God with Skin On

Large group of people in the cross shape.
A sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017. The lectionary readings are Acts 17:22-31Psalm 66:7-181 Peter 3:13-22, and John 14:15-21

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Today’s scriptures remind me of an old preacher’s story about a little girl who can’t get to sleep. She knocks on the door of her parents’ room and says, “I can’t sleep.” One parent gets up, goes with the little girl child back to her room, gets her back into bed, and tries to offer reassurance and comfort. The parent says, “You know that we love you, right?” “Yes,” nods the child. “And you know that God loves you, right?” “Yes,” again, says the little girl.  “And you know that God will be right here with you, watching over you all night long. You know that, too, don’t you?” The little girl says yes, and smiles as the parent kisses her good night and turns out the light.

A few minutes later, there’s a knock on the parents’ door. “Yes?” they ask.  The little girl explains, “I know God is with me all night long. But can I still sleep with you? Right now, I need God with skin on.”

“God with skin on” is the God I worship and serve, the God we celebrate and praise in this place, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses and Miriam, the God of David and Bathsheba, the God of Mary and Joseph who became incarnate—who was made flesh—in order to live and walk and love and die and rise again for us. Ours is a God with skin on.

In our first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul interacts with some sophisticated people. He’s in Athens and has come to the Areopagus (the hill of Ares, or for the Romans, Mars Hill). It was a great place of meeting in Athens. It was a place where the philosophers debated—the Epicureans, the Stoics, and all the other parties advocating one way of reason or truth as opposed to another. And while Paul respects his audience, and takes seriously their various beliefs, he nonetheless articulates his own view. Even more powerfully, he spells out his belief borne out of his own experience.

Paul says, “As I went through your city, saw an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” “Well, I’m here to tell you,” says Paul, that “what you worship as unknown, I can proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he is Lord of heaven and earth. God doesn’t live in shrines made by human hands, and is not served by human hands. God doesn’t need anything, but rather, it is God who has given to all mortals life and breath and all things.” Paul goes on to quote a saying that seems to have been known by everyone in Athens, “For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, there’s a connection we’re born with, we’re created in God’s image. We are flesh and blood, of divine design, consecrated, made holy, made new by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and made new every day that we awaken with faith in him.

Jesus is God with skin on. And faith in Jesus Christ is an embodied faith. Faith is dead if it just exists in prayers that are said, or sung, or imagined. Faith only lives when it is embodied, when it is enacted. Though we don’t work our way into heaven, or gets God’s attention or blessing by working especially hard or holy; as St. James says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

“God with skin on” is a way of explaining what the church means by “incarnation.”  It’s faith becoming flesh, but also faith becoming material, becoming real—whatever that might look like in our own lives.  We read in scripture that “Faith without works, is dead.”  But often, I think many (and many of us, perhaps) work with faith every day, but we don’t always notice it, or make much of it.

Too often, we tend to separate in our minds the things we do and think and say when we’re at church, from the things we do and say and think during the week at work. But if your body shows up for work, you are taking Christ there. If your heart is in the office, then a sanctified and redeemed soul is also at your desk.

Dorothy Sayers put it well when she complained that work and religion had, too much, become separate departments in life.

The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter [she complained] is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church, by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? [Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (London: Methuen, 1947), 58-59, quoted in Armand Larive, After Sunday: A Theology of Work (New York: Continuum, 2004), 64.]

If you work for the city or in the legal profession, let justice and the vision of God be a part of your work. If you teach, let the compassion and humor of Jesus be in your words and teaching. If you drive, then do so with purpose and clarity. If you write or edit, then do it with honesty and integrity. If you deal with people in any way, try to see them as fellow sisters and brothers made in the image of God. If you volunteer, then offer your service in gratitude for all God has done for you.

Whether we make tables, or decision; whether we cook up a meal, or cook up a business deal, we are the Body of Christ moving and shaping the world. We—as we move, and pray, and struggle, and heal, and fall, and are raised up again—we are called to be “God with skin on.”

Frederick Buechner, the preacher and writer, reminds us that, “Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth, but our bodies and our earth themselves.” [Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: a seeker’s ABC (NY: Harper & Row, 1972) 43]

Jesus said to his disciples, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live….They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me… and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Christ reveals himself to us and through us to the world.  Graced by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, may we show the risen Christ to one another and to the world. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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