Moved into the Neighborhood!

“Moved into the Neighborhood!”

John 1-14 word made flesh, circle

John 1:1-14 – December 24, 2019

A long time ago, in a galaxy close by—even, in this galaxy right here, the Word was first. The Word was present before anything else. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

All right, I have a confession to make. I saw the new Star Wars movie on Saturday. I love the original Star Wars trilogy. I did not love the prequel trilogy, however I really liked the last trilogy of movies. And, the last of the current trilogy, “The Rise of Skywalker,” was a satisfying end to the story—thus far.

What does Star Wars have to do with Christmas? Especially during the past week, I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of Light and Dark in the Star Wars universe; the two flip sides of the Force, that ultimate dyad of positive and negative energy, where Light is Good and Dark is Evil.  I saw a few differences to what we have highlighted this Advent season here at St. Luke’s Church—the Light and the Dark.

Except, different from the Star Wars universe, this galaxy’s kind of Light and Dark are both positive, both are needed. Both are made by the same ultimate Source, or Force, or heavenly Creator at the beginning of all things.

The beginning of the Gospel of John is modeled after the beginning of Genesis 1—except John goes much deeper, and gets theological right away. John chapter 1 tells us a lot about the Word—the Light—the Life—and then, brings those descriptions down to earth. The cosmic Light—the Word spoken before anything was created—that Word—or Light—or Life comes down to earth and gets up close and personal. How much more personal can you get than becoming flesh, becoming a tiny Baby?

I think everyone here is more familiar with the narrative of Luke 2, where we hear about Joseph, and Mary, and the census, and the awkward situation the young couple was in—being still fiancés, still pledged to each other, and not yet married. But wait, there’s more! We hear about the shepherds, angels and their heavenly birth announcement. The shepherds run to visit the newborn Baby, and afterwards go and tell everyone in that town of Bethlehem: “Alleluia! The Messiah is born!”

Somehow, the narrative told by Luke seems a lot more relatable than the first chapter of John. I mean, who can relate to the eternal Word spoken before anything was created? And, the cosmic Light that is also Life? Isn’t that a mixed metaphor, John? Couldn’t you get your metaphoric descriptions straightened out before you set it down as Gospel truth?

This Scripture reading from John 1 is the reading for Christmas Eve, where John tells us of the Eternal Word, part of the everlasting Trinity, becoming flesh. As Luke would say, Emmanuel, God with us, becoming a Baby born in Bethlehem.

Jesus was the name that Mary and Joseph gave to their Son, and John tells us He is “the Light of all people” coming into the world. After a month of Advent, of waiting and longing and talking about the miraculous birth, Jesus is now here! We have also been talking about how Light and Dark are both positive things, both created by God.

As we reflect on the two narratives, the familiar one in Luke 2 and our reading for tonight, John 1, both readings talk about the Light of the world come to earth. Yet, Jesus is both human and divine. “Those two things coexist in him, just like light and dark. John tells us darkness does not overcome the light. The darkness is there alongside the light as it shines. Darkness helps light stand out, just like the stars shining in the night sky.” [1]

We have already talked about how darkness can be warm and friendly. Just think of baby animals and their mothers. Puppies, kittens, calves, lambs, all kinds of animals resting with their mothers. And, think of human babies. They rest with their mothers in the warm, welcoming darkness of night. Not like the good versus evil, light/dark split of the Star Wars universe, but instead all creation created by God, and all is named good.

We can see how there is a natural bridge connecting John 1 (talking about the Eternal Word/Light/Life), and the narrative of Luke 2, telling about the common, every-day birth of a Baby—yet miraculous, too. Both are integral parts of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

“But note: when God decided to get personally involved, God came to tell us that we are loved, deeply, truly, and forever. God loves all of us, but especially wants those who don’t feel loved or lovable, those who regularly feel like they’re on the outside looking in, those who feel forgotten, and those who wonder what the point of life is, to hear the “good news of great joy” that God loves all of us.” [2]

Is it any wonder that our Scripture reading for this evening tells us, in the wonderful translation by Eugene Peterson, that this Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Prince of Peace, Word become flesh, “moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus became one of us, a human being.

That is the meaning of Christmas: Jesus has moved into our neighborhood, and become one of us. As the angel said, Jesus is born for you. For me. For each of us. That is the miracle, come to earth. Glory to God in the highest! Amen.

 

(I would like to thank illustratedministry.com for their Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.” For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas and quotes from the Christmas Day devotional. Thanks so much!)

For further information, see info@illustratedministries.com

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] Advent devotional “An Illustrated Advent for Families: In Light & Darkness.”

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/12/christmas-eveday-c-keep-it-simple/

“Keep It Simple,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

 

The Word Became Flesh

“The Word Became Flesh”

john-1-14-word-made-flesh-stained-glass

John 1:14 – December 25, 2016

Words, words, words, words!! Words of every kind, of every description. Words that tell, words that show, words that praise, words that criticize. Words separate and draw together. Words fill people with joy and peace as well as with suspicion and animosity. Words have power. Whether insightful words or divisive words, encouraging words or cajoling words, stirring words or capitulating words, words have the ability to shake emotions and to inflame passions for good or for evil.

How do people use words and language, anyway? People speaking a common language need to agree upon the sense of what they say. It helps to be bound together by social convention as well as language rules of practice and use. In fact, language provides the structure of our common experience, understanding and perspectives. But I don’t want to get all high-falutin’ and theoretical. I want to bring this home to where we live.

We all use language. Every day. In conversation at home, or on the telephone, or at work. Reading a newspaper or writing e-mail. Watching television or giving a sermon. All of these uses of language use words. Words communicate meaning, ideas, stories. Each one of us has a personal story, of what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. Each story is individual and unique. Our stories are communicated using words and language, and each individual has a creative, unique way to tell his or her story.

The story of an individual’s own personal life makes sense because it is part of a larger story, the Story that has the story of Jesus Christ at its center. The Story of the Baby in Bethlehem that is so familiar to so many. It is a story of God’s initiative which calls for my gratitude and response, a Story some theologians have called ‘the history of salvation.’ It is the Story set forth in the Word of God that attracts, crossing boundaries and transcending lines of race, class, culture and age.

Our gospel text for today, the first verses of the Gospel of John, is a restatement of an old theme. Remember Genesis 1:1? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Most scholars today believe the apostle John was thinking of that introduction to the Greatest Story ever told when he wrote his own portion of it. John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.” John reframed that Story, and gave it a new look from a different perspective.

In John, Chapter 1, we have God, the creative God who made heaven and earth. The almighty God wanted to communicate with us puny, limited human beings. But how was God supposed to communicate His Story?

I can remember when my children were younger, in first and second grades. Sometimes they would need help with their homework at night. Years before, I had taken several courses of math in college . . . college algebra, trigonometry, analytical geometry. But, after considering more advanced mathematical ideas, how was I supposed to explain simple addition and subtraction to my young children in language they would understand?

That’s the way I look at God’s problem sometimes. It’s sort of like God, able to do the most advanced mathematics possible—in God’s head!!—and God needed to be able to explain the simplest addition and subtraction problems to us ordinary, simple-minded human beings.

There was another problem, as if the simple-mindedness of humanity wasn’t enough. That problem was (and is!)  sin. Funny thing, how sin keeps cropping up in our lives and getting in the way. Sin divides people from one another as well as from God. Sin isolates and forces apart. Sin happens on a horizontal plane with other people as well as on a vertical plane with God. And sin causes humanity to walk in darkness and to run from God’s presence.

So here we have a loving God, a God of light, a God who wants so much to communicate with us sinful human beings. But how was God supposed to communicate God’s Story?

            The Gospel of John tells us how. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was God. The Word is God. Jesus is the Word. John 1:14 says that the Word, Jesus, became fleshand . . . the Word dwelt among us.

Let’s look at this verse more closely. The Word became flesh. The Greek word for “flesh” is sarx, the same word that the apostle Paul uses when he talks about the flesh. Except that Paul meant sinful flesh, and Jesus as God incarnate had sin-less flesh.

Think about it: the whole idea of God becoming a helpless baby, a human being, able to feel cold and heat, able to be hungry and thirsty, with blood and bones and a nervous system and a digestive system. So staggering was this idea that some of the people in John’s day could not believe it. God? the creative God who made heaven and earth? Coming to earth as a helpless, human baby? No way!!

And, that’s not all!! Not only did this Creator God make Himself appear in creation so that our eyes could see Him, this almighty God, after making Himself flesh and blood, has the crazy idea of dwelling among people. Becoming one of us limited human beings, sharing our food and living in our midst. Jesus became fully man. He didn’t just seem to be a man, and pretend to be human. He really and truly became man, living with us as one of us.

