Sunday, February 5, 2012

Incarnational Living

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Commemoration of Jacob (Israel), Patriarch
February 5, 2012
Have you ever thought about all the things Jesus did? We know the big stuff. He was born in a stable. He taught and healed and of course He died on the cross and rose from the grave. These are the things we know so well. But what did He do in His downtime? What did He do for recreation? Who did He hang out with when He wasn’t preaching and teaching?

We so often categorize our lives that we may forget something very important about them, the essence of them in fact. When you think of yourself and you categorize your life you may forget that who you are is not only more important than all those specific things you do in life but that the essence of who you are informs all the things you do. Because they’re not just things you do, or at least they shouldn’t be. They are things which flow out of who you are.

And that’s the way it is with Jesus. If we are going to look at who we are then we should look at Jesus because who we are is the people of God. We’re not just people. We’re people whose essence is defined by God. You can’t categorize that, it’s simply who you are. It’s not that you have a job and you talk with your neighbor now and then and you have children. All of those things are not just parts of who you are. You are a child of God who is called to serve in those and many other areas.

To see this we can look at Jesus. Knowing all the major stuff about Him, Mark tells us of an occasion where Jesus attempted to get away. Actually, He succeeded for an amount of time. But soon His disciples found Him. He had gotten away to pray. The disciples came to inform Him that everyone was looking for Him. We heard last week that that’s what was going on in the surrounding region of Capernaum. His fame was spreading. People were talking about Him and they wanted in on the good things that came about when Jesus was around. But it was time to move on. There were others in the next towns. He would go there and continue His preaching.

It might seem sensible that His getting away to pray was distinct from His ministry of teaching and preaching, of healing and exorcising demons. Even of going to the cross and rising from the grave. But this isn’t so. It’s all of a seamless cloth. Jesus is who He is. It’s not that at some times He taught, others He healed people, and then there was that other thing, as big as it was, where He died for the sins of the world. All of it is together. Who He is defines everything He did. It’s not that when He found a place away from everyone He was not ministering to anyone. To see this, it would have to be the case that Jesus would have had to be in specific teaching or healing of people around the clock for Him to be ministering to people. But that’s not what He did, and it’s not what He needed to do. That does not define who He is.

Jesus is God. He could have done anything He had wanted. On the Last Day He will have an audience of the whole world. Everyone will know instantaneously that He has returned in glory. But when He came the first time He made His way around on foot. His words on the Last Day will be heard by everyone at the same time. The first time He came He walked around from town to town. People heard Him here, and they heard Him there. Sometimes there were a few who heard Him, sometimes many.

What defines Him is that He is God and as God His nature is mercy. His essence is love. It’s not power, or glory, authority. God is all of those things but they don’t define who God is. Jesus in the flesh does. That’s how we see who God is. I recently heard the statement that God’s desire is that we love Him. While it’s most certainly true that He desires that we love Him, it’s not really accurate to say that His desire is that we love Him. God’s desire is to love us. That we love Him flows from who He is, His essence, how He makes Himself known in His Son, Jesus Christ. What we see in God should not be His desire that we love Him but rather His desire of loving us. How we should see God and understand Him is not that we need to love Him but rather that He loves us, and we see that in His Son.

If it seems odd to think that even when Jesus was off by Himself to pray that He was indeed ministering to people, think about what else consumed His time while He lived on this earth. On this particular occasion He apparently didn’t get much sleep because He got away in the early morning hours in order to pray. But Jesus slept, just as every person must. He ate. I imagine He joked around with His friends. Would He have watched the Super Bowl today? There’s no reason to think He wouldn’t have. It’s not that Jesus did ministry stuff and then He had to take care of basic necessities like eating and sleeping and having some downtime. Jesus is who He is. He is God. God loves us. He is our Savior. Who He is and what He does is all about that. Otherwise we’d have to say that He was only ministering to those people He came into direct contact with. And for as many people as that was, there were still a whole lot more people in Jesus’ three year ministry who never were the recipients of Jesus’ healing touch or of His words of proclamation. And when you consider that He was carrying out His ministry for only three years, well, that leaves thousands of years where He wasn’t.

Jesus came to show us something that we can call incarnational living. The Incarnation is God being in the flesh. It is God who is the creator of humans, becoming a man Himself. Jesus is God in the flesh. The very fact of Him being in the flesh is His ministry to we who are in the flesh. His being one with us in a body, living life on this earth, eating, drinking, sleeping, talking, working, watching the Super Bowl, this is incarnational living. He showed us that in all that He did, not just the stuff we normally think of that He did.

