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A God Who Eats

John Leedy

June 17, 2012
Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 24:13-35

06-17-2012 Sermon UPC Summer Sermon Series on the PC (U.S.A.) Brief Statement of Faith

Lines 7-8

“We believe in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God.”

             My pulse began to quicken at the sight of him.  Tall and tanned by hours spent in the Asheville sun, the middle aged man walked slowly across the green stretch of grass under the shade of an enormous oak tree.  His hair was dirty, buzzed into an unkempt Mohawk with long side burns that swept down to his stubbled chin.  The stale smell of cigarette smoke, malt liquor, and the indescribable yet totally recognizable smell of the streets clung to his clothes.  He was adorned with an assortment of chains and beads around his neck, his face bearing a small tattoo at the corner of his right eye.  As he strode toward the group of high school youth who had set up games and refreshments on the street corner of a busy intersection in Asheville North Carolina, my mind began to assess him.  Was this man safe around our teenagers? What if he became violent or rude? Did he know how to behave around young people? I watched as he accepted a popsicle from Natalie Caballero and another youth from Westminster Presbyterian Church named John.  He wandered over to a game of corn hole, the southern equivalent of washers or horseshoes that was already in progress.  I saw him smile at Seth Lott and ask if he could take a turn.  My immediate anxiety stilled, and I continued to survey the rest of the scene before me as many more homeless folks had joined our gathering under the tree beside the Haywood Street Congregation.  Last week, youth from University and Westminster Presbyterian Church had travelled to Ashville for a week of mission immersion that had us serving a wide range of people in need.  We encountered impoverished children with special needs, recovering veterans, and homeless men and women over the course of the week, as well as working at food banks, rescue mission thrift stores, and battered women’s shelters.  The trip was designed to expose us to groups of people that we rarely made direct contact with, much less with whom we had shared a meal or a game of bingo.  My mind returned to the man now engrossed in a raucous game of corn hole, and I wondered about his story.

The pulse of Cleopas quickened as he and his fellow traveler encountered the man walking along the dusty road to Emmaus.  Tall and tanned by hours spend in the Judean sun, the middle aged man walked slowly as they caught up to him.  His clothing was unremarkable; simple robes with his face adorned by the all too common beard of the day.  But something stirred deep within Cleopas as he began talking with this man.  A burning – not from too much food or fear, but something other – a feeling indescribable to anyone who had never felt this way before.  Striking up a conversation with this stranger among them, the two travelers caught up on the events of the past week – events that had haunted everyone in Jerusalem since those dark days.  Cleopas was captivated by the man; he seemed to possess otherworldly insight into the events that had transpired upon that hill outside the walls of the city, and of the rumors that had begun cropping up on Monday morning.  Pushing the events of the past week aside, Cleopas turned his mind back to the strange man by his side and wondered about his story.

“We believe in Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God.”  These lines 7 and 8 taken from the Presbyterian Church’s Brief Statement of Faith speak to a fundamental belief held by Christians around the world.  We affirm that in Jesus Christ, the fullness of the eternal dwells within the fullness of the particular.  We believe that Jesus Christ was 100% God and 100% human.  Simple as that right? As a child, this was a pretty easy concept to grasp.  Jesus was simply both.  But then the questions of this statement began to loom large in my later consciousness as an adult.  If Jesus is fully human and fully God, then did Jesus have to learn how to count? Could Jesus break his arm and zap it back together? If Jesus was hungry, could he conjure himself a turkey sandwich?  And these are merely the simplest of questions.  How could the eternal reside in something as fragile and temporary as a human body? Why would God choose this path? After all, God had made humans in God’s own likeness – wouldn’t God know us well enough by that fact alone? What is the point of this statement we so easily intone in our Affirmation of Faith?

Well, to quote the wisdom of Kathy Escandell shared with us last week, the inner workings of these dual natures of Christ are a mystery to us, and no, I am not about to explain it either.  Like the interconnected oneness of the three persons of the Trinity, the limitations of our human intellect refuse to yield an acceptably cohesive understanding of how this works.  It is maddening to us, but as my father used to say, that’s life – get over it.  So in lieu of a metaphysical explanation of the DNA of Christ, we can instead explore how this fully human, fully God thing is important, and hopefully, discover what this strange theological doctrine means for us today.

