Just Show Up



JOHN 1:1-14



“Parents have a long list of concerns about children using technology: Will they be hurt by cyber bullying? Or meet with online predators? Will their homework suffer because they’re texting 100 times a day? Are they sexting?

But what about a more basic question like, Will they be able to hold their own in conversation?

Actual conversation is becoming a thing of the past, warn some who study child development, and that’s not good for our kids’ future.

It’s true many of us don’t exercise our face-to-face socialization muscles as frequently as we did before the age of smartphones. Now we have an escape route, a Blackberry or iPhone, available any time a stranger (gasp!) starts up an elevator conversation. But adults at least have experience talking to strangers when forced to. The muscles are there, and we generally don’t worry they’ll atrophy all together.

And writer Dominique Browning made the point in The New York Times last weekend that the extinction of small talk has some upside, especially around the holidays — no more forced niceties at family dinners.

But what about children growing up as dependent on gadgets as this next generation seems to be? What happens to the development of those skills if you’ve had a phone to stare at every time you didn’t want to make eye contact while waiting in line? Can kids these days handle spontaneous social interactions?

“They don’t know how to handle conflict face to face because so many things happen through some sort of technology,” said Melissa Ortega, a child psychologist at New York’s Child Mind Institute. “Clinically, I’m seeing it in the office. The high school kids who I do see will be checking their phones constantly. They’ll use it as an avoidance strategy. They’ll see if they got a text message in the two minutes they were talking to me.”

Conversation takes practice, Ortega said, and a dependence on devices can make it that much harder for children who are already struggling socially.”

These are the words of Katharine Bindley, a Huffington Post writer, reporting on the damaging effects of an increasingly technologically connected world on our youth . Indeed, Robert, my mentor whom you met, his son when he was 15 about four or five years ago would prefer to talk with his friends on facebook chat rather than actually inviting them over to his house. Annie Campbell, an award winning third grade teacher in Richmond, who is the wife of the director of the retreat center I lived in, told me once that this third grade class is the first that she has seen a stark difference in social skills, a difference that she attributes to touchscreens, texting, and smart phones. The car, once the symbol of freedom for America, is being abandoned by many millenials, in favor of the smart phone, the new symbol of freedom for the 21st century. I have talked with several youth during my short time in ministry here that have contemplated suicide and it is a real problem in some local schools I understand. As Robert Putnam, the esteemed social scientist once remarked, we have increasingly become a society where we are bowling alone, involved in all these busy activities, but involved in them by ourselves. We are the most connected and yet disconnected generation in all of human history. We have been let down. Let down by our friends, let down by our parents, let down by the church, let down by the American Dream, let down by corporate America, let down by the politicians who are supposed to serve us. We have heard the old song lean on me, but when push comes to shove, we find no one left to lean on, those people we counted on didn’t show up. So we turn to technology, hobbies, drugs, addiction, every idol that can give us the illusion of intimacy. We try to fill the hole in our hearts but we just seem to keep digging our way to china where I am sure we will get take out instead of sitting down to have a meal with family and friends.

But in today’s passage we are talking about a God who did show up, in a way that is unprecedented in human history. The Eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And as the writer says we have beheld his glory full of grace and truth. Today I want you to understand that the incarnation is about;

  1. Showing Up
  2. Showing Up reveals to us Grace
  3. Showing Up reveals to us truth.
  4. Showing Up leads to transformation.

I think it has been said that 90% of life is just showing up. I think that could be said for ministry as well. Jesus certainly understood the importance of pastoral care, of being present to the world. For the Logos, the active power that shapes the universe, the power by which all things are made, to take on flesh, takes God from an abstraction to a person that we can encounter. The incarnation shows us that presence, being Emmanuel, God with us, is of chief importance to God. Though Jesus taught, healed people, and performed miracles, it was his personal time training and equipping his twelve disciples that laid the foundation of the church. It doesn’t matter how much our technology advances or how much our quality of life may improve because of it, Jesus shows us through his incarnation that nothing can substitute for being present, for just showing up.

In fact, a better translation for the Word becoming flesh and “dwelt” among us would be that the Word became flesh and “Tabernacled” among us. This reminds us of how God traveled with the people of Israel by dwelling in the tabernacle, a portable worship tent that the people of Israel set up in the book of Exodus. In 2 Samuel 7:1-7 the LORD even suggests that it was never his Will for David to build a Temple for God. God apparently preferred the Tabernacle. He preferred being with His people instead of His people coming to him.

