1 Corinthians 12:4-13
During the past six months of the church year, we have once again journeyed with Jesus through the remarkable events of his life: During the Season of Advent, we awaited his coming, During the short Season of Christmas we witnessed his birth as a tiny, new born infant and worshiped him with the shepherds and the wise men. During the Season of Epiphany, we heard Simeon predict the events that were to come. We began the Season of Lent by following Jesus into the wilderness - Forty days later, we entered Jerusalem with Jesus riding on a donkey - and then began that most holy week of all - that week which culminates in the resounding cry that we hear on Easter morning:: Alleluia, Christ is risen The Lord is risen in deed. Alleluia! And with these words, the Season of Easter is begun - a season during which we celebrate the remarkable news of the resurrection - the news that Jesus did not die, but that he lives.
These past six months have been quite a journey - a journey which records the landmark events in the life of Jesus - the man who is God, yet also human. It's the story of the central mystery of Christianity - the story of the incarnation which means that God became human, though still remained God. We have celebrated this remarkable story for over 2000 years now.
When we think of the incarnation, most of us think of it this way: God walked on this earth, physically, for thirty-three years, he died, he rose, and then he returned to heaven. When he left, he sent the Holy Spirit to be present among us - but the actual physical body of Jesus was gone forever.
Jesus was here on earth healing, teaching, and revealing God in all of God's compassion and love for 33 years. But he is not actually here anymore - he's in heaven. The incarnation - that time when God was physically present and walked among us is over. And while the Holy Spirit is real - the Spirit is not the actual physical presence of God. Some days I find myself wishing that Jesus were still here - right now - in the flesh, so that I could touch him and feel him and actually hear his voice and see the compassion in his eyes.
There is a lovely little story about a child who woke up one night after a frightening nightmare. She was convinced that there were all kinds of monsters and goblins lurking under her bed and in the corners of her room. She ran to her parents' bedroom and after her mother had calmed her down, she took the child back to her own room and said, "You don't need to be afraid, you aren't alone here. God is right here with you in your room." The little girl said, "I know that God is here, but I need someone in my room that has some skin on!"
We all need a God who has some skin on. We need God to be present here and now, in the flesh, in 2004 in Little Falls, Minnesota. - someone we can hear and touch and smell and see.
Most of us don't find God in some obscure setting - like a remote mountain monastery. Most of us need to find God in the kitchen, and in the backyard, and in the parking lot, and on the phone. We need God to hold us when we are discouraged. We need God to give us a gentle kick in the butt when we ignore someone in need. We need a God with some skin .
Ronald Rolheiser, in his book - The Holy Longing - suggests that our limited understanding of the incarnation is what makes it so hard for us to find that real, live, physically present God in our lives today. He notes that our rather short-sighted perspective gives the impression that the incarnation was a thirty-three year experiment; a one-shot excursion by God into human history...and now - it's over. You know if that were really true, I think I'd suggest that we just close up shop, give everyone a pat on the back, and then head on out to make the best of it on our own.
The incarnation didn't just suddenly come to an end when Jesus ascended to heaven. The incarnation is still going on - it's just as physically real today as it was when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine.
When the Holy Spirit came to fill up those believers on that very first Pentecost - after Jesus had gone back to heaven - God once again took on flesh. God got some skin. Oh not in the way it happened when Jesus was born - for Jesus was God - and we all know that no other human being can actually be God! But in another way, through the Holy Spirit, God took on flesh once again - and ever since God has been sending us the Holy Spirit for that same reason. By giving us the Holy Spirit, God awakens in each of us the gifts that God needs to continue to be here and present in this weary old world.
That first Pentecost, God became dependent upon human beings in a whole new way - and God has been dependent on us ever since.
The season of Pentecost has arrived. It's sometimes called the Season of Ordinary Time - it's that long six months or so when nothing too exciting happens in the liturgical calendar, when the vestments and alter linens are always green. It lasts until the Season of Advent arrives, and once again we find ourselves waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.
As much as I love the seasons of Advent and Christmas, of Epiphany, Lent and Easter, I suspect that in many ways, the long, seemingly boring season of Pentecost is perhaps the most important season of the church year - because it's the season when God once again fills us up with the Holy Spirit so that we can be renewed in the Body of Christ and continue to make sure that God has skin. It's the season when we are called to allow those gifts with which God has blessed us to be used so that those who need God in their lives - a real, physical God with skin - will be able to find that God. Jesus did it 2000 years ago - but now God is depending on us to do it.
St. Teresa of Avila captured it so well when she wrote:
Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ's compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which
He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which
He is to bless us now. *
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus - God made human. On Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the church - where God is given skin in the Body of Christ. It seems to me that these past six months we've traveled with our Saviour, have been something like a dress rehearsal. And now we're at opening night. Ready or not, the curtain has been lifted - and it's all up to us now to make sure that the show goes on.
During this Season of Pentecost - what are each one of us going to do to ensure that the incarnation continues to live on in us as the Body of Christ - so that all those in our communities who are so in need of God's unconditional love will be able to find it - by finding a God with skin.
A God ... who will hold them when they need to be held, who will fix a leaky faucet for a cup of coffee, who will comfort and reassure them when they are afraid,
A God... who will laugh with them when they are delighted , who will run an errand for them when they are homebound, who will pick up the phone to let someone know that they are being thought of, who will mourn with them when they grieve,
A God... who will house them when they are homeless, feed them when they are hungry, and visit them when they are in prison, who will sit silently with them when they simply need a quiet companion by their side.
What are your gifts from the Spirit?
Are you ready - to allow God to use them during this season of Ordinary Time?
Remember - God is depending on us.
Many of the thoughts about the incarnation were inspired by the writing of Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing: The Search For A Christian Spirituality
* Attributed to St. Teresa of Avila and quoted in The Holy Longing , p. 73