The essential teaching of these lines from the Brief Statement speaks of the incarnation, when God became flesh.  As I was choosing hymns for today’s service, I thought seriously of picking Christmas songs. Away in a Manger, Infant Holy Infant Lowly, Joy to the World, Jingle Bells – okay, maybe not jingle bells, but in essence, these hymns point to the thrust of this teaching. God became human, born to us not as a mighty king and conqueror, but as a helpless baby to a poor Jewish family in the backwoods of Palestine.  Then I thought about choosing Easter hymns, songs that point to the all too human reality of Christ’s humilation and dying, his burial, and his all too Godly rising in glory on the third day.  Both of these seasons of the church speak vividly of the full humanness and full godliness of Jesus Christ.  As we think about incarnation, we turn to the Reformed theologian Karl Barth.  The typical way of looking at Jesus’ person is to read the humiliation of Jesus Christ — his crude earthliness, his weakness, his suffering, his death — as a reflection of his human nature, and the exaltation of Jesus Christ — his power, his glory, his sovereignty, his supreme triumph over death — as a reflection of his divine nature.  Together these two natures are mysteriously and wonderfully united, so that what seems to be mutually exclusive beings are united in his person — “power is made perfect in weakness”.  However, Karl Barth, in typical Reformed style, takes this understanding and turns it on its head.  He explains Jesus’ state of humiliation as the divinity of Christ, and the state of his exaltation as his humanity.  Let me say that again: he explains Jesus’ state of humiliation as the divinity of Christ, and the state of his exaltation as his humanity.  He humbled himself as divine in order to raise himself as human, and all of humanity with him.  According to Barth, Col. 2:9 tells us that: “In him dwells all the fullness of God bodily.”  Therefore the sovereignty of God dwells in His creaturely dependence as the Son of Man, the eternity of God in His temporal uniqueness, the omnipresence of God in His spatial limitation, the all powerfulness of God in His weakness, the glory of God in His passibility and mortality, the holiness and righteousness of God in His fleshliness — in short, the unity and totality of the divine which is His own original essence is found in His humanity.”  Okay, let me unpack that a bit.  Barth believed that Jesus Christ came to earth not to highlight the vast difference between God and humanity, but to reveal to the fullest the image of God cast into the mold of every human creature.  We believe that we were made in the image of God, and in the person of Jesus Christ, we see that fully.  Although Jesus performs miracles and feeds thousands and rises from the dead, we see what God is like most clearly in the simple, everyday life of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus makes friends, he reveals a God who exists in relationship with the world.  When Jesus eats, he reveals a God who sustains and provides for the needs of the people.  When Jesus listens to those in need, he reveals a God who cares deeply about the welfare of God’s children.  When Jesus touches lepers and outcasts, he reveals a God who breaks down human barriers that divide and oppress.  When Jesus weeps, sleeps, laughs, breathes, and dies, he reveals a God who frees us to live fully into who we were created to be and gives meaning to our frailty and humanity.  In the person of Jesus Christ, we see a God who can not only relate with us as humans, but a God who is with us as humans, alongside us, standing in solidarity with creation.  In Jesus Christ, we see the glory of God revealed in the image of God forged in each of us.  In the imperfections, in the limits of our ability and life, in the differences that form us into the beautiful human tapestry, God is with us and in us.  Jesus reveals to us not the grand difference between how big God is and how puny we are, rather Jesus reveals to us the glory of the divine image resting within each of us.

As the travel weary trio approached Emmaus at dusk, Cleopas turned to the stranger. “Come” he says, “stay with us and have some dinner.”  Entering the house, the three sat around a worn wooden table that had been set with a simple meal.  The stranger said a blessing, took the loaf of bread before them in his hands, and began breaking the bread into pieces to share.  Cleopas shook his head and blinked.  It was as if he was seeing this stranger that had walked with them for the first time.  The glory of God shown through this simple action, and he saw that this was no ordinary man – this man was Jesus Christ, the son of God who still bore the marks of the cross.  In the breaking of bread, Cleopas realized that God had come to his home, not as the radiant, powerful king they had once believed him to be, but a human – full of the image of God.  A God who eats.

As the street weary homeless gathered in the sanctuary of the Haywood Street Congregation, they settled themselves in the pews alongside our youth.  The congregation was like nothing I had experience before, homeless men and women, some asleep, some drunk, some talking quietly to those sitting next to them, were nestled beside men and women in business attire, youth in T-Shirts, and at least 5 or 6 dogs.  The Wednesday afternoon service began, prayers, joyful music, and a brief message which invited the people to comment or question the preacher during the sermon.  Then the two pastors approached the table, set with bread and cups of juice, flowers, sea shells, candles, and a small wooden cross.  After the bread was broken, I watched as the pastors asked if there was anyone in the pews who would like to be a server.  I watched in amazement as the homeless man with the Mohawk came forward and took half a loaf of bread in his hands.  He stood, smiling kindly next to an older black woman in a thrift store dress with short, graying hair.  The music swelled and I watched as a man in a wheel chair came forward for communion.  The homeless man smiled, broke off a piece of bread, dipped it in his partners cup, and placed the piece of bread into the man’s open mouth.  Then he smiled again and touched the man’s face in one of the most loving gestures I’d ever seen.  Tears in my eyes, I sat stunned, my eyes opened, as if I had just seen this man for the first time.  The image of God shown so fiercely in that moment that I was rendered speechless.  Mesmerized by the scene, all I could think to myself was “That, that right there. That’s what God looks like.”

Sisters and brothers, in the fully human and fully divine person of Jesus Christ, we are made to see within others and ourselves the glory of the image of God.  Not in any supernatural or all-powerful sense, but in the ways common to our life together.  We see at the same time, a God who names the stars and a God who sleeps beneath them.  We see a God for whom all things were made and a God who works in a carpenter’s shop.  We see a God who commands bread to fall from heaven and a God who eats it.  Friends, hear the good news of Gospel, God is with us and within us, here at this table, at our kitchen tables, and at the tables of the world, breaking bread, opening eyes, and revealing the glory of God in every man, woman, and child.  Amen.