Think. Serve. Worship. Belong.

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Pentecost 2013

John 20: 19-29

Genesis 11: 1-9

 Leonard Cohen once wrote, “A scar is what happens when the word is made flesh.” A lot of us know that, and know it profoundly. We know that love hurts. We know it when our loved ones are declining in health, and there’s nothing to do about it. We know it when our children take risks and make mistakes or simply seem so vulnerable and we can’t help them or they don’t let us help them.  We know it when we’re shocked, stunned, and grieved by a disaster of regional impact, like the recent tornadoes or the explosion in West. We know it when there’s a disaster of national impact, like 9-11 or the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and we all feel vulnerable and want to dig a hole and hide.

When the Word has been made flesh in our lives, and the Divine has touched our hearts and souls, we’re vulnerable. We’re certain to get wounded.

That’s how Jesus’ disciples felt, hiding in the upper room, fearful of arrest after Jesus’ crucifixion. They want to dig a deep hole and pull it in after them. Why did we take the risk to care, why do we take the risk to love somebody like Jesus, when there’s so much pain involved—we love Him and He dies—we serve Him and we put ourselves at risk of arrest and death. That’s what you get when love someone! That’s what you get when dare to serve a higher purpose! You get wounded. A wound is what happens when the word is made flesh—and that’s especially true of following Jesus, the very one who Scripture calls “The Word made flesh.”

In our Genesis reading today, we read the story of people who made a different decision. The story of the Tower of Babel is set after the Great Flood that devastates the earth, and people say, let’s build a big Gated Community, high up into the sky, that keeps us safe from all the risks of this deadly world. If we live in a big tower, no flood will ever harm us and we’ll be safe!

God thwarts their plans. You see, we may not like it—we may ask deep theological questions about why things have to be this way—but what it finally comes down to is that it’s not human to be safe. That’s not how we’re built. We’re built to love—and therefore to lose. We’re built to learn from our mistakes, which assumes we make them;  and we do. We’re built to dare to know people who are different from us, to figure out how to live with them, despite all the risks physical, psychological, and spiritual that come with that.

We’re built to overreach, to go beyond our natural limits. This is where we often misunderstand the story of the Tower of Babel. We see it as humans reaching for the sky!  We see it as humanity daring to step beyond its limits, and then God feels threatened by our boldness, and so God strikes it down!

But it’s not that. It’s the opposite. It’s humanity using it’s shared ingenuity to keep ourselves safe from harm, to rise above the dirt and grit and chaos and potential flood-risks of life, when that actually can’t be done; and if we were able to completely cut ourselves off from risk, we’d also be cutting ourselves off from love, because loving anyone or anything is the ultimate risk; we’d also be cutting ourselves off from real spiritual and moral growth, because that can only come from taking chances; and worst of all, we’d be cutting ourselves off from God, because God made us so that our greatest advances, both individually and as a community, whether moral, spiritual, psychological, or intellectual, come because we’ve taken risks, failed, and learned from our mistakes.

And so we return today to the frightened disciples, hiding away in a locked room. And Jesus appears to them, and His first words are “Peace be with you”! Peace be with you, even though you know that every time you love someone you’ll lose them, but peace be with you!—because love is worth it. Peace be with you!—because if you stand up for what’s right in the world, you will certainly have mud slung at you, you will certainly be criticized and put down for being impractical and unrealistic, you will likely even be persecuted and in many parts of the world arrested, tortured, executed—but peace be with you,  because what you’re doing is worth it!

A hard message to believe. And so Jesus gives them the greatest gift of all—the Holy Spirit, God living inside of us, empowering us to do what’s right, giving us discernment to tell God’s will from human will, enabling us to do what Jesus did and more, and most of all ennobling our well-meant actions, so that though they are flawed by our own limitations and misunderstandings, the Holy Spirit enables those flawed human attempts to do God’s work on earth to have a powerful impact for God’s Kingdom far out of proportion to the effort we made. Thanks to the Holy spirit, God’s word is made flesh, made living reality in our lives and in the world.

But the word is never made flesh without scars.

We often paint Thomas as “The Doubter,” as the guy who needed the physical proof that this was really Jesus risen alive, in the flesh, from the dead. But what if Thomas actually was the disciple with the most faith? What if, unlike the other disciples, he understood that for this apparition to be the true, risen Jesus, He’d have to have the wounds and scars of His human life?  Because without those scars, Jesus couldn’t be the risen Word made flesh. It was the scars that made Him the savior. It was the scars that proved He was and is the Son of God. He had His scars because He loves us. He had His scars because He dared to do God’s will. Anyone who claimed to be the Risen Lord, but didn’t have those scars, was a liar or a figment of the disciples’ imagination.

The essence of what we Christians believe, is that Jesus is God made human, The Word made Flesh. And the essence of Jesus being God made human, the Word being made flesh, is this: God didn’t avoid the scars. On the contrary, God, who should be immune from the scars and wounds of human life, actually deliberately took those scars and wounds for God’s self.

And we who follow Him, we can’t avoid the scars, either. Not if we dare to love others—to love the world—to love God. We aren’t doing any good for God or for the world, or for the people we love, if we aren’t taking risks that will certainly wound us.

But the blessing of the Holy Spirit is that the scars are the proof that the Word has been made flesh. Those scars and wounds are what hold the Divine Power to heal the wounds of the world—to draw all humanity into reconciled relationship with God and with one another—those scars we dare to receive are the scars that bring about the Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world.

And those scars are for us individually the doorway to our own spiritual growth, so that we love more deeply, are more profoundly empathetic to the suffering of others, live more courageously, and more bound to and aware of God’s healing will for the world.

Those scars are the proof that God’s Word is made flesh in us.