7-1-18 “God’s Word Embodied”
We talked in week 1 of this series that one of the things the author of 1 John is trying to address in this letter is the growing heresy of docetism.
And you’ll remember that docetism grew out of the dualistic idea that spiritual things were good, material things were evil, and that therefore Jesus could not have had a material or physical body because that would have been evil, therefore Jesus only seemed or appeared to have a human body. And this idea goes against a central tenet of the Christian faith, that in Jesus Christ, God took on a human form, that God is most fully revealed to us in the person and body of Jesus. We call this incarnation. And we identify this idea with Jesus when we use the name Emmanuel for Jesus, which means literally, God with us. Jesus is the embodiment of all that God is - he gives God form.
And that’s good, because nobody has ever seen God. Our words are certainly inadequate to even begin to describe God, so knowing that we can understand who and how God is by looking at Jesus helps us to better grasp the nature of God. In fact, the definition of the word embodiment means both to personify, exemplify, to make concrete, or to provide with a body, to incarnate. So when we say that Jesus is the embodiment of God, we can understand that both in the physical sense as well as in the exemplary sense.
In John’s gospel, the writer begins his writing by naming Jesus as the Word of God. Word of God, in this sense, isn’t about a collection of alphabetic letters that form words; the Greek translated as Word is logos, which means the wisdom, the plan, the embodiment of God. And it follows then, that if Jesus is the embodiment of God, then Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love. If, as the author of our epistle claims, God is love, then the same can and must be said about Jesus - Jesus is love. And to take that one step further - Jesus is love in the flesh, love incarnate - Jesus is love embodied. He shows us what love looks like and what faith in the God who is love looks like, as a human being.
In the gospel passage we read today, Jesus tells the disciples that God will send a companion after he is gone, referring to the Holy Spirit. In our passage from 1 John for today, the author warns however, “don’t believe every spirit. Test the spirits to see if they are from God because many false prophets have gone into the world. This is how you know if a spirit comes from God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come as a human is from God, and every spirit that doesn’t confess Jesus [as a human is inferred here] is not from God.”
It’s the battle against docetism. If someone says Jesus was not human, then they are a false prophet, or as the elder puts it, they are the antichrist.
And as New Testament scholar Rolf Jacobsen puts it,
“The writer [of 1 John] uses the word “antichrist” for the view he opposes. In the popular imagination, the antichrist is a political figure who is coming to dominate the world at the end of the age. But in 1 John, that is not the case.
The Greek prefix “anti” means both “against” and “substitute for.” The writer uses the term “antichrist” for a form of the gospel that circulated in his own time. It is “against” Christ because it offers a thoroughly spiritualized “substitute for” Christ. And the writer notes that the world finds the disembodied message more appealing than the incarnate one.”
Jacobsen says, “The basic issue, according to chapter 4, is whether spiritual claims are centered in the Word that Jesus embodied. For the writer, the incarnate Word cannot be reduced to some spiritual abstraction. Divine love is not simply an idea. It takes tangible form in the life Jesus lived and the death that he died.” In other words, God’s love was embodied so our faith, too, must be embodied.
Have you heard of the term “spiritual but not religious?” It’s a term usually used to describe people who hold some kind of faith or spirituality but who are not part of a church or any organized religion. I always say I’m not part of an organized religion either, I’m Methodist, but SBNRs, as they’re often referred to, don’t profess a religion so much as a belief that there is something more than just our day-to-day existence, there is a greater force in the universe with which they desire to connect. And while some wouldn’t necessarily use this term, we call that force God. And there are some people, both SBNRs and so-called “religious” folk, who prefer their faith to be more “spiritual” in nature than physical. That is, they prefer to pray, to meditate, or perhaps to read spiritually. Maybe their primary faith or spiritual forms of expression are to journal, use prayer beads, walk prayer labyrinths or something similar, but for many their faith or spirituality is a head and heart thing. We might say for some their faith is “inspired,” that is it has life breathed into it, but it is not so much “embodied,” it may not necessarily have hands and feet attached to it.
Now, we see that in some very traditionally religious people too. Do you know anyone whose faith is all about the next life - forget about this one? People who claim that the word BIBLE is an acronym for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth? Or, as some refer to them, people who are so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly good? For some, the whole point of faith, religion, whatever you want to call it, is to punch a ticket to heaven in the next life and say so long to this one. It’s almost an escapist approach to religion. That’s not what Jesus was about though.
