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And the Word Became Flesh...

Rev. Kate Layzer
Sun, Jan 03

Texts: John 1: 1-18

It’s our custom at the Outdoor Church of Cambridge, where I begin my Sunday mornings at 9a.m. in Porter Square, to invite reflections from the gathered community, in lieu of a formal sermon. I’m half-tempted to do that with you all this morning, in response to the hymn I just read—a very early Christian hymn, sung by the community that gathered around John, the beloved disciple, in the years after Jesus’ ministry, and adapted as the prologue of their testimony about him. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…”

‘Where is the gospel touching your life this morning?’ is what I usually ask the Porter Square congregation. But it’s a bit tricky to invite reflections in a big indoor space like this, with all of its sound issues, and so many people on the spot at once. And besides, all of you may be thinking the same thing: I have NO clue. I have no clue where this impossibly high and lofty theology is touching my life right now. My actual life, my actual body, my work life, my relationships, my living situation, my health, my hopes and fears and the sighs of my spirit.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear, “In the beginning was the Word…” immediately I’m carried off to somewhere vast and totally other, a scattering of stars and darkness and mystery nestled against mystery, unseeable, unimaginable. “And the Word was God.” Can you imagine them, these first-century Greek-speaking Christians, singing these words in church, forging this astonishing new theology out of pure amazement and praise? “And the Word WAS God.” Amazement at God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, which had exploded in their hearts like stars, and forced them to reach for a new way of talking about who God is… with words that soar and shimmer and beckon: Come deeper. Come closer. “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

Has the gospel touched your life yet, this morning? No?

Then what about this verse:
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

Thud. Down to earth.

From the remote and abstract to right here and right now. Flesh as in OUR flesh. Among us as in… among US.

Think about your flesh for a moment. Return home to your body, sitting in its pew. Think about the way water felt this morning splashing on your skin… the taste of toothpaste mingled with coffee or orange juice… the chill of the January air when you stepped outside. How is your body feeling right now? Are you rested? tired? hungry? are you getting over a cold? does anything hurt? are you liking your body today? Are you struggling with your body over your latest round of New Year’s resolutions?

And the Word was made flesh.

How far God had to come to tell us that our lives matter. Our bodies matter.

Particular bodies. My body. Your body. Tamir Rice’s 12-year-old body. Bodies matter to God, and what happens in the body matters to God. They aren’t a means to an end. They are the ends themselves. In them and through them comes forth the redemption that God is bringing to birth.

“They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,” Jeremiah cries, “and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden.”

No clouds. No angel wings. No harps. No, the joy that God is preparing for us is being brought into being through our beautiful, hurting, desiring, aching, beloved, scarred, and vulnerable bodies, with their hungers and their delights. The gifts of God for the people of God.

Through your body. Through your life. We are here today because you matter and what you do matters and how you live your life matters. They matter infinitely.

Words matter too. Ideas matter. Attitudes matter. But there comes a point—or at least, there did in my life—when talking about love and justice and compassion stops being enough. And I say that as a word person. I love words—especially words about God. Words move me; they inspire me and draw me in. But the time comes when we have move beyond talk. Our words need to become flesh and live.

A couple of summers ago Don and I were in Washington, D.C., for a few days, taking in some of the monuments and museums we’d missed the last time. I remember standing in the middle of the Jefferson monument, that great marble edifice, reading those high and lofty words over again: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” Words that had inspired me, like so many others, with reverence for our nation’s high ideals, and the desire to be worthy of them. Yet at that moment, as I read them, all I felt was an overwhelming sense of sadness—for the man who wrote them, who held hundreds of his fellow human beings as property when he knew it was a deadly wrong, and for my country, which had taught me to embrace those words as sacred writ, and which to this day continues to live in defiant contradiction to what they proclaim.

The next day we drove to George Washington’s Virginia plantation, toured his stately mansion and gardens and gazed at a replica of the wretched housing erected for the enslaved. Hundreds of men, women, and children held in servitude on Washington’s multiple estates, this father of our country, who had the key to the French Bastille in a glass case in his entryway, a symbol of the overthrow of tyranny.

Words are not enough. Ideas are not enough. It is not enough to profess faith in Jesus, who was God and became flesh. We need to “receive him,” John says; we need to become children of God. Willing to begin anew, like children, and learn how to be human all over again, following in the way of love. We need to be willing to take a kind of deeper plunge, hands and hearts and lifted faces and the whole of our imperfect selves. We need to get intimately involved.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

Do you feel the loneliness and the risk in those words that I do? There’s something so stark about them to me—that abrupt descent from the realms of glory to the realms of earth. The Word seems so far from home, a stranger, vulnerable, purposely undefended. John doesn’t have a story about Joseph and Mary far from home, knocking on doors, at the mercy of a world that has no room for them. But he has this unflinching report: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

How far God had to go to embrace the whole of our lives—from divine glory to stable to cross. And how painfully these words resonate at this moment in history. As we watch, the nations of the world are once again turning refugees away from their borders by the thousands. As we watch, more and more Americans are being forced from their neighborhoods and homes onto dangerous streets and inadequate shelters. And still, every day, whole classes of people are being made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in their own streets and in their own skin.

These brothers and sisters know what it is to feel like strangers. They know about being cast as the “other”—not quite human, yet human enough to evoke guilt. Human enough to feel like a threat. It is among these that God chose to be born: as a refugee, as poor, the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head. Setting aside power and glory, embracing danger and suffering to come near to us, God opens a way of healing to us that we are not expecting. It requires that we lay down our own privilege, our own safety, and draw near to those who, like Jesus, have been made to feel unwelcome.

“Into this world,” writes Thomas Merton, “this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst …It is in these that He hides Himself, for whom there is no room.”

It sounds punishing, like a form of Christian penance, but Christianity is not a religion of lament (rumors notwithstanding). It’s an invitation to joy.

When we turn, finally, and open the doors of our hearts to other people, what comes in is joy.

Yes, we’ll feel pain in the presence of suffering. But right in the midst of it, right there in the midst of the struggle and brokenness in which we all of us participate, and to which we all contribute—right there in the midst of the unfinished work of human creation is joy, shining like a light.

Joy, beauty, gratitude, kindness, hope, resourcefulness, strength…

I can’t explain it in words, any more than I can explain what it is to receive Christ in bread and cup.

All I know is that to receive what God is trying to give me, I’ve learned I have to come closer.

It’s not enough to read about how Jesus used to eat with people. We have to actually eat with them, sharing hugs and smiles, listening to each other’s stories, mingling laughter with tears, offering our attention—perhaps even taking someone’s hands to pray with them.

“And the Word became flesh,” entering creation as creation, suffusing all creation with divine radiance and power—even death itself.

This is my body. This is my blood. God can’t come much closer to us than that.

I’m going to let artist and poet Jan Richardson have the last word. This poem is called

TABLE BLESSING

To your table you bid us come.
You have set the places,
you have poured the wine,
and there is always room,
you say,
for one more.
And so we come.
From the streets
and from the alleys
we come.
From the deserts
and from the hills
we come.
From the ravages of poverty
and from the palaces of privilege
we come.
Running,
limping,
carried,
we come.
We are bloodied with our wars,
we are wearied with our wounds,
we carry our dead within us,
and we reckon with their ghosts.
We hold the seeds of healing,
we dream of a new creation,
we know the things
that make for peace,
and we struggle to give them wings.
And yet, to your table
we come.
Hungering for your bread,
we come;
thirsting for your wine,
we come;
singing your song
in every language,
speaking your name
in every tongue,
in conflict and in communion,
in discord and in desire,
we come,
O God of Wisdom,
we come

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