a sermon based upon John 1:1-14
On this coming Wednesday evening, I invite you to go over to St. Paul Lutheran Church at 6:00 pm for a soup supper, followed by an Ash Wednesday worship service at 7:00 pm. This is the first of our seven community Lenten services, and I was asked to be the preacher. The topic I was given is “Jesus’ Passion for the Word.” I immediately thought of the opening poetry of the Gospel of John that Jay Kettler read for us.
However, it turns out that the Ash Wednesday lectionary text comes from Matthew’s Gospel – namely, Jesus’ three “temptations” in the wilderness, when he was tested by Satan. That’s the story I will be addressing in my sermon on Ash Wednesday, and Pastor John Shipman said it would be very unusual for a Lutheran Church to have two Gospel texts in one service. The Lutheran liturgy is not set up to do that. I could use a Psalm (and I will, Psalm 119) and I could use the Epistle lesson (which I won’t). But not two Gospel texts. OK.
So, I figured we could use the text from the Gospel of John here this morning. In effect, it will give us a “sneak preview” into how I perceive Jesus’ Passion for the Word.
Looking back over the six-&-a-half years of sermons that I have preached here in Alpena, I discovered that I preached on this text from John on three occasions: on the first Sunday in January of 2015, and again on December 6 of that same year. The Prologue to John’s Gospel -- the Word becoming flesh --seems to fit the Christmas season and the Epiphany New Year.
The third time I tackled this text was on the very last day of 2017, December 31, New Year’s Eve. Again, following the Christmas birth stories about Jesus, it just makes sense to talk about “the light that shines in the darkness” and the “true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.”
In that sermon two years ago, I said: The message of Christmas is nothing less than asserting that the "divine" God has come alive in our common humanity.
As is says in the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God. … All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world knew Him not. He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not!
But to all who [did] receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God! …
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-14, selected verses.)
John’s poetic prelude to his Gospel asserts that the "divine" God (the Creator Almighty) has come alive in our common humanity… “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” One could say: the "above" has been brought low. The "eternal" is enmeshed in our own time. The "holy" has been discovered in the midst of our humanity. (!) The Almighty "love" of God is mixed in to our often un-loving human nature. Heaven and earth are joined, inextricably, as One! We call it the “Incarnation”.
In other words: the experience of Christmas is about more than just a baby being born -- it means sensing the presence of God in our midst! Recognizing the near-ness of God in your everyday life. It's a message we need to hear (and not just at Christmas time): that God is NOT far off, but is “here & now”, eternally & undoubtedly nearby!
The stories of Jesus’ life -- and the truths of God -- are summed up in that special angel-given name: "Immanuel" which means "God with us." Jesus reveals God “with skin on”. God fully present with us; able to communicate with us.
So, let’s remember Christmas all year through. Dwell on the birth of God in Christ Jesus, and recall what it means to be human: the incarnation of God’s own self as one of us mortals. (That’s what I said back then, and I believe it is still true.)
But you didn’t come here this morning to hear a re-hash of a sermon from two years ago. (You can get it on our web-site.) So let’s go back to the one from January 2015 – five years ago!
I called that sermon: “Incarnation: Divinity Present in Humanity”… and it more closely approximates what I understand what is meant when we say: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth.” It’s a beautiful picture. To me, the doctrine of “incarnation” means that we see in Jesus’ humanity a vibrant and vital expression of the God he knew and trusted – the God he called “Our Father” – the God he trusted in all things, even in his time of suffering and tortured death. He says: “Father, into Thy hands I commit my Spirit.”
I say that Jesus’ “incarnation” shows that “divinity” is present in humanity. The Word became flesh & dwelt among us.
William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible Series “The Gospel of John” (vol. 1, 1955, St. Andrew’s Press: Edinburgh, Scotland, pages 3, 5, & 7) says that to the Jews, a word was far more than a mere sound. A word was something which had an active and independent existence and which actually did things. It was a unit of energy charged with power. Once a word had gone out, and had begun to act, nothing could stop it.
In particular, we see the Word of God in action in the Creation story. At every stage of it we read: “And God said…” (Genesis 1: 3, 6, 11) The Word of God is the creating power. Again and again we get this idea of the creative, acting, dynamic Word of God. “By the Word of God were the heavens made…” (Psalm 33:6) “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) Even the words of people have a kind of dynamic activity; how much more must it be so with God?
The Greek term for Word is “Logos”; but it also means “reason”. For John, and for all the great thinkers who made use of this idea, these two meanings were always closely intertwined. The Word of God was the Reasoning of God and the Wisdom of God: mysterious, creative, & life-giving. (unquote)
Jesus’ “incarnation” shows that “divinity” is present in humanity. “The Word became flesh… and dwelt among us.”
