Last week we described Jesus as the Word of God. We looked at many ways that defined what that means. And we barely scratched the surface. A lot of ink has been spilt on the Incarnation of Christ, and if you were here last week, I’d bet that the one thing you probably remember is “God’s taco.”
If Jesus is God’s Word as John proclaimed, then that tells me his words matter. But they are more than just wise sayings, or interesting observations that look good in memes. They are social commentary, ethical pronouncements, and radically political declarations.
Jesus does not mince words. When he speaks, he is teaching. And what he teaches is imperative for our spiritual growth and understanding of the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus said “has come near.”
Today I want to turn to the Gospel of Matthew and focus on one of Jesus’ first and longest lessons which begins with a series of blessings, commonly known as the Beatitudes. The problem we face today is this passage is so familiar, that it can be difficult for us to see ourselves in them. Or hear God’s intent and purpose that Jesus is conveying. I would invite you now to close your eyes and picture yourself sitting on the hillside listening to Jesus speak these words to you.
READ: Matthew 5:1-12
You might remember in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian there’s a scene where they borrow from this famous passage. A man standing in the crowd proclaiming, “Blessed are the Greeks,” and “Blessed are the cheese makers.”
The writers might have been joking when they wrote the lines, little did they know that they’re telling us something about the character of God and the power of God’s Word made flesh. A most unexpected messiah giving blessings to those who never expected one in the first place.
Now if you have never heard the Beatitudes, there’s also a good chance you’re saying to yourself, “Wow. These are the most beautiful words I have ever heard.” Or “Gee, these words are beautiful but not very realistic given the world we live in.”
For those who have heard them, perhaps you’re thinking, “These beautiful words are just another reminder of all the ways I fail to live up to being a follower of Christ.” Or worse…you might be thinking you’re not worthy of such a blessing.
Here’s the thing, Jesus blesses us because it’s in his nature to do so. Jesus isn’t setting us up to fail or wanting us to feel ashamed. He’s giving us a way to live right with God. He’s calling us to participate in the kingdom of heaven knowing exactly what that will entail. Fear, doubt, pressure, mistakes. Jesus knows us, and what we are capable of doing. For better or worse he chooses to bless us with God’s love even if it costs him his life.
In her book “Accidental Saints,” Nadia Bolz-Webber imagines Jesus looking at the crowd on the mountain and “extravagantly throwing around blessing as if grew on trees.”
She writes, “Maybe the Sermon on the Mount is all about Jesus blessing all the accidental saints...especially those the world didn’t seem to have much time for: people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance.”
Maybe you know these people – the ones the world doesn’t always admire. Again, maybe that’s what you think about yourself. Like you don’t deserve to be blessed – believing you’re not good enough, or poor enough, or meek enough to receive God’s love and grace.
But here we have God’s Word saying you are good. You are worthy. You are enough. You might not wake up in the morning hoping to be poor or persecuted, but Jesus wants to give you God’s blessing, nonetheless. I invite you to open your heart and let them in.
Of course, this speaks more to who Jesus is than who we are. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is God in our midst, turning the ways of the world on its head every time he blesses those who have been ignored, abused, or marginalized.
No wonder when God’s Word speaks the world covers its ears, closes its eyes, and turns its back. The world doesn’t want to be blessed with peace when it can make a profit off war. It doesn’t want to mourn, be meek, or give mercy. It wants power.
It’s easy to blame all the bad stuff in the world on those who disregard or deny the Word of God. Richard Rohr invites us to take an honest look at ourselves too. He writes, “Let’s be honest, most of Christianity has focused very little on what Jesus himself taught and spent most of his time doing – healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, embodying compassionate and nonviolent ways of living.”
As a Franciscan, Rohr naturally points us towards St. Francis of Assisi who took the Sermon on the Mount seriously and spent his life trying to imitate Jesus. Francis believed Jesus meant when he said the kingdom of heaven has come near. He went on to live into that truth; creating a community of saints who live into their blessedness by blessing others.
I like to imagine what our world today would look like if we proclaimed God’s Word like Francis did. Blessing everyone like Jesus did. It makes me wonder how can we worship God if we don’t trust God’s Word enough to live it out in the world? At the end of the sermon on the mount, Jesus gives us this short but effective image so we will know that we are to act on his words.
He said, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built a house on rock.” (cf. Matthew 7:24–27)
God’s blessings didn’t stop with Jesus. They didn’t die on the cross. They too have been resurrected. And been passed on to us, given to us in our faith, to live through our faithfulness.
In Christ, God has blessed you and me so that the world might know God’s Word and receive God’s blessings as their own. It’s up to us to give them away “as if they grew on trees!”