The first obvious way we see God coming in the flesh is in Jesus being born. However, when we saw last week that Jesus went into the synagogue at Capernaum we saw God coming in the flesh to those people. When we see this morning Jesus leaving the synagogue and going into Peter’s home we see God coming in the flesh for him and his family. When we see the people about to burst down the door to the home and Jesus healing them and casting out demons we see God coming to these people in the flesh. Even when He is off by Himself praying we see God coming to people in the flesh, for here is the very God of all creation not up on His throne but down on earth where the people He created are at and He is praying for them. And it goes without saying that we see God in the flesh when Jesus then says, Let’s get going to those other towns also.

But here’s the clincher. It’s not just that we see God in the flesh when we look at those passages of Scripture that tell us that Jesus did such and such and preached to so and so and drove out demons now and then and healed people here and there. We see God in the flesh when we see the disciples getting up off their duff and looking for Jesus. They went to Him because they knew that He was what the people needed. Okay, perhaps all they were thinking was that the people wanted Him and not them and they were very ready to comply since what could they do for the people? However they perceived their mission to find Jesus and tell Him that everyone was looking for Him, isn’t that what they needed to do, find Jesus so that they could deliver Him to the people?

And we see it in Peter’s mother-in-law. She was in need and the God who comes in the flesh helped her in her need. And we see here something else also. We see one who has been served by God and is then equipped to serve Him. When she was healed she got up and went right back to her calling in life and served everyone in the home. This is God at work.

This morning we prayed with the Church in the Collect of the Day that our Lord would keep His family the Church continually in the true faith that, relying on the hope of His heavenly grace, we may ever be defended by His mighty power. How is it we are kept continually in the true faith? The word Jesus uses is the way: preaching. The word Paul uses in the Epistle reading is the way: the making known of the Gospel. There is a reason for this. It’s not because the Church throughout the ages has always had a sermon be part of the worship life of the Church. It’s because the sermon is a proclamation. It is an activity in which God is at work. It is an event in which God is coming to His people in the flesh. You can’t see Him with arms and legs and a head and a body. But you can hear Him. His voice is heard by your ears because He is the one preaching. He preaches through His servants, as the apostle Paul laid it out for us: necessity is laid upon the preacher of the Gospel. Woe to him if he does not preach the Gospel. As it was with Jesus, so it is with the men God has called to proclaim the Gospel—this is why they have been called.

You can see the weariness in the people as they try to find their way to Jesus. Jesus being God does not grow weary. Obviously as a man He needed sleep. He needed downtime. But in all of this we see that what He did was what God the Father had called Him to do. When He went off by Himself to pray I imagine He was still very tired from the throngs of people who had been banging on the door of Peter’s house. God does not grow weary. We do. Even the youngest and strongest among us do. But not God. What He gives us is the Gospel. This is how He lifts us up and strengthens us. This is how we will be able to go on and not stumble and fall.

Think about the amazing fact of God being in the flesh. He is the Creator of all and yet not one star is missing without Him knowing it. If He is aware of every aspect of the universe, think about how important you and I are to Him. Not one of us grieves or struggles or gets sick or becomes sad without Him knowing. Not one of us is beyond His scope because He comes to us in the flesh. Jesus died on the cross for every person. No one was out of His sight when He did this. Paul describes it well, this incarnational living, in saying that as one who made known the Gospel he became all things to all people. You are not insignificant. You are not just another person. You are not beyond the care of the Almighty God, because the Almighty God is the God who loves you and cares for you. Why else would He have taken time to be in the home of Peter; to give His healing to Peter’s mother-in-law; to be there for every person who stood at the door; to go to the next towns? Why else would He have come in the flesh?

Incarnational living extends to the world because you and I serve. We are Christ to others. Many people do not know Jesus. They don’t know that He has come in the flesh, that He died for all of their sins, that He is the God of mercy and love for them. We are in many of these people’s lives. We live incarnationally in their lives, we are Christ to them. We serve them, we love them, we care for them, we pray for them, we share God’s love in Christ with them. How can we not? We are the recipients of incarnational living from God Himself. Remember, He comes in the flesh. He invites us to His Table to receive Him in His body and blood. You can’t get any more incarnational than that, God in the flesh, here, for you, and for the entire world through you. Amen.

No comments: