Posted by: dacalu | 25 December 2017

Embarrassing Particularity

I spent Christmas morning with the wonderful folks at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle.  Here is my Christmas sermon.


Prayer for the Feast of the Nativity (Jesus’ Birth)

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.



Isaiah 52:7-10 (“all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God”)

Psalm 98 (“Sing a new song to God”)

Hebrews 1:1-12 (“He is the reflection of God’s glory)

John 1:1-14 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”)



Sometimes, it takes a personal touch.
Sometimes, you have to hear from someone who was there.
That is the primary mystery of Christianity,
	that Jesus Christ,
		God from God, light from light, true God from true God,
		is both the fundamental order in the universe
		and a tangible, historical person.
It is also the secondