God Has Come: Jesus

Guest Preachers: Rev. Dave & Rev. Beth Long-Higgins

John 1:1-9 (Testify, week 5)

This morning we continue to explore the statement of faith of the United Church of Christ. It is a statement about our common faith that is written as a story with God as the main character.  

As we have explored each of the sentences in the statement, it has been helpful to remember that this document is not a test nor a boundary. Pastor Beth Gedert introduced the metaphor of this being a campfire that sits at our center. Some people are comfortable and get up very close and others are content to sit back and assess the heat and see how others react to the glow. 

If you have not been able to join us in worship these past three weeks, we invite you to visit Zion’s webpage and listen to Rev. Marshall Cook, Beth Gedert and the two of us as we have explored the first three stanzas of this statement. Today we are going to read through these first sentences that lead up to today’s source of inspiration for our service. 

There are a couple of versions of the UCC Statement of Faith. The original which was written when the United Church of Christ came into being with the mergers of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches in 1957. In the 1960’s the statement was adapted into a form which is called a doxological form. It was edited so that it could be used in worship and the statements are a way for us to speak to God. Listen as we read up to today’s stanza:

We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our savior Jesus Christ and our God and to your deeds we testify: 

You call the worlds into being, create persons in your own image, and set before each one the ways of life and death.

You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.

You judge people and nations by your righteousness will declared through prophets and apostles.

These first three sentences introduce who God is and how God relates to us—individuals and in community (or nations).  Today’s stanza in about 30 words includes the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus:

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, 

You have come to us and shared our common lot conquering sin and death

And reconciling the world to yourself.

Each of the stanzas of this statement is packed full of details and significant revelations about the life of faith. But that seems to be especially true of this section of the Statement every word or phrase is filled with meanings too many to name.  So let’s begin at the beginning.

As we explore this statement about Jesus, we want to begin with what is known as the prologue to the Gospel according to John.  You may know this text well as it comes up in our lectionary cycles with some frequency each year.  But maybe this morning you are hearing this text for the first time.  Either way, we invite you to listen as if this was the first time you heard this text.  See if you can linger with each word or phrase and then we will offer a second slightly different rendering of this text.  

Please hear with your heart and mind this word as it comes to us from John’s gospel, chapter one, verses one through nine:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

We invite you to pause for just a moment and let the echo of these words rest deeply in your heart and mind. (Pause…)

Now a second hearing but slightly different.

In the beginning was Love (Capital L), and this Love was with God, and this Love was God. Love was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Love, and without Love not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Love was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light of Love shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might trust through him. John was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light of Love, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

This is the good news for our lives. 

Thanks be to God.

Let’s go back to the Statement of Faith: In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, God has come to us and shared our common lot.

Language is a tricky thing. You may have noticed that it keeps changing. A phrase or word might mean one thing in one period of time and come to have additional layers  that nuance it’s significance in another time. “In Jesus the Christ” is an example of this.  It is important to remember that Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but a description of a revelation about how God gets revealed in our human experience.

The title of Christ or Messiah (one word is Greek and the other is Hebrew) means anointed one.  In the ancient world anointing confirmed that God was already at work in the life of a person who was set apart for leadership or guidance in the life of the community.  Literally oil would be poured on a person’s head as a marker.

But there is another, deeper meaning, beyond the ritual of pouring oil on a person’s head.  To speak of Christ is actually to speak of the power of Love, capital “L” at work in the lived experience of everyone and everything that is willing to consent to its pull.  If you are interested in a book that explores this idea more fully we highly recommend Richard Rohr’s book, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe.

We get a sense of this from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, when Paul writes, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.  To speak of Christ, is to speak of Love capital L known through merciful, healing, self-giving by which every brokenness is healed and every death is met by resurrection.

The ancient hymn of Philippians frames it this way:  If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,

Let’s continue…In Jesus the Christ, the man of Nazareth…okay, we didn’t get very far! Jesus was anointed by God, set apart, AND Jesus was a human with a hometown. Nazareth. 

In Jesus the Christ, the man of Nazareth God has come to us and shared our common lot. 

Note that it is God’s action here that is important: God has come and shared.

There have been times in the history of the church when there has been confusion about who makes the first move in this divine/human dance of discovery about our deepest identity.  Sometimes, God has been pictured as an angry toe tapping parent ready to let loose tribulation just to show those disobedient children a thing or two as God waits on us to make the first step.

If you search hard enough you will find some of that even written into the texts that are in the Bible.  But the Bible reveals an evolution of discovery about how the Christ of God, the Love (Capital L) of God actually works.  It is mercy, that is at the heart of who God is and how God operates and we know this because of how the Christ of God was active in Jesus – think prodigal son, or lost sheep, or woman caught in adultery (not to mention the equally responsible man who never gets named in that story).

In fact, if you want a fresh reading of the New Testament, try inserting the word “love” every time the name, “Jesus”, appears.  What you will begin to discover is the way in which the Christ of God and the Jesus of Nazareth come together in ways that are dynamic, healing and life-giving.

