The God Who Goes Camping

John 1:1-9

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I know that you all have been wondering about the tohu vabohu, and today we find the answer. The Word created the chaotic emptiness.

Last week we looked at the creation story found in Genesis 1 where God spoke the world as we know it into existence. God took disorder and ordered it; God took chaos and formed a complex system of life out of it. And God saw all that he had made and said, “It is good.”

As good as all of that was, you may have noticed that someone did not have a very prominent role in last Sunday’s sermon. I’m not sure that I mentioned Jesus at all. That won’t be the case today. Today we are looking at John’s rather unique creation story and using this as our guide for understanding the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Next week we will conclude this unintentional sermon series with a focus on the Holy Spirit.

When we talk about Jesus, there are generally two ways to go about it: through High Christology and Low Christology. These are just fancy ways of differentiating between Jesus’s divinity and his humanity. If you try to understand Jesus by looking at his divinity, that is a High Christology. If you start with his humanity, that is a Low Christology. The “high” and “low” are not meant to represent a hierarchy as much as they are a reference to Jesus being “up there” in heaven, versus being “down here” on earth.

Often, we in the Mennonite Church focus on a Low Christology. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is (and I am only speaking for myself here) that I usually preach from the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John spend most of their time describing the life and teachings of Jesus. And since the life and teachings of Jesus take place on earth, this is a Low Christology. Another reason that we often start with a Low Christological approach is because we believe that the earthly Jesus reveals the heavenly Jesus. Jesus often says things like, “I and the Father are one,” and “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” So if you want to understand the divinity of Jesus, you can look at his humanity. Jesus doesn’t change once he ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

But today’s text is a bit different. In fact, I would say that all of the Gospel of John is a bit different from the other three gospels. John focuses on different aspects of Jesus’s life and John emphasizes the divinity of Jesus. And I think that it is important for us to not focus so much on Jesus’s humanity that we neglect his divinity. For this reason, I’m thankful for the balance that John’s gospel brings.

Just look at the way the gospels of Matthew and Luke both start with Jesus’s genealogy and birth. Mark starts with a full-grown Jesus beginning his public ministry. And what does John do? John goes all the way back to “the beginning.” Before anything was created, even before the chaotic emptiness, there was “the Word.” You have to read a bit into John’s gospel before he reveals who this “Word” is, but we know the Word to be the one we call Jesus.

This is High Christology at its best. Fancy-talkin’ people like to call this “The pre-existence of Jesus.” Before anything was, Jesus was. This is another reason why we often start with Low Christology. High Christology can get pretty philosophical and abstract!

Verse 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is probably the clearest statement that we have in the Bible concerning Jesus’s divinity. I mean, how much clearer can we get than to say “and the Word was God.”?

But why in the world would John describe Jesus as the eternal Word, or “logos” in Greek? I would probably use a lot of other words before using the word logos to describe Jesus.

It is difficult to say if John was writing to Jews or Greeks, but I really don’t think that matters too much here because both the Hebrew and Greek people had a similar understanding of the “logos.” Logos could describe a word, but it was also a way of understanding and communicating with God. Think of all of the times that God revealed something about himself in the Old Testament. God spoke to Adam in the Garden, to Abraham in Ur, to Moses through the burning bush. When the prophets received a message from God, they often began by exclaiming, “The word of the Lord came upon me.” God’s primary way of revealing himself to the world was through the spoken word. Even the list that we commonly call the Ten Commandments is never called the Ten Commandments in the Bible. It is called the Ten Words in Hebrew.

I would say that the “word” or the “logos” served two main purposes in the Old Testament: the logos was God’s method of revealing himself to his people and connecting to the people.

I also think that John had something else in mind when he spoke of Jesus as the logos. I don’t think that it is by accident that when John calls Jesus the logos, he is also describing the creation of the world. I think that this helps to tie Jesus and God the Father together in the creation narrative. How did God order creation? He spoke it into being. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Again, God is speaking, and the Word, the logos is creating.

John goes on to further identify Jesus with the creation story from Genesis in verses 4-5, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Words, speaking, light, shining.

What John is clearly attempting to do is to connect Jesus and God. Jesus is God, God is Jesus. And somehow the Holy Spirit fits into all of this thing that we call the Trinity.

For the remainder of today’s message I want to focus on verse 14, which says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Word became flesh. That’s huge, people! The Logos, the method of God’s revelation, God’s communication to his people became a human being. As someone who focuses a lot on Low Christology and the humanity of Jesus, I will admit that Low Christology only matters because the person we call Jesus is actually God in human form. But our modern translations don’t even do this passage justice, because where the NIV says “made his dwelling among us,” the original Greek actually says something more like “did tabernacle among us.”

The Word became flesh and did tabernacle among us. That’s beautiful, isn’t it? No, it doesn’t really make sense. That’s why the NIV says “made his dwelling among us.” But if we really look into that phrase, we will find a term that we are at least somewhat familiar with: tabernacle.

In the Old Testament, before Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the people worshipped in a tabernacle. The tabernacle was essentially a tent, or a series of tents, that the Hebrew people made as they wandered in the wilderness after coming out of Egypt. Inside the main tabernacle tent was the Holy of Holies, the room where the Arc of the Covenant was stored.

One of my favorite translations of John 1:14 is not in print any more. Rather than saying that Jesus dwelled among us or did tabernacle, it said that Jesus pitched his tent among us.

