has spoken the truth to us in Jesus. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to love our enemies—even the ones who want to kill us—by turning the other cheek, giving the other garment, going the other mile with them. Why? Because God loved his enemies through Jesus’ cross. That’s the day God turned the other cheek. Jesus tells us to forgive our debtors. Why? Because God forgives all our debts through Jesus. Jesus tells us to ask God for our daily bread. That reminds us that our debts to God are as real as the next meal we eat. Jesus tells us not to judge. Why? Because the cross has already revealed every judgment that needs to be made.
If the Sermon on the Mount was the word of anyone other than the Word of God who became flesh—if anyone else but the crucified-and-resurrected Jesus said those things—I’d tell them to go kick rocks. No one can live like that. No one should live like that. It’s irresponsible and naive.
But the Good News is, Jesus never called any of us to do any of that alone. He makes us members of his own body, so that we live connected and supported. And he lives among us through the same Spirit who raised him from the dead. Didn’t he promise us: Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age (Matt. 28.20)?
And so we are the body of Christ. We’re in Christ. Christ is among us. And we’re dwelling in the world. So that the Word can become flesh again and again in our lives. Among us. Right here. Right now.
And that’s our story, church. That’s who we are. The body of Christ—the real flesh and blood and breath and bone body of Christ in the world. Our skin in the game. God’s skin in the game. The light of the world. God’s people in the world. God’s people for the world. The Word becoming flesh among us.