The beatitudes are more than just beautiful words to needlepoint. They are an invitation to participate in God’s kingdom. This is our calling. Our mission and ministry. This is our purpose – to be a blessing in and for the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is the Word of God. And his words have purpose - to redeem and restore all of creation back to God. He is calling us now to walk in this kingdom, in his footsteps, blessing everyone we pass along the way. For the blessings we receive from God are the very blessings we are to be for God.
Through Christ, God has provided us with everything we need to bless the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the dying.
In Christ, God has given us a living example of how to honor the poor in a way that empowers them; to show mercy and forgiveness to those who have hurt us, even if we get nothing in return.
With Christ, you might discover people will put you down, throw you out or speak lies about you. But instead of getting angry or seeking revenge, Jesus says “Be glad. You’re in good company. God’s prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble” (Mt. 5:12 MSG)
If you want to get things right in the world, especially in your own life, perhaps it’s time to let God’s Word direct the way you live by receiving and being a blessing to others. Jesus shows us the way to be in the world without being of it. He is God’s Beatitude made flesh.
When we model our lives on his, peace will prevail; all will be comforted and everyone will have their fill; mercy will be shown to us; and the kingdom of God will reign, now and forever.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his light shine upon you and be gracious to you. May his face smile at you and give you peace.
Bartlett, David. L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Accidental Saints: Finding God In All The Wrong People. (New York: Convergent, 2015).
Pagano, Joseph S. The Beatitudes and Barriers, All Saints Day. Nov. 01, 2017 (accessed on July 23, 2021).
Rohr, Richard. Scripture as Liberation, (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002).
Fleshiness...of God in us.
The Word Became Flesh John 1:1-18
July 18, 2021
I need to make a confession. About two months ago I started Weight Watchers, which I did not just to lose weight, but to reacquaint myself with better eating habits that seem to have disappeared during the pandemic.
I was doing well until I went on vacation. Though I was good about passing on the morning donuts, I was not so good when it came to everything else. But what happens on vacation stays on vacation. So didn’t give it too much weight so to speak.
But then I came home and did the unthinkable. I stepped on the scale. No surprise there was more flesh on my body than I had hoped. Whatever weight I lost in Sherman Oaks, I found along the sandy shores of Delaware.
Which brings me to what I want to talk about today. Fleshiness. Not the lumpy-meat-under-your-skin kind, but the visible substance of faith. And perhaps getting reacquainted with this fleshiness might help us make better and even healthier life choices as we seek to shape our spiritual body.
READ: John 1:1-18
I love John’s prologue because it not only speaks to the humanity and divinity of Jesus. But it also reminds me of tacos. And I love tacos. While you probably didn’t notice that in the text, you might have noticed John’s gospel doesn’t begin with a typical birth story. There’s no baby in a manger, no shepherds or wisemen. Or angelic proclamations. Just this strange, poetic passage about the Incarnation - where the perfect embodiment of God takes on human flesh and walks among us.
What’s this got to do with tacos? Good question. Well, the root word for incarnation is carne, which in Spanish means “meat” or “flesh.” Any taqueria worth its salt will have carne asada, or steak tacos, on its menu.
I’ll make another confession. If I could have tacos with anyone, and no offense to you all, I’d pick Jesus, the incarnate Christ - God with meat.
According to John, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, sent to live among us so we could see the glory of God’s grace and truth. He describes Jesus as the light that reveals God’s self to humanity. And the life that gives us new life by reconciling us back to our Creator. So it’s like Jesus is a delicious life-giving taco that nourishes us with all the goodness of God.
To understand who we are as followers of Christ, we must first understand who he is as the Word of God. Growing up in the church I thought the Bible was the word of God. In many ways it is. It’s filled with things God said, and it’s meaty in all the ways it shapes and guides our way of living. But the more I studied John, the more I realized he’s talking about something bigger than some holy words in holy book.
In the original Greek New Testament, John uses the word logos to introduce Jesus. It says “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos is God.” Logos is a rich and nuanced word that can define one’s mind and rationality, as well as one’s speech or communication.
In this case, the logos or Word of God is the content of God’s thinking and conveys God’s actions. Think about the creation story in Genesis. God has an idea and speaks it into being. With a Big Bang, God’s Word creates the infinite universe and all that it contains. If Jesus is the logos, the very Word of God that John proclaims, then Jesus is the one who conveys God’s intentions, which are made visible, or manifest, by his actions.
Are you following me? Think about tacos again. Imagine God standing in the kitchen looking at a plain tortilla sitting all by itself on the counter and thought, “I bet that tortilla would taste better if it were stuffed with some meaty goodness.”
