I have misplaced my MP3 recorder, so no audio this week. (hopefully I’ll find the “safe place” I stored it before next Sunday!) But, here’s the text of the sermon… God bless!
Our Bible brings us four stories of the life of Jesus, the Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (the four gospels) each tell a slightly different story because they have different audiences, and different purposes for telling their stories. Scholars believe, with very little dissension, that the order of these stories in our Bible does not reflect the order in which these stories of the life of Jesus were written.
Most scholars believe that Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke, and John’s gospel came pretty late in the game. One of the primary reasons for this conclusion is the way in which the fourth gospel is written. By the time that John is penned, we are starting to see theology enter into the mix. John doesn’t simply retell the story of Jesus’ life, rather we are led on a theological journey. John wants to answer the question “What happened?” But, he also wants to answer two other questions, “Why did it happen?” and “What does it mean to us?”
Today’s text is a great example of this theological focus in John’s gospel. To give you some reference, let’s take a moment and look at how the other 3 gospels begin telling the story of Jesus:
Mark begins with a declaration about who Jesus is: The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Then the story continues to tell of John the Baptist and how Jesus comes to be baptized and then goes into the wilderness.
Matthew’s gospel is written for a primarily Jewish audience, and so his writing begins by detailing the lineage of Jesus, showing that he is a descendant of Abraham from the House of David, which are two vitally important aspects of the Messiah.
Luke begins by stating outright that his writing is the result of much research, then goes on to tell the story of Elizabeth and Zachariah, the old couple who miraculously conceive a child. Then Elizabeth’s young cousin, Mary, also conceives in a miraculous way.
Do you notice the similarities? Each of these gospels situates Jesus in a tradition of miracles and prophecy. John really isn’t all that different, but John begins with a twist. He doesn’t start with Abraham, or the Prophet Isaiah… John situates the birth of Jesus in a much more foundational place. Did you hear it?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Maybe this will help:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
Abraham and Isaiah won’t do for John. He starts the story of Jesus at creation. As God spoke creation into being, Jesus, The Word, was with God, was God. John makes the bold claim of Jesus’ divinity in the first 14 verses of his gospel. For John, the good news was the word God’s creative redemptive spirit became flesh and lived among us.
Or, as The Message puts it: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
The rest of John’s gospel is really about showing this point, Jesus the Christ was God with flesh on.
In a culture where the Roman gods were often taking on human form and behaving in all sorts of mischievous ways… John argues that the TRUE God, Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the creator of heaven and earth, also took on the form of a human. But this God did something different. No dalliances with women, or golden fleece in this story. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood, so that all of humankind could be restored to a right relationship to God.
That, my friends, is powerful stuff. As Paul writes in Philippians:
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
It is powerful and poignant. But I still ask the same questions John tried to answer, “Why, and What does it matter to me.” It’s great that Jesus was God and came to save you and I from our broken, sinful lives. But what does it mean today. After all, Paul was right when he wrote to the Romans:
I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Jesus lived and died, was buried and rose from the grave, so that we might be free from the grasp of sin. Yet, we are not free. We struggle each and every day. Several times each day we have to hear the voice of Jesus reminding us “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
I am thankful for my salvation. I am thankful beyond words for God’s gracious forgiveness of my sins. But what I really need most days is God with flesh on. Most days I am like Thomas, needing to see the wounded flesh of Jesus. Most days I find myself longing for the opening to John’s theological treatise about Jesus to be true, here and now. Most days I need God to take on flesh and blood and move into the neighborhood.
I don’t think I’m alone in that. Am I?
I remember a story, I think it was told by Anne Lamont, of a little boy who is afraid of the dark.
One night after his mother has put him to bed, as a particularly scary storm rolled in, she heard her young son crying for her from his room. As mothers do, she rushed to see what was wrong. As she sat on the side of the terrified young boy’s bed he begged for her to come and sleep with him. He sobbed, “I don’t want to be alone in the dark.”
Knowing she had an important meeting at work tomorrow and knowing that she wouldn’t get any sleep if she slept in her son’s room, she sought to reassure him. “You are not alone,” she said. “God is always with you.”
The little boy’s sobs turned into outright crying. Between the tears he wailed, “I need somebody with skin on!”
We are all like that little boy sometimes. We all need God with skin on. But Jesus lived millennium ago and the disciples saw him ascend to heaven. So what are we to do?
The answer is both astoundingly simple and painfully difficult at the same time. We are to live into our name, Christian. Christian quite literally means “little Christ.” By nature of our faith and of our baptism, we are called to be “God with skin on” for those around us. And they are called to be “God with skin on” for us.
That’s why we are part of the family of God. It’s why we are a part of the community of faith. It’s one of the ways in which we live into the promises we make as we are baptized.
So, if you are wondering what you would like to resolve to do in the coming year, I have a suggestion….
I’m going to make 2015 the year of being God with skin on. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to be intentional about giving a word of thanks when someone is God with skin on for me. I can’t wait to see how God transforms my life.
Will you join me?