Of course, it would be naïve of me to deny the brazen in-humanity that some people inflict on the world. Violence and vengeance is an oft told tale, which gets the most ratings in the nightly news and sells the most box-office tickets: blockbuster special effects push the adrenaline button and we gasp in fear.
However, for today (this morning in church), I want to high-light the other side of the story of the human race.
Not its rude inhumanity -- such as the brutal forces who broke Jesus’ body & shed his blood on a Roman cross -- but the earlier & stronger effort of God (the Father, our Creator) to bring life & light, and hope & joy, to earth through the coming of Jesus Christ in the first place.
In other words, in place of the good-guy/bad-guy, us-versus-them, shoot-em up/put-em down, story-line of politics & violence and retribution, I’d like us to remember the Christian version of how the world was designed to work… Designed by its Creator, the Author of Life, with a goal toward the flourishing of all…The dream of “Peace on Earth” and “Good-will among men” as was announced by a choir of angels more than 2,000 years ago.
I’d like us to consider not the violent bent toward evil, which is so apparent in the incidents of inhumanity we have all seen, but the alternative “Good News” of the Gospel that claims that “divinity” is also to be found in humanity. In the face of so much apparent in-humanity, it is essential that we demonstrate our commitment to Christ by continuing to express our true humanity, which works toward God’s ultimate goal of “Peace on Earth & Goodwill toward all.”
Our minds can be stretched by the ancient poet who wrote today’s Scripture text. It begins before time itself even began! “In the beginning was the Word: the Logos, the Wisdom of God. From the very beginning with God, all things were made through him; and without him was not anything made. In him was life, and the life was the light of humankind.” So writes the author of John’s Gospel. The cosmic creativity that brought all things into being -- the energy that gives life and light to all -- “was coming into the world (the world that was made through him!), and, yet, the world knew him not.”
This Prologue to John’s Gospel includes not just the stories about Jesus, the Man of Nazareth (and John the Baptist, who preceded him by six months), but all those billions of years of evolutionary processes that preceded the both of them. (!) From the very beginning, with God, all things were made through him; and in him -- in this Word, in this Logos, this Wisdom of God -- was life, and the life was the light of humankind.”
I’m tempted to park and preach right there: with awesome cosmic creativity manifesting itself… manifesting itself in life, in light, in all things that are made: and that would include (I suppose) suns & moons, planets & stars, mountains, rivers, great lakes like Huron, and the oceans and islands, wildflowers & fish, birds, all manner of animals, even the dinosaurs & dragonflies…
But John does not let us linger -- imagining the eons of ages which led up to Jesus’ coming -- because he wants to make the phenomenal claim (unheard of in biblical Judaism!) that, in Jesus Christ, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
Yes, God’s very essence -- God’s creative energy, God’s divine Spirit which brought order to the chaos and split the void of darkness with a Big Bang of LIGHT in the Bible’s opening chapter -- took on human flesh and began to dwell with us, among us mortals, on earth! That’s what theologians call “the Incarnation” -- God’s divinity fully present in human form… in Jesus, the Christ.
Again, I am tempted to stop and have us consider how radical it was for someone in the First Century to propose that the very core of cosmic creativity -- the ultimate Source of all that exists; the Prime Mover of all Creation since time began -- would manifest itself in ordinary human flesh: in a body like yours, mine.
For the strict monotheist Jew, it sounded like blasphemy: a person who is fully human cannot be wholly divine. After all, their first Commandment from God to Moses said: “Thou shalt have no other gods beside me”. To claim that God Almighty has taken on human flesh (and dwells among us) sounded to them like a second GOD! And since a human being is very much a creature of earth, John’s poetry sounded to them like idolatry… like the Christians were making a “graven image”, a likeness of God on earth (which breaks the 2nd Commandment).
And, as if that were not surprising enough, the poet goes on to say that this incarnating of the Word didn’t stop with Jesus! -- rather, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God [themselves!]; born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God! Did you get that?
Even though Jesus Christ represents (for us) the clearest expression of Cosmic Creativity manifesting itself in a human being, the divinity that was in him was actually available to all! If you “received him” -- if you “believed” -- you became part of his movement of spirit on earth. I think that’s what we’re doing here.
May you see yourself this week as a flowering force of Cosmic Creativity coming into the world, even as Jesus did, so that God’s will may be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In the face of so much inhumanity and evil (as we see in the nightly news), may our commitment to Christ show our true humanity … which works toward God’s ultimate goal of achieving “Peace on Earth” and flourishing “goodwill toward all.”