Jesus was all about inviting people into the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, the Reign of God that was present in their midst. His was a very touchy feely, hands-on embodiment of what the love of God and the Kingdom of Heaven were all about. Jesus’ faith was grounded in prayer, but it wasn’t limited to prayer. Prayer was how he got himself in tune with God, and then he went out and embodied that “in-tune-ment” with and for others. His was not a faith that was limited to head and heart, but was expressed through his hands and feet as well - by walking with others, touching and healing, breaking bread with others. He told his disciples that he came as a servant and that love of him and love of God looks like serving others. It was a physical, incarnate, embodied faith. It was about a love that was sacrificial.
The book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” recounts a now familiar story on courage of a young girl who is dying of leukemia and needs a blood transfusion. Her 5 year old brother is the ideal donor so the parents ask him if he would be willing to donate blood so that his sister will live. He thinks about it and agrees. The two children are hooked up to IVs in side-by-side beds and a pint of blood is drawn from the little boy and transfused into the little girl. As her color begins to return he becomes quiet and ashen, and turning to the doctors asks, “Will I begin to die soon?”
The little boy, misunderstanding what was being ask of him, was willing to give his own life for the sake of his sister. Now this story, this parable has circulated in one form or another, in different countries and cultures for decades, and was even portrayed in a Mary Pickford film over 80 years ago - so whether it really happened is not the point. The point of the story - in spite of the fact that in misunderstanding what was being asked of him the little boy could only have concluded that his parents loved his sister more than him - is that he was willing to act sacrificially on his love for his sister. It wasn’t just kind words or platitudes, he didn’t just offer his “thoughts and prayers” - he was willing to die that she might live.
An “embodied” faith doesn’t necessarily ask us to die so that someone else might live - although it might - it asks us to be the body of Christ in the world.
It asks us, as the tome goes, “to live more simply so that others might simply live.” It asks us to love the stranger, the immigrant, the sojourner, the alien among us, because, as Deuteronomy puts it, “we were once strangers in a strange land.” It asks us to not judge others because we haven’t walked a step in their shoes. It asks us to trust in God’s goodness, and to love God more than we love money. It asks us to make sure that those who are on the margins at least have enough: enough food, enough clothing, enough healthcare, enough shelter. It asks us to embody for others the love that Christ embodied for us. Christ modeled divine love in that he knew that his teachings about God, about the law, about religion, about empire, about inclusivity could very well result in his own death, but he went ahead anyway. That’s what sacrificial love looks like.
Today is Communion Sunday. In Holy Communion we remember, we memorialize the sacrificial love that Jesus both shared and modeled. In fact, we use the word remembrance because it has a deeper meaning than just remembering. Remembering invites us to call to mind, to search our memory for the “Jesus’ Last Supper” file that is stored in there somewhere.
Remembrance, on the other hand, means to reconnect, to re-embrace, to re-immerse ourselves in the experience to the point that we are there, that it is real to us in the moment and not just a story that we’ve heard.
This bread and this juice embodies the love of God that was incarnate in Jesus Christ. When we receive this Holy Meal, it is intended to feed us, but not just so we can feel good, not just so the growling in our stomach can be sated until we get to our favorite lunch spot. It is intended to feed us in the Spirit of the God who in the body of Jesus Christ told his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. Not just the ones who we think “deserve” it, but all of them. “You give them something to eat,” he told the disciples when they were overwhelmed by the numbers of people in need and saw only what they lacked in resources. This meal from Christ’s table invites us not only to take Christ’s body into our body, but also to allow it to embody us to be Christ’s body in the world.
And how can we be Christ’s body in the world? How can we serve as Christ desires for us to serve?
How about helping at Vacation Bible School
Or the Food Pantry
Mustard Seed Homeless outreach
Mow someone’s grass
Help clean a room or windows, or pull weeds at the church
Visit a shut-in or a nursing home
Write cards to shut-ins or to those not here today
Write or call your representatives on behalf of the poor or the marginalized
You can give blood
You can give money
You can embrace a stranger and be the face of Christ to them
What if when the next time you go to a restaurant or go through a drive-thru, you pick up the cost of a meal for another person in the restaurant or the person in line behind you? Not a person who you think “deserves” it, but someone who needs it, or would appreciate it.
That would be a real life, hands-on way to embody the love of Christ. That would be a great model of what it means to be in communion with God.
Why not embody your faith by paying forward the love og God in remembrance of Jesus Christ? Amen.