I’m not a big camper, and when I do go camping, I’m often not a happy camper. I have a nice, soft bed in a climate-controlled home with running water, food, and other staples. I like nature, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t need to live in it.

My wife enjoys camping a bit more than I do, and my children seem to be taking after her in this way. We have previously borrowed tents from friends and done a little camping in our backyard. But this year for Christmas, we finally purchased a tent for our family. Which means, we will probably be camping a lot more in the future.

We sometimes call camping “roughing it.” This simply implies that we are doing without the modern conveniences with which many of us have become accustomed. For John to say that the Word became flesh and set up a tent among us is to say that God was roughing it. God was doing without the conveniences he to which he was accustomed as he became a human and lived here on earth. But there is a big difference between the way Jesus “camped” here on earth and the way we often think about camping. Jesus camped “among us,” not out in the wilderness all alone. Or, if I can give you one more translation of John 1:14, this time from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

This past week our world witnessed yet another terrorist attack, this time in Paris, France. Three gunmen entered a satirical newspaper called Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve employees and injuring eleven more. Video even shows one of the gunmen shooting an injured, unarmed man who had made it outside from point-blank range.

If you are not familiar with the genre of satirical newspapers, essentially what they do is present a critique of society and culture by mocking an aspect of it either through written and often untrue stories or through political cartoons. In the United States, this practice is protected under the 1st Amendment, which grants us freedom of speech. We are allow to say things, even when others will not appreciate it. But sometimes people don’t take well to being mocked or having something dear to their lives mocked. And that’s why the newspaper was attacked.

In the days following the shooting at Charlie Hebdo many journalists and cartoonists around the world started including a simple phrase in their work: Je sui Charlie. We are Charlie.

Well, actually, they are not Charlie, and we are not Charlie. In fact, some of the cartoonists and journalists that were saying Je sui Charlie are far from Charlie. Some are Charlie’s competitors in the marketplace. Others find themselves at the other end of the political spectrum.

I don’t think that I really understood the phrase until I was scrolling through some of the political cartoons that were created in response to the terrorist attack. One cartoon showed two pencils standing upright with an airplane about to fly into it. Clearly, this was meant as a reminder of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. What the cartoonist was trying to do was to show solidarity with the people of France. Like the phrase Je sui Charlie, the American cartoonist was showing a sense on understanding. Understanding because we’ve been there.

We know what it is like to question why something bad has happened. We know what it is like to fear for our safety and the safety of others. We know what it is like to question the motives of someone else. And we know what it is like to care for someone we have never met, to hold the hand of a complete stranger, because they too know what it feels like.

There is something inherent in all human beings that unites us over our shared experiences. I can feel sorry for someone that loses a spouse. But I can’t connect with them like someone else that has lost a spouse can. I can try to comfort someone when they get that scary diagnosis, but those who have had a similar diagnosis connect at a much deeper level.

The book of Hebrews spends some time focusing on the incarnation of Jesus and even goes so far as to tell us why Jesus took on human flesh. Chapter 2:17-18 says, “For this reason [Jesus] had to be made like [human beings], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

I don’t want to overstate this, but that is pretty strong language. Jesus became fully human, set up his tent among us, and moved into our neighborhood so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest. To understand the suffering of his people, Jesus had to become one of us. Jesus, God, had to live among us in solidarity with us.

There are a number of phrases that come and go in Christianity to describe how we do what we do or what category we would like to be placed. We call ourselves evangelical, fundamentalist, Catholic, Presbyterian, and so on. One of these terms that I’m seeing used from time to time is “incarnational,” as in, “I’m an incarnational Christian. The idea is that we are trying to be a representation of Jesus here on earth. We are trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Last week we talked about the chaotic emptiness that God hovers over in the creation narrative and how our God is a God who seeks to bring about things that are “good” in the midst of the chaotic emptiness of life. But we didn’t get very practical. How does God enter into the chaotic emptiness, the tohu vabohu? He sets up a tent and moves in.

I believe that as Christians we are called to help people in need. Whether that is a person starving in Ethiopia or homeless in our own neighborhood. Friend or enemy, Christian or otherwise, we are called to love others as Christ loved us. That’s the purpose of the story of the Good Samaritan. So I would never say that helping someone is a bad thing. But I do believe that there are better ways of helping people; more Christ-like ways of helping others.

It is probably easier for us to send money to some organization with national headquarters half-way across the country than to actually be an incarnational Christian. But I believe that we are most effective when we reach out to those in our own neighborhood, people that we might actually run into at the grocery store or in the park. We are called to build relationships with people, to actually get to know their names and their families, their hobbies and their interests. Yes, sending money to Mennonite Central Committee is a good thing, but I’m going to go one step further and say that volunteering at the Valley Mission is more incarnational. Sending money to larger organizations is good if it helps to fund someone else’s incarnational witness. Supporting a worker as they drill wells for drinking water in Haiti is a good thing. But it doesn’t get us off the hook. We are followers of the divine logos, the incarnate Christ. And as his followers, we are called to pitch a tent, to move into the neighborhood when others are in need.

We serve a God who came to this world in flesh and blood, as one of us. And that God has called us to continue his work here on earth. When the chaotic emptiness of this world seems to be too much for someone, we are called to put up a tent and move into their neighborhood. We bake casseroles, watch children, and help people find work. We love people as a witness to the divine love of the pre-existent logos.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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