Once we see that incarnational ministry, that showing up, is the very foundation of Jesus’ ministry then we discover that this ministry reveals something to us about God, namely we begin to see grace and truth. I find it interesting that John says that we have seen Jesus glory and yet John is the only Gospel that does not have an account of Jesus being transfigured on the mountain. Jesus’ glory is revealed not because his appearance changes, as was the case when Moses came down from the mountain after meeting with God. Instead, Jesus glory, the text suggests is in the very fact that the Logos, the Spiritual, became physical, the Word became Flesh.

Strangely, this is the only point in the Gospel of John where the word “grace” is used though the word Truth is used very often. Often we think of grace and truth in more abstract terms. But the Greek word for Grace, Charis, and the Greek word Alethia are related to the Hebrew words Hesed and Emit. Hesed is God’s steadfast love. It is a love that purses us and transforms us. Emit is God’s commitment to God’s promises. So Grace is not just a forgiveness of wrongs from a legal sense, it is a pursuit of us despite our guilt and shame. Emit, is not just truth in an abstract sense, it is commitment to truth, commitment to one’s promises. So in seeing the incarnate Christ John is saying that the fullness of these characteristics are present in the apparently normal face of this human being.

As a minister I have always been more attracted to the ministry of the Word rather than the sacraments. I have always gotten my energy and my joy in ministry from preaching. Part of this is because I haven’t been able to perform the sacraments. I haven’t been on the other side of the table. But two weeks ago I got to administer the sacraments for the first time. And then the following Monday Lew and I went to administer Communion to some of our shut in members of our church. The Reformed tradition is neither like what would be called the Zwingli tradition nor the Catholic tradition. Zwingli was a reformer who thought that the Lord’s Supper was simply symbolic. In the Catholic tradition they belief in transubstantiation, where the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. In the Reformed tradition, we believe the incarnation happened once, and does not happen with communion, but somehow there is a mystery where the presence of Jesus is spiritually relayed to us. And administering communion for the first time I felt that mystery, that presence. For it isn’t only enough to talk about God’s grace and truth we must experience God’s grace and truth, we must taste and see that the Lord is good and be reminded that Jesus pursues us and that he is committed to his promises for us. Partaking of communion is one way we are reminded of this mystery. It is one way Jesus shows up in a very tangible way in our lives.

Finally, it is clear that showing up, that being faithful to being present in the lives of others, is the key that allows God to work true miracles in our lives. I am reminded of the story of Peter and the lame beggar in Acts chapter 3. Prior to this the disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth. And then Jesus ascends into heaven after only given them basics instructions. So the 120 disciples waited in the upper room and prayed. They didn’t know how long they would have to wait. Scholars think the disciples waited about ten days until the Holy Spirit fell, signaling the birth of the church. And yet, even after the Holy Spirit fell God didn’t really give them more specific instructions about how to make disciples of all the nations. The disciples had witnessed a series of Amazing events, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the coming of the Spirit, but now they are sort of left wondering, “Well that was pretty awesome….now what?” Instead, of waiting around for a booming voice from the sky Peter and John did what any good Jew would do, they continued to go to the Temple three times a day to pray. They just showed up, not knowing what God would do, but knowing that if they kept themselves locked in a room for the rest of their lives probably nothing would get done.

In the story in Acts 3 Peter encounters the lame beggar and by the power of the name of Jesus is able to raise him up and heal him. This causes an ecstatic reaction from the crowds and gives Peter a chance to proclaim the Gospel. But the thing is Peter and John were good Jews, and this man was a beggar who was placed at the Temple gate every day at the ninth hour or 3pm. Chances are that Peter and John had walked past this same beggar dozens or even hundreds of times before and nothing happened. But for some reason this day was a different day. For some reason, this day God had a different plan. They wouldn’t have had such a great miracle happen if they hadn’t been willing to just show up, to just be faithful, to keep going forward even though they didn’t really know how God would accomplish the mission he had sent them on. In the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” This congregation has been sowing for a century or more. And I know it feels like the rains have failed to fall and the harvest has been delayed. But let us not tire of doing good. The harvest is coming. But first we just have to show up.

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