The first move of Love, is that of God whose Christ presence is emptied into the human experience in the person of Jesus.  Literally God (Love, capital L) takes up residence in a real human body.  God comes to us.  God affirms that being embodied is a holy thing and reveals something about our own bodies – they are holy and miraculous.

This is our common lot. Our experience in the world, our relationship with God, the feelings and fullness of life as we experience it through our bodies, is common. We are each created in the image of the divine. And God comes to each of us. 

For just a moment, we want to invite you to join us in an exercise.  First, take a look at your hand.  Take a really good look at it.  Look at your palm.  Close your fingers tight into a fist and then release them in openness.  Feel the muscles…notice the veins…marvel at the miracle.  Now, turn your hand over and notice your knuckles and the joints of your fingers from a different perspective.  Think about the ways you have used your hands already today.  Your hands not just carrying the miracle of things but miracles themselves.  What prayer of gratitude might now be rising for just this one part of your being an embodied self?

And this is just your hands.  Think of what might happen if you were to engage this with your whole body over time –  a sacred pause of wonder the miracle of being alive.  But there is something more.  There is also an invisible energy of love in you that more and more yearns to come alive.  It is the Christ of God evolving in you.  It is that very thing to which people who met Jesus were awakened.  Sometimes he called it living water.  Sometimes he called it bread of heaven.  Paul told the Galatians, “it is God who is at work within you.”

And what is the purpose of God coming to us in Jesus, sharing the fullness of life in human form?

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, 

You have come to us and shared our common lot conquering sin and death

To conquer sin and death.

It is not up to us to conquer sin or death. That is God’s work. And through the anointed one, Jesus, the one who experienced the joys and the challenges of life, not to mention the pain of his public execution, God conquered sin.

Again, there are many others throughout the past two millennium who have attempted to define sin by lists of actions. Do not do this. Do not do that. Supposedly, easy instructions to follow. And if you do…. You will be favored by God. 

But what if we think of sin in the context of relationships? What if sin is separation— the opposite of oneness. In this context, sin would be when we are separated from others. Sin is the separation that we feel when we are not true to ourselves. Sin is when we deny God’s invitation to be with us—present in our lives. And sin is when we do not care for creation. 

I read about a woman this week who was raised in a very conservative community. From her earliest days she was taught that if she disobeyed her dad, she would experience punishment. She had a cold and her mother insisted that she must have done something terrible that made her sick. They allowed her to go to college in order that she could home school her future children that would be born after her dad chose her husband. But away from the controlling eyes of her home, she had a difficult time navigating through life. She lived in fear of pain and separation until she was able to work with a professional counselor who specializes in helping people recover from similar childhood. Her family is actually a part of a community that fits the definitions of a cult. She had to learn how to let go of the lists from her childhood which had set the boundaries for every decision in her life, to discovering her own voice and learning to trust herself and others. 

And the final phrase for us today…..

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, 

You have come to us and shared our common lot conquering sin and death

And reconciling the world to yourself.

But not just you, everyone and everything because the Christ of God has been poured into life and is not just sitting somewhere distant.  We have always loved the communion liturgy that offers this poetry describing God albeit incompletely, “God is closer to us than breathing and distant as the farthest star and beyond and everywhere in-between.”  That means there is a miracle of everyone and everything around us.  Each person a body and more than a body…a miracle right in front of you or around you.  

So again, we want you to take a deep hard look.  Only this time look around you.  Really look at the people around you.  Maybe even let your eyes look deeply into the eyes of another.  Look up at the tree or the sky and down onto the ground.  Is there anything that you see that did not have its beginning and will not have its end in the One who brings everything to life in the first place?  In fact, we’d like to suggest that one of the best ways of remembering this and being re-membered by this move of Love, capital “L”, this Christ of God is to daily pause and notice and say out loud to yourself and maybe to those around you “miracle”.  It might sound corny or too simple, but often such practices are the gateways to the discovery of the heaven that already holds your life and ours and that of the world, despite what might call the evidence to the contrary.

This is the truth of our being as a gift given by God before we had any thought of it or began to be awakened to it in the totality of our human experience – our good days and our not so good days, our days of joy and our days of sorrow, our days of clarity and our days of confusion.

God knows all about this not as a distant observer but as one whose very being was poured into the very human life of Jesus of Nazareth and shared our common lot…which means delight and despair (if you remember the Garden of Gethsemane).  

It also means death and resurrection.  For to be human is to die.  There are the thousand little daily deaths to our ego selves in order to rise into our beloved identity and all that this gift can blossom in our lives.  And there is of course the death of our physical bodies giving way to a larger life which we know because of what God has shown forth in Jesus the Christ.

In our common lot, Jesus came.  In our common lot, Jesus died.  In resurrection, God showed also that by joining our common lot no one and no thing is finally ultimately lost in the grand design of God’s relentless loving mercy, always longer lasting than the detours of any present moment.

The final gift of this…the vision of Love’s unveiling is that in God’s time, there will be a reconciling – a healing of not just us as individuals or even the just the human family, but of the whole creation.

Because God is already at work and has already revealed life large by entering it through this one we call Jesus of Nazareth who himself revealed that God has already entered us.  This is the good news to which we can entrust our whole lives.  

Thanks be to God.

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