What a way for the almighty, eternal, creative God to communicate to us in a way that we limited human beings might possibly understand. God wanted humanity to understand His Story of good news, the Bible, but God also wanted humanity to understand His Word made flesh, the one called Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus (the Word incarnate) is the central principle of Scripture as well as the central character of the Greatest Story ever told. Reformed believers have throughout the centuries been finding new ways to confess their faith, using the fallible, limited resources of language that have been handed down to humanity throughout the generations. God helps us understand the Greatest Story ever told, and there is nothing God wants more than for us to want to understand His Story better and better.

A good many years ago, a bible translator went to a remote, mountainous region in the interior of Africa. He worked hard at turning an obscure oral language into a written language, which involved decoding the language, writing a grammar, learning extensive vocabulary, and finally translating a portion of the Bible into the heart language of that particular people-group.

After several years of intense work and language preparation, when he felt he was ready, the missionary made his first presentation of the Story of Jesus to a group of headmen from the tribe. He was surprised at their response, which was unlike any he had ever had before in all his years of being a missionary and telling people the Story of Jesus. The group of men just sat agthere in silence, and then the chief came forward.

The chief grasped the missionary’s hands and, with tears in his eyes, thanked him for coming to tell them the Story of Jesus. “This Story of good news is the one my people have waited for, all their lives long!!” And then came the clincher: the chief asked, “Your tribe has had this Story for many, many years. What took you so long to tell us?”

Communicating the Story of Jesus has power! Awesome power! This is a Story that can change people’s lives for eternity. Telling the Story in someone’s heart language is one of the best ways to communicate how much God loves us.

When Jesus came to this earth, He spoke the language of the people of His region, and He communicated ideas in ways people could understand. Yes, He was the Word become flesh, and yes, He showed us how to live this life that we have to live. Jesus, in the words of the Barmen Declaration, “the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.” [1]

Praise God that God sent the Son Jesus into this world, the Word incarnate, the Word that became a helpless baby in Bethlehem. Praise God that God has given us the right to repair that broken relationship with us, and to be called the children of God. And praise God that God loved us so much that—as John 3:16 says—God gave His only begotten Son on our behalf, to reconcile us to God for eternity.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

 

[1] 8.11, The Barmen Declaration, The Book of Confessions, (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Distribution Services, 2014) 283.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

“I Have Seen the Lord!”

Woman-and-Jesus-

April 5, 2015 – John 20:18

Who doesn’t like to hear a good story? Storytellers are wonderful to listen to. Small children love to hear stories. Even grown-ups enjoy stories. Certain stories are told over and over again, in different ways. Cinderella. King Arthur. The Arabian Nights. Aesop’s fables. Even the Wizard of Oz. What about The Greatest Story Ever Told? That’s another name for the narrative of the Passion Week, following Jesus step by step from Palm Sunday through Good Friday, finishing up with the happily ever after ending on Easter morning!

We left Jesus on the cross, on Friday afternoon, when last we met in St. Luke’s sanctuary on Good Friday. Jesus had walked through the days of Holy Week, debating with the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in the Temple. He had eaten a Passover dinner with His disciples on Thursday evening. The special thing Jesus did on Thursday was instituting the Lord’s Supper with the bread and cup of the Passover meal. Do this in remembrance of Me, He said.

After dinner, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He wanted His disciples to keep watch with Him, but they were too exhausted. After the events of a very busy week, just think. The disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open!

Then the events follow in rapid succession. The arrest, torture, trials, and sentencing. The walk down the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow. Jesus dragging the cross outside the old city of Jerusalem. The disciples fled. (I won’t blame them—since their Rabbi and master was sentenced as a criminal and enemy of the state, I suspect the disciples were afraid they might be connected with their leader Jesus, too!) We see the women at the foot of the cross. The faithful women. And Jesus’ mother, Mary. Then—Jesus dies on the cross. The earth quakes, the sky is darkened. All creation mourns as the Word made flesh, the creator of all the universe, dies on the cross.

As we continued to follow the Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus is taken down from the cross shortly before sunset. His body is turned over to one of the Pharisees, Joseph of Arimethea. That Pharisee who came to Jesus one night early in His ministry, recorded in John chapter 3. Joseph hurriedly lays the dead body of Jesus in a tomb nearby. And, the faithful women are also there. They follow the dead body to the tomb.

What faith they must have had! What tenacity, and what love. To follow their leader, their rabbi, their Lord and master, even though He’s dead. To care for His body, in the absence of the disciples. The men disciples who are in hiding.

