God Made Visible
“He [the Spirit] will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reasons I said that he [the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:14-15
God’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth made God visible. Whoever heard Jesus speak, heard the voice of God. Whoever saw him eat with tax collectors and sinners, heal the sick, feed the hungry, raise the dead, witnessed God in action – scandalous and hard to believe as it may have been to those who saw it with their own eyes. Whoever felt the Jesus touch their hands, their face or his embrace and kiss, felt the very lips of God welcome them as sister, brother or friend.
When they saw Jesus led away to trial, whipped, beaten, mocked and crucified; when they heard him weep in prayer and cry out in pain and struggle for air enough to absolve them all before giving his breath back to God; they saw and heard God suffer and still love, they saw God still longing, loving, desiring to live among God’s people, to heal them of their sin, their blindness, their violence.
But when they held and cradled and carried Jesus’ lifeless body to a tomb, rolled the stone in front of it a sealed it, they could no longer see God. The glory of God – that part of God we can see and know that God is there with us and for us – that glory had gone out, like the turning out of the light.
That evening when they sat in sorrow and rested in Sabbath, they could no longer point to a person, a place, a time, an event and say that is where God is and what God is doing right now. They could remember Jesus and what Jesus did; they could tell each other the story of who he was and what it was like that time when … but they could not wake to find him already praying for them. The incarnation had come to an end … and because it had come to an end, they were not so sure it was an incarnation after all. Their faith was incomplete. Their joy left empty. Their hope appeared no hope, just a fantasy.
Usually, the way we talk about economy – as the production and consumption of goods and services, as business activity – wins our hearts and minds. We cannot see God’s presence, God’s activity or God’s reign in this world.
I suppose that is the edge we all walk. I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand the urge to reject God’s overtures. I think we understand why Jesus stands in the long line of God’s messengers the people of this world – that includes us – have rejected, run out, strung up and killed in our desire to have our way in the world, to run things the way we want them to run. Even people like us, who confess Jesus as God’s Son, the only way to the Father, seem to have no trouble ignoring his call to leave everything and follow him; to seek God’s kingdom, God’s reign and to pray for its full appearance among us. We have no trouble ignoring Jesus leading us into a life based on love and trust in God alone and love for neighbor. So we understand what it’s like to live in a world where God is dead; a world without light. We know our faith is incomplete and our joy is hollow, empty. We can read and tell and remember the stories of when God was alive and among us, but then the morning comes and its back to work as another cog in the great American economy – a consumer or a producer; a winner or a loser – depends on what day it is.
We talk a lot about the economy. It’s hard to know what we mean when we’re talking economics or when we’re having economics talked at us. One definition we’re familiar with is that it is a way of talking about the production and consumption of goods and services, but did you know that economy is also a theological term. Economy is the term we use when we talk about God’s activity and governance of the world.
Now, it’s easy enough to let economists and politicians use the word in their way, after all they’re concerned with business activity; and it’s okay to let theologians to use the word in their way, after all they’re concerned about God. But when we sit at a church council meeting; when we gather for our congregation’s annual meeting; we quickly discover that these two definitions cannot co-exist peacefully. Usually, the way we talk about economy – as the production and consumption of goods and services, as business activity – wins our hearts and minds. We cannot see God’s presence, God’s activity or God’s reign in this world.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus gathers his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, and as they eat and drink together around the table, Jesus explains to them how not even his crucifixion and death will keep God from dwelling among and in God’s people and God’s good creation. First, Jesus lays down his life for us, but God will raise him up again for us. Jesus bodily rises from the dead. He makes God’s presence known in his dying and in his rising.
He ascends to the Father, but does not leave us or this earth absent God’s glory. Instead, he sends the Spirit – the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ -- to us, to live with us, among us, in us and through us. The Holy Spirit in us continues and extends the incarnation through us – when we welcome sinners and eat with them, when we feed the hungry, heal the sick, raise the dead, suffer rejection and humiliation as Christ’s people in this world – we do so as children of the heavenly Father, sons and daughters of God. We are so, because in what we do and what we say and who we are, the world can see the glory of God, God’s presence with them.
Now, that is quite a different thing for us to be than the things we often say about ourselves when we say we serve this function or that place in the American economy. In God’s household, each member filled with faith, produces love and lives by hope in the life-giving, life sustaining mercy and love of God. It’s quite a different thing to be part of God’s household, a child of God, displaying God’s glory. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, you belong to God, you live in and by God’s Spirit and in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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