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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Someone with a little skin on

John 14:1-14
One night, a little girl, Lisa, we’ll call her - lay in her bed as storm clouds gathered outside. Soon, there was a full-blown thunderstorm going on right outside the windows of her bedroom. Thunder crashed and blinding flashes of lightening lit up her bedroom over, and over again.  Little Lisa was frightened. She cried out to her dad, who was in the next room, "Help me."
Immediately, she heard his voice respond, "Honey, God loves you and will take care of you."
Another bolt of lightning and clap of thunder caused Lisa to cry out again, "Daddy!" Again, she heard her father’s voice, "Honey, God loves you and will take care of you."
The storm continued to rage and Lisa, now frightened nearly out of her wits, called out yet again; her father's response was the same. But the little girl replied, "Daddy, I know that God loves me, but right now, I need someone with skin on."
Don’t we know that feeling?
Isn’t that sometimes our experience? I know God loves me, but right now, I need someone with skin on.  When we go through the struggles of life, when we have questions about why losses and difficulties and troubling things come our way, we need someone with skin on.
When we are frightened because the storm has gotten way out of hand and we are facing illness or joblessness or changes in our relationships, even betrayals; when the well-planned future we had counted on shifts and changes and when circumstances out of our control threaten the security we worked so hard to build, we want someone with skin on.
When Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, he came as God with skin on. As he lived his life as one who was at the same time both fully human and fully divine; as he gathered disciples, ministered, healed, preached and taught his followers, he was, in fact, God-with-us – with skin on.
That is what we call the Incarnation; that in Jesus Christ, God became flesh. Jesus was that “someone with skin on.”
The conversation depicted in today’s gospel lesson took place on the night in which Jesus was to be handed over to the Roman officials. It is his last opportunity, the last word that he can give to his disciples before he leave this mortal plane, and he wants to make clear to his disciples that he is indeed, God with skin on.
In the days and weeks and years to come, Jesus knows that it is essential for them to continue believing that in him, God has come into the world and that God’s physical presence with them, while about to change in substance, will not change in reality.
Believing in Jesus we come to know that one true God – the one who is at once creating and redeeming; the one who transforms us in love; the one who promises never to leave us, but to abide with us forever. And that is a promise that stands – forever.
Jesus is not just “like” God; Jesus is the embodiment of the one true God. Through his life and his teachings he has shown his followers the full-bodied character of God – forgiving, healing, subversive, despising evil, loving good, inclusive, transforming, peace-loving, and possessing power over life; he is God with skin on, and even after his death he showed his disciples that he lives.
In his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus continues to be God-with-us – our God with skin on. As the fully human incarnation, Jesus died on the cross. This was not a theoretical death or an imaginary death. It was a real death, preceded by unimaginable pain and suffering, feelings of abandonment, fear and despair depicted in our scriptures.  Jesus knows well our suffering, for he endured the same.
Just as we will one day die, Jesus truly died on that cross for us. But Jesus changes the reality of what death means for all of us. Because the thing is, Jesus’ resurrection changes more than just our death. It changes our life. And in that night when the still-living friend and master, Jesus, sat down for the last time with his disciples, knowing what was coming that very night, he shared these final words with them.
They are words of hope, and promise, and expectation. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he tells them, and then he goes on. Believe in me, because in so doing you will know the Father. You will know his love, his forgiveness, his promise.
God has sent his love and presence to you in me, Jesus is telling them, and you will know them simply by the works you have seen in me, the signs you have witnessed, and, in the deeds you do as you follow in my footsteps. Other people will come to know God through you. These, my friends, are the promises of God for abundant life.
The word that we read today as “if” – “if you know me” – could also be translated as since – the same Greek word means both things, and I think translating it this alternative way gives us a better understanding of Jesus’ words. Since you know me you know the Father. Disciples of Jesus know him through his revealing love in action.
And, just as in this gospel of John love is an action word – something you do rather than simply something you feel, knowing God through Jesus and believing in him inspires and even commands a different kind of life, because the truth is, this kind of belief has power over our lives.
Now, it may be that even before today you were familiar with the words of this morning’s gospel because of a funeral that you have attended. Perhaps, even the funeral of a loved one, someone very dear to you. If so, you might be tempted to associate these words only with death; with sadness tinged with hope, with a day you would rather forget. But Jesus gave these words as both comfort and command, as both hope and promise.
So far during this 50-day period of Easter, our gospel texts have reflected Jesus’ post resurrection visits to his disciples and his continued teaching and preparation of them to carry on the mission and ministry to which he devoted and for which he gave his life.
Then, in last week’s gospel, Jesus called himself the gate through which the sheep of God’s own redeeming must pass. Today, Jesus he tells his disciples, on this pivotal night, the night in which he would be handed over to Roman officials to be tried, condemned, and crucified, that he is the Way, calling us out of darkness, into light.
Our identity as God’s children offers us hope and gives us momentum to live as God intends, following the Way of our Savior. Jesus gives us a model and framework within which to understand that this way, which is not always easy and will sometimes lead to struggle, hostility, and an unknown future, but is shaped by the promise offered here in this gospel.
Jesus is the tangible evidence of God in the world – God with skin on. That is the truth and core of Jesus’ very identity. He is God’s attempt to establish meaningful relationship with us. Every religion in the world reflects the human attempt to reach God. Through Christianity, we come to know Jesus as God’s plan to reach humanity. That makes all the difference.
Through the Incarnation, the infinite God took on the form of a tiny baby boy. The Son did not cease to be God when he became a man. He added humanity but he did not subtract deity. He was fully God and fully man. He was, in short, “God with skin on.”
Ponder that for a moment. The Almightiness of God moved in a human arm. The love of God beat in a human heart. The wisdom of God spoke from human lips. The mercy of God reached forth from human hands.
In Jesus, God was wrapped in human flesh, promising for all of eternity a bond with humanity that cannot be broken by suffering or death, by trial or disappointment, by failure and doubt, by fear and despair.
In a few moments, we will confess our faith using the words of the Apostle’s Creed, in the second article of which, we will state who we believe – by the preponderance of our religious identity - Jesus to be. If we could fully believe and embrace those words; if we could fully grasp the meaning of what we say, the troubles of our hearts would be silenced and our faith would be a real power over the whole of our lives. Because we could then experience God with skin on, Jesus Christ, as the real power and fullness of life not only for ourselves but for the world.
My friends, the real power of this gospel is that it contains the uncompromising promise of Jesus that, while still unseen, God abides in us forever, loves us forever, and empowers us to be Christ in the world, revealing the loving nature of God who refuses to let us go, and has gone through such extraordinary lengths to not only prepare a place for us when we die, but to secure our faith, our love, and our commitment to live the life of abundance which we receive in his name, that others may come to know and believe in the one who came to reveal God’s love for the world. By the power of Jesus Christ, God with skin in, may it be so. Amen.

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