Title: Words made flesh
Texts: John 1:10-18
Date: Jan 2, 2011
Author: Isaac Villegas
A few weeks ago my friend Chris was in town. We ended up spending a lot of time talking about life, about faith, about how we grew up. For both of us, American Christianity is embarrassing. For example, it’s embarrassing to share the same faith as the people who drove from Kansas this past month to set up a picket line in Raleigh, outside of Edenton Street United Methodist Church. They were there to let the world know that God was going to send Elizabeth Edwards to hell. This is what they said in their press release for the protest: “Elizabeth is now a resident of hell, where her rebellion and rage will take full flower. She rejoins the dead child who beat her there.”
Those are terrible words. And the worst part, at least for me, is that they use Christian language. Their message is thoroughly “Christian”—obviously it’s not the Christianity any of us resonate with, but they are nonetheless invested in being Christian. They put their lives into their message, traveling hundreds of miles to spread their polluted Christianity, a faith in a God of retribution, of payback. They are passionate Christians; it’s just too bad that their God sounds like a monster.
The problem for us is that Christianity isn’t simply a set of ideas that we can think about in the comfort of our homes. Our faith is not simply about a belief in words that may or may not be true. Instead, Christianity is about words becoming flesh: “the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). That’s what we hear today from John’s Gospel. The Word became flesh.
Words are important, that’s for sure. But the Christian faith is about something much more than words. It’s about the word made flesh. The life and death of Jesus shows us what it means for truth to be flesh, for love to be made physical, tangible—the warmth of a hand that seeks to nurture life, to care for others, to heal the wounded. The Christian life is about a growing intimacy with the life of Jesus, that his life becomes our life, that our life becomes his life, that we may be part of his continuing presence of love for the world; that our words may echo his word of life and of hope; that God’s word made flesh in Jesus may become flesh again through us.
The beliefs and opinions we may have in our heads don’t mean much if people can’t see what difference they make in the world. For Christians, words become flesh—that’s what matters, that’s what our faith is all about.
And that’s why we have a problem when Christians travel hundreds of miles to tell the world that God hates people, that God hates Elizabeth Edwards because of her lack of faith. What they may think about God in the privacy of their hearts becomes meaningless as we look at their lives. You can’t believe in the God of life and preach death to your enemies at the same time.
Here’s a statistic that I find even more troubling than the Christian protestors at the funeral in Raleigh. A study in 2009 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that those who attend church are more willing to justify torture than those who don’t go to church. 54 percent of the people who go to church every week support torture, while only 42 percent of those who seldom or never go support torture.
Somehow, the people who say they believe in Jesus are more willing to hurt their enemies than unbelievers. For some reason, Christians in this country have been swayed by the rhetoric of terrorism. Anything can be justified for the sake of the so-called war on terror, even if those acts contradict the way of life we find in Jesus, God’s Word made flesh.
That mainstream version of Christianity seems to be taking people down the wrong path, definitely not the path of Jesus. I guess it might be helpful, at this point, to remember the 16th century reformation in Europe—an important chapter in the story of Christianity. A minority group of the church thought that mainstream Christianity was preaching a corrupt message, so they protested. That’s how they got the name “protest-ants,” Protestants—a minority group within Christianity that protested against what others were doing in the name of Christ. We have inherited a tradition of protest, of Protestantism, that calls into question forms of Christianity that fail to let the Word become flesh, that fail to let the life of Jesus set the course for our own lives.
I think it’s important to remember that, as a peace church, we are in the minority among our fellow Christians in this country. We are a minority tradition among Catholics and Protestants. Our small congregation and denomination refuse to go with the popular sentiment about war and violence because we are committed to the Word made flesh, to letting our lives echo with the Word of God, which is the word of life, not death.
We follow a Jesus who loved his enemies and forgave them, a savior who taught us that, if there are no more options, if there is no escape, if the situation gets really bad, it is always better to be killed than to kill, to be tortured than to torture, to sacrifice your own life than to sacrifice the life of your enemy. This is just what it means to believe in Jesus, to receive the message of his life, his word made flesh—the life of a man who was tortured to death on a cross, and was raised back to life, showing us that death will not have the last word. That’s what resurrection is all about: the empty tomb of Jesus shows us that another way is always possible. As one of guys in prison told me recently, God can make a way out of no way. That’s the message of resurrection. God makes a way out of no way.
As a peace church in America, we are different. We believe a very different gospel than the one other Christians use to justify torture. But I don’t think it’s enough to tell ourselves that we are different, or that our Christianity is more faithful, that the version of Christianity we believe in is more true to the story of Jesus. Our way of life is not simply about reassuring ourselves that we are right and that they are wrong.
Instead, everything has to do with how our words become flesh, how we protest with our lives. We let our lives become signs and testimonies, proof that there is another way of being in the world. We become witnesses that truth can become flesh, that God’s word of life can become physical, tangible—the warmth of a hand that seeks to nurture life, to care for others, to heal the wounded; hands that nurture communities of peace, that create spaces in this world that sustain life, that make it possible for people to grow into new life.
Irenaeus, a pastor and theologian, put it well in the 2nd century when he said, “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.” In Jesus, God has come that we might have life, that we might be fully alive, alive to the world around us, alive to the hope of new creation in the midst of the old, to be alive to the work that needs to done for the sake of peace, so that others may find life.
Scott and I were talking the other night about peace, if peace was really possible in our world. It doesn’t seem like it most of the time. There’s just so much pain and suffering, so much violence, so much injustice, so much evil—and there are so many Christians who justify the violence of their causes and give up on the call to let Jesus become flesh through us. But this is nothing new. It has always been the case that God’s people reject the way of God in the world. As it says in our passage from John: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (v. 11). His own people did not accept him—that was the case in Jesus’ day, and it’s the case today.
All we can do, I think, is to find ways in our world to become signs that another way is possible, that Jesus has come to bring life, eternal life, life now and life tomorrow and forever: “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive,” Irenaeus said.
Even if we can’t change the world, even if we can’t change the minds of other Christians who have given up on the message of Jesus, on God’s word made flesh—even if we make no difference in their lives, we can still be witnesses to the God of life in ordinary ways, in our daily lives, as we feed hungry people, as we care for those who are wounded, and as we treat others with justice.
The Word became flesh and lived among us. As we all know from the Christmas story, Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, which means in Hebrew, “the house of bread”—bet means house and lehem means bread, the house of bread. The Word became flesh in the house of bread. I think this is helpful image, because Jesus goes on to offer his life as bread for the world, as the bread of life. Jesus uses his life to nurture others, to feed the world. May we also become bread for the world, a house for life in the midst death.
 “News Release: God Hates Elizabeth Edwards,” 12/8/2010. Available at http://www.godhatesfags.com/ (accessed on 12/28/10).
 http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/god-and-country/2009/04/30/poll-most-evangelicals-and-catholics-condone-torture-in-some-instances.html (accessed on 12/28/10).