Sermon Ideas For John 1:1-14 Part 2
One of the unfathomable mysteries of my childhood was a cuplike hole about twenty feet in diameter which sits on a small prairie hill a quarter mile from the North Dakota farm house in which I was born. The hole was caused by the collapse of the walls of a sod house built there by a German from Russia family shortly before 1900. Below the house location is a 50 x 100 rectangle formed by the ruins of sod walls which may have enclosed a garden or a corral for livestock. No matter how much I asked my father what he knew about the pioneers who lived there less than ten years he always said he knew nothing. After my scratching around census records and genealogical stuff I only guess that the family may have been a distant relative which moved on to Canada or California eventually. Of its time on that prairie spot nothing physically remains but an intriguing scar on the land. But the life which sweat and shivered in the North Dakota weather on that spot remains. I like to imagine that the words, German words, spoken there live on, in the lives, perhaps of children born of children born there. The meaning in elemental existence shared there by a hard muscled couple shaped not only them but all who they generated. I have seen the signs of that meaning in the life style of distant relatives I have met briefly in far away places. The stubborn toughness of body and mind created in such circumstances has been carried far and wide.
If the little word expressed on a forgotten spot in a pasture has such enduring life how much more powerful is the word expressed by God. For human beings God is Word, the Life and Light of the world's existence. If our small human words shape each other, how utterly potent for human life is the communication by God.
The word is not just oral, verbal, etc. It is the whole self (body, mind, spirit) living with its bit of light on a particular earthly spot. It is remarkable that the word in flesh on that hill left any indication of its ever having been there, let alone provide indications which have lasted 100 years. Flesh is evanescent. Humans sojourn, pause for a time. They find a bit of hospitality or rejection, come and go, depending on how they are received. Word is embodied among the bodies that make up the life we see. How incomprehensible that the Word which causes all words and all the bodies wherever they are should itself come to just one spot, perhaps, one on a little hill. The Word came to be seen or not seen, to be affirmed or not to be affirmed, by the very flesh it caused to be. We are the ones who seem to specialize in not recognizing even the best in each other, in turning away from someone who has made us his/her very own, in not understanding the light all around us and in finding the dark instead. We specialize in justifying our separations and in certifying our rights and realities according to our family status, our smart decisions, our macho life qualities.
The Word behind all words speaks the most personal and available word ever said to anyone, becomes flesh, visits our very own homes, comes with the striking letter of reference from the one whose "name was John." Yet, we are not bowled over by the utter vulnerability of the holy reach for us. We do the same thing with that reaching for us that we have learned to do so well in many of our relations. We do not recognize, receive, or understand. But we cannot quite forget. As the centuries fly by, "the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us" (John 1:14, New International Version) keeps being the Word. The gospel writer never tells whether or not many grasped it and went with the Word. We continue to share the wondering of that writer today. The Word became entirely available. How many did receive him, believe in his name, take up the right to become children of God? How many will do so? The pastoral focus on the understanding of this awesome text must be about the mystery of people hearing but often not hearing, of seeing but not seeing. We can offer everything to another, as God really does, but the mystery of the human created by the Word with capability freely to respond with a free human word always includes the possibility of not responding--even to God. Pastoral presence offers itself in powerlessness ready to rejoice in a relationship consummated or to grieve about one that did not come to be.
The glory of the Word became flesh is the utter graciousness, the complete availability of the Word on our terms. Every provision of true communication by God to humanity has been provided. That kind of Word haunts us even when we reject it. It keeps reaching for our hard hearts. The center of the pastoral aspect of the gospel is this haunting which can transform all our relationships once its power overcomes our denial of it.
Over three decades ago I wrote a poem as a "Christmas card" to my little congregation. I sought to portray the risk the Word took. Would the holy baby take his first breath or succumb to the risks inherent in physicality? I think the metaphor could apply to another point of risk, one so clearly noted in the text. Would anyone even begin to appreciate the terrifying risk of the Word become flesh and begin to be "born of God?" I wrote:
The Word was made flesh but flesh must have a breathing lung and a birth cry. Would it? Then--a sheet of muscle contracted and in warmth the universe reacted. Then we knew. The crucial first breath of a child was the warming of all existence. No wonder a star behaved unusually.