Sunday’s sermon: Salvation Comes in the Word

Text used – John 1:1-18

  • Increasingly, friends, it seems as though we live in an “either/or” society.
    • Either something is right or it’s wrong
    • Either you are with someone or you’re opposed to them
    • Either you’re for something or against it
    • Either you do something all the time or you would never dream of doing it
    • Increasingly, we are drawing bold, jagged lines between ourselves and those “opposed.” Or, if we aren’t necessarily drawing the lines ourselves, we’re passively allowing others to draw them for us.
      • Either you vote this way or that way
      • Either you pray this way or that way
      • Either you speak this way or that way
      • Either you believe this way or that way
      • And never the twain shall meet, right?
      • In part, the gospel of John that we read this morning was born out of a world of dangerous dichotomies.[1]
        • Written roughly 100 yrs. after Jesus’ birth
        • Gospel born out of religious turmoil
          • Persecution of Christians by Roman empire
          • Intra-religious struggles btwn. different factions of Christians at the time → different groups trying to decide exactly what they believed about who Jesus was in relation to humanity and in relation to God
        • Gospel most heavily influenced by Greek philosophy (extensive use of sharp dualistic, “either/or” language throughout Jn: dark/light, good/evil, flesh/spirit, etc.)
    • But how often is the starkness of those “either/or” choices true to reality? Logicians call these “either/or” dichotomies false dilemmas or either-or fallacies because they assume a certain problem (or belief system or experience or even simple choice) has only two potential answers or outcomes and that those outcomes must be mutually exclusive.
      • Blatantly obvious false dichotomy = offering either chocolate or vanilla ice cream doesn’t exclude every other fabulous ice cream flavor out there
    • Reality = most problems and experiences come not with one or two obvious choices but with a multitude of options and possibilities → More often than not, the answer to some problem or the choices that lie before us are more “both/and” choices than “either/or” choices.
  • Scripture reading this morning = “both/and” sort of Scripture → Most of the time, we talk about God as Divine – holy and sacred and unequivocally “other,” so far beyond us … so much greater than us … so much more than us that even within our deepest imaginings and our wildest dreams, we cannot even begin to wrap our frail and feeble human minds around the reality that is God.
    • Certainly have this reinforced in Scripture
      • Reading from Is last week: My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans.[2]
      • Passage from Ps 139: There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t know completely. You surround me – front and back. You put your hand on me. That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it.[3]
      • Paul’s words in 1 Cor: Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? … The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.[4]
      • Naming God’s innate, divine “otherness” is even a part of the prayer that we pray every Sunday: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name → “hallowed” = holy … sacred … revered … set apart … beyond me
      • Truly, friends, we cannot deny that the God we gather to praise and to worship every Sunday … the God to whom we offer our prayers and our longings and our hearts and our very lives … the God who calls us and names us and knows us inside and out … Truly, we cannot deny that our God is sacred and “other” and wholly awesome.
        • “Awesome” in the truer, older sense of the word (as opposed to the 1980s California surfer dude sense): extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear → Indeed, as Michael W. Smith’s popular praise song declares, our God is an awesome God.
    • Awesomeness and sacred otherness = woven throughout this morning’s prologue from the gospel of Jn: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.[5] → Clearly this God of whom this gospel speaks is set apart … is more … is beyond. And since John tells us that the Word was with God and the Word was God, we can say that this Word is also set apart … more … beyond … wholly and holy “other.”
      • Clearly Gr. “Word” is more than just a couple of simple letters strung together → Gr. “Word” (logos) = word that carries an idea or expresses a thought[6] → This is word with a purpose. This is word laden with meaning and motive. This is word that has its own way of being in this world.
        • Rev. Dr. Sharon Betsworth (ordained UMC minister, NT scholar, director of Wimberly School of Religion in OKC): Logos is commonly translated as “word,” but it has a broader semantic range including “that by which the inward thought is expressed.”… The Christ is not just a “word” from God, but an expression of God’s own being. By the end of the Prologue this will be fleshed out as Christ being the beloved child of God.[7]
    • Encounter the mystery and majesty of this sacred otherness in the last verse, too: No one has ever seen God. God the only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made God known.[8] → No one has ever seen God … but through this Word – this sacred expression of God’s own being – God has been made known to us.
  • But then, in the midst of extoling this mystical awesomeness of God, we encounter God doing a whole new thing! – text: The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God. The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.[9] → “The Word became flesh and made his home among us!” Or, as the Message translation puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Suddenly, it’s not the overwhelming divinity of God that we’re talking about but the flesh-and-blood humanity of God! In one night – in one night fraught with overfull inns and drafty stables and the blood, sweat, and tears of human birth – in one night, God went from an either/or God to a both/and God … both divine and
    • Not the first time in ancient story that a deity interacted with a human to bring about another being or even the first time that a deity took on human form → lots of that scattered throughout the pages of Greek mythology
      • Plenty of instances of Greek gods taking the shape of humans BUT those are always instances of those gods taking human form for their own personal gain as opposed to for the good of humankind
        • For revenge
        • For love
        • For sex
        • For the purpose of manipulation or blackmail
      • Also plenty of demigods in Greek mythology: Greek beings who were part mortal, part god → But for demigods like Hercules and Perseus, they were always considered less than the Olympus gods – considered less specifically because of their humanity.
    • But in this incarnation – in the tiny, vulnerable, divinely-conceived and human-born baby for whom we wait – our God Almighty did, indeed, do a whole new thing. A “both/and” thing.
      • Foretold by God through the prophet Is: Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.[10]
      • New thing in that this was not about the possessive love of Greek mythology (not about God’s selfish, self-serving love for one specific human) but about the salvific love of God for all of God’s own children (for humanity, broken and striving as we are) – text: From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace; as the Law was given to Moses, so grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.[11]
        • Late Rev. Dr. Gail R. O’Day (ordained UCC minister, college and seminary educator, and prominent/prolific NT scholar): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” and “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” These two claims are the foundation on which the rest of [John’s] gospel is built: Jesus is the incarnate word of God. … It is as the Word made flesh that Jesus brings God fully to the world. Jesus’ revelation of God is thus not simply that Jesus speaks God’s words and does God’s works, although that is part of it. It is, rather, that Jesus is God’s Word. No line can be drawn between what Jesus says and what he does, between his identity and mission in the world. Jesus’ words and works, his life and death, form an indissoluble whole that provides full and fresh access to God.[12] → “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood!” Our human neighborhood, imperfect and messy and beautiful and ragged as it may be. Our human neighborhood, full of love and laughter, hope and hesitancy, worry and warring, pleasure and pain. Our human neighborhood … all because God so loved the world. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction” from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 493-511.

[2] Is 55:8-9.

[3] Ps 139:4-6.

[4] 1 Cor 1:20, 25.

[5] Jn 1:1-5.

[6] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/john-11-18-a/.

[7] Sharon Betsworth. “Commentary on John 1:1-18” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/word-made-flesh-2/commentary-on-john-11-18-3.

[8] Jn 1:18.

[9] Jn 1:9-14.

[10] Is 43:19.

[11] Jn 1:16-17.

[12] O’Day, 495.

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