The women are there. Not shunted aside, not put in second place. These faithful women play an important role in caring for their Rabbi and their friend, hurriedly washing and preparing His dead body for the grave, before the Sabbath begins at sunset.

As Friday night swiftly approaches, with it comes the Jewish holy observance. Especially this special Sabbath—which falls during Passover. No work is to be done at all on this holy day of rest, not even the compassionate work of caring for a dead body.

After Sabbath day and Saturday night end, it is now Sunday morning. Faithful Mary Magdalene heads out for the tomb even before the sun has fully risen. Can you see her, eager in her haste to get to the tomb? With some oils to anoint the body, perhaps? But as she comes near the tomb, she discovers the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is now empty. What happened? What on earth is going on? Mary runs to get some assistance, someone to come with her and check things out more fully. (Prudent, I say! Better to be safe, Mary!)

Sure enough, Mary tells what she discovered. Two of the—men—disciples come back with her. Mary returns with the other two, back to the tomb. They see the tomb, and sure enough. It is empty. And then, these two disciples turn right around. Go back to the rest. In hiding.

But—what about Mary? What does she do?

Again, I come back to the indisputable fact that the women are faithful and true. The women show compassion, love, and care for their Rabbi, their master and friend. Mary stays put near the tomb, and weeps.

What a roller coaster ride Mary has been on. Starting on Palm Sunday, their leader and master Jesus marches right into the lion’s den, right into Jerusalem itself. All through the Passion Week, Jesus appears in and around Jerusalem, in the Temple, doing anything but keeping a low profile. And I am certain the disciples and the women accompanying them knew very well that the Jewish leaders and most of the Pharisees were planning on doing bad things to Jesus. I suspect the events of Good Friday were not totally unexpected.

So, at this desperate point, early on Sunday morning, Mary weeps. She does not know where her Lord and Master’s body has gone! After many days and nights of worry, anxiety, strong emotion, and intense grief, I can well understand how Mary broke down in tears.

What about us, today? Have you ever been through days of intense emotion, gut-wrenching anxiety, even intense grief? All of those feelings tumbling and roiling through you? Then you know a little of what Mary was going through.

What Mary did not suspect at first was that she was in the Greatest Story Ever Told. She sees Someone through her tears, in the cemetery. She suspects this Person is the gardener, of all things! She says, still crying, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Then, Jesus—for it is He!—Jesus speaks to her. Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!”   Do you hear that? Jesus calls her by name. “Mary!” How sweet to have someone who loves you very much call you by name! Remember, I just said that Mary had been on an emotional roller coaster the whole week previous? Just think what this would do! Wow!

Mary’s eyes are opened. Mary finally sees clearly, and responds, “Rabbi!” “Teacher!”

There’s a word in the next verse that is sometimes misunderstood. In verse 17, Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me.” I’d like to tell you about this phrase. In the original language, Greek, the word ‘hold on’ or ‘touch’ is a present imperative verb. The verb in the sentence can be translated “Do not keep touching me!” Mary finally realizes that it was really and truly Jesus, in the flesh. And I bet she fell on her knees and grabbed onto His legs with every ounce of strength in her body. Clutching, crying, laughing. Can you just see her? Can you just see them? Jesus, gently trying to get her to let go. “Mary, Mary, can you stop clutching at Me?”

Can you see Mary now, as she understands in full. Jesus is alive! He is risen! Then, she listens to Jesus. Returns to the disciples, and declares the joyful truth to everyone!

So, Mary is not only a faithful friend and follower of her Rabbi, she is also someone who carries the Good News! The news that Jesus is no longer dead, but He is risen! He is alive again. I want all of you to understand this all-important point. Jesus has entrusted Mary with the Gospel message. Mary Magdalene is no longer just a supporting player, just a side note in the Gospel. Instead, she transitions to a lead actor in the Greatest Story Ever Told, here in John 20. And, one of the first and best preachers, sharing her experience, hope and joy.

What a story! Except—this is not make-believe. This is for real. This is very much the truth. Yes, Jesus is alive. Yes, He is Lord. And, yes, He has conquered death once and for all. Do you hear? Listen again to the words of Mary. She told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

I pray that we all can affirm together today: He is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!

Alleluia! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions and notes for Lent 2015. #40acts Do Lent generously! And, to the Rev. Dave Buerstetta for several ideas from his commentary notes on John 20:1-18.

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)