Well, that goodness is Jesus. As John tells it, the intangible light, glory, grace, and truth of God comes into being, takes on flesh and walks among us in the personhood of Jesus of Nazareth. Anyone who want to see God or taste God’s goodness needs to look no further than him – God with meat.
In Christ, God’s divine attributes are made know to us in order to show us who we truly are and what it means to be called: “children of God.” As someone once said, “Jesus is not alone in this word-made-flesh business. He has brothers and sisters.” And that’s where we come in.
Jesus needs you and me – in all our fleshiness – to continue his mission, revealing God’s glory and reconciling humanity back to God’s open heart.
You could say we are a part of God’s taco. Jesus is the meat, but we’re the seasoning, the onions, cilantro, guacamole, and salsa. We build upon what God has created by living into what God has given to us. Life.
With Christ leading the way, God empowers us to nourish the world with delicious and divine goodness so we can live life the way God intended since the beginning. With abundance.
Most of us don’t think of ourselves as a taco. But then again, most of us don’t think we’re good enough to possess the flesh of God. But John says anyone who sees Jesus and believes what he has to say is given the power to be a child of God.
We each have a bit of God’s logos in us. We each have a word that defines our faith and helps others to see God in their midst. For some that word is “justice” or “compassion” or “generosity” or “patience.” Yours might be “love” or “kindness” or “tender-heartedness.”
These are all great words that embody God’s thoughts and actions in you. But here’s the thing: You have to put flesh on your word in order for it to mean anything. Which is exactly what Jesus did.
To be his follower we too must put on the flesh, the weighty substance of faith, and do what he did: healing and feeding and tending to the needs of others; forgiving debts and transgressions, welcoming strangers, showing hospitality, offering a helping hand to your enemies. Being God’s abundant love with our flesh and blood.
What is true for us, is true for institutions as well. As the body of Christ we are called to live as he does. We can’t do everything ourselves, but we can do somethings well. Paul reminds us that there are different parts yet one body. Each of us have unique gifts that add to the fleshiness of that body.
We can say our church vision is to love God, love others, and serve both, but until we go out and actually love and serve, those words are just meatless bones. To quote Corey Booker,
“Don't speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don't tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all God's children. Don't preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I'm not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
Booker’s words echo the entire teachings of Jesus who boiled down the gospel with a single word. That word is love. The moment we show love is the very moment God’s Word becomes flesh and lives among us, in us and through us.
You see, the incarnation is not a one-time event. It’s an on-going invitation to participate in God’s kingdom; to feed and nourish the world with God’s love. It’s a call to truly embrace and embody Christ’s flesh, not just his name. God did not send the Son to create another religion.
No, God became flesh and blood so we would know God’s thinking and see God’s intensions.
The Bible is filled with stories of Jesus living like this. As a result, he couldn’t help but radiate God’s glory with truth and light. He shone so brightly that the darkness of the world didn’t stand a chance.
As you leave here today, I hope that you will remember this: Jesus is the word given to us. His flesh is ours flesh. His light is our light. His life is ours too. This is important because there’s still way too much darkness in the world. Nationalism, individualism, racism, division, addiction, violence, poverty, starvation and injustice just to name a few.
What seems like an endless list continues to cast a dark shadow over all the good out there. And there’s a lot of good out there. There always has been. For in the beginning was the Word. God’s Word. And it’s a good word. Love.
In Christ, God’s perfect love became flesh so that you and I could live into our best self.
We are made in Imago Dei. We are the image of God. Filled with God’s love and light. We are made fleshy and good. So, the more flesh we add, the bigger and better Christ’s body becomes.
But who will take on the weight of his flesh so the world can know and savor God’s everlasting goodness? Who will set aside their political ideologies and divisive doctrines to accept and welcome all people as if you are welcoming and accepting Jesus himself? Who will stand up against injustice? Or advocate for peace? Who will march for the dignity of life? Or stop and help a stranger in need? Who will set aside your own power and privilege to be a servant for the voiceless and powerless?
Will it be you?
Will you pick up your cross and really follow Jesus – breathing life where there is death; light where there is darkness; hope where all hope seems lost?
Again, each of us brings our own unique flavor of God’s love to life. We are a part of God’s taco, given life and love so that the world can know and savor everlasting Word made flesh, full of grace and truth.
May God bless your hearing and understanding.
Let us pray:
Holy and Merciful God of Light and Love, we thank you for your Divine Word that has been revealed to us today. We ask now for the Holy Spirit to stay with us, to lead us and guide us in all the ways of Christ Jesus so that wherever we go, people will come to know your Word and give you glory. Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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