Adam J. Copeland
January 3, 2010
In the Beginning
When did your faith begin? Did you have one moment when all became clear, or did you just always believe? Where did your faith begin? Can you point to a specific decision you made, or is your faith the product of scores of generations passing their faith on to their children, and to you? Did your faith begin when you read the stories of the New Testament, or was it there before you could even read? Maybe it wasn’t about words at all, but actions.
Faith beginnings. Everyone’s answer is a bit different, I imagine. But, even without asking you each individually, I bet there’s something common to each of our stories. Every story of faith beginning has to do of course, with God, but also with people. God and people. God and the flesh.
Each writers of our four gospels begins the story differently. All mention John the Baptist, but only Luke tells of Jesus’ birth and Mary and Joseph. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ genealogy, but doesn’t mention much else. And John, well John is more of a poet.
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.
Such stirring words that it’s hard to get past their beauty to their meaning. These first verses of John are often called the “prologue”, some have said they’re a mini summary of what the next chapters include. What do we see about our faith in these first few verses? Well, lots, but today I’ll focus on two points. First, our faith as embodied, and second, our faith as communal.
First, embodied. John writes, “[the Word] was in the world.” And later, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” As Shirley Guthrie writes, God invaded our “real world where we live all year long — a world where there is political unrest and injustice, poverty, hatred, jealousy, and both the fear and the longing that things could be different.” God came to us and was made flesh, fully human and fully God.
In Jesus Christ, God is as far from an other-worldly, unconcerned, disconnected God as you can think of. Rather, God takes on our very flesh and blood. God Godself is embodied; God with us.
About this time every year, around the time of New Years’ resolutions, millions of us resolve to take care of our bodies better. Apparently, the two weeks following Christmas mark some of the year’s highest athletic shoe sales — people buying new shoes to fulfill those resolutions.
I’m all for such resolutions. Setting clear reachable goals can be a great way to help us get in shape. But the “why” behind these resolutions is what the gospel gets at today. God came in the flesh. And so, this flesh of ours, this body of ours which God shared, isn’t just a vessel, it’s the very temple of God.
Our faith is an embodied faith. We who believe in Jesus Christ do so not just as intellects, but as embodied creatures of flesh and blood. And so we’re to live out that faith in the flesh as well.
Getting back to that question we opened with. “Where did your faith begin?” Even without speaking to each of us, we know it began because God who came in the flesh inspired other fleshly creatures to believe. Then those bodies sang and danced for joy in God’s presence, those embodied people worshiped, and shared the faith with their mouths and showed the way to live with their bodies. Faith came to us not because our minds happened upon it, but because a body believed it and lived it out.
In the words of a song by Brian McLaren, we hear the call of the church today:
Christ has no body here but ours
No hands, no feet, here on earth but ours
Ours are the eyes though which he looks
On this world
Ours are the hands through which he works
Ours are the feet on which he moves
Ours are the voices through which he speaks
To this world
Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here
The song ends, “Let us go now / filled with the Spirit / Into the world / With Kindess.”
We are in the world, we are of the world, just like God — embodied, flesh and blood creatures living and breathing with these beautiful bodies of ours, praising God with our every act, our eating and our sleeping, our sharing and our caring, our loving and our living.
So that’s the first thing that John 1 points us to today: our embodied nature and our embodied faith. The second is related. Just as our faith cannot be lived without our body, our faith cannot be lived out without each other. Our faith is communal. John 1 is all about that community of faith, faith not just of the individual but of the whole body.
When we read the gospel through our usual lens of contemporary American society we often miss all the corporate language of the text. John 1, though, is all about bold corporate statements. The gospel is not about individual servings of grace, but huge overflowing helpings of grace for the entire universe.
We read in those first verses: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
Then John (the Baptist) is sent from God to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. All. John wasn’t the light, but he testified to it. Then we read, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
What is it about us that makes us want to hide that light, or think that the light of Christ is only for some? Or, probably more common for most Christian churches, we intellectually think the light is for everyone, but we don’t act like it is. John makes things pretty clear: that light of Christ enlightens everyone. It’s not about picking who’s in and who’s out, but looking at the world in which all is enlightened and saying, “how can we make this light shine even brighter.”
We’ll do that in different ways, but the most successful are together. Where did your faith begin? For most of us, it probably began when our parents took us to church and when, there, others told us the story of our the faith. Rarely does our faith originate with only one person. Usually, faith comes to us from a community.
Mrs. Westall will teach Sunday School and Mrs. Calhoun directs the choir. Mr. Bush welcomes you at the church door and Mr. Hightower ties your shoe laces when you don’t know how. Someone else will help you through confirmation and then you’re still not on your own, but you’re living out your faith, as always, with the whole community of a congregation. That community is a beautiful thing about the church, something we can see lived out here in Hallock for certain.
But there’s a flip side to our type of community. We can sometimes get so focused on being a community here that we forget to live out our faith outside these walls, to invite others in — especially those not brought up in the church, those whose parents didn’t bring them but who seek to know that light later in life.
John “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” In one of the reviews of the last decade (which seem to be the only thing in newspapers and TV over the last week) I read that the world population will hit 7 billion by 2012. We read: John “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” But, do you think John figured on all 7 billion?
Somehow, I think John would relish the challenge. Because, after all, he was sharing the good news, testifying to grace, witnessing to love. And he’s not in it alone. The faith is spreading, here in Hallock and beyond. It’s not just up to you alone, but all of us, together, to share that good news that’s too good to keep to ourselves.
As food for out journey, then, we gather at this communion table where we are fed by Christ’s body, where we join as a community, sharing the miracle of the Word made flesh. We gather not because we are perfect reflections of that light, not because our faith is certain or even clear, but because the Word came for us, for all the world, and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. So come in the flesh, come as a community, come taste and see that the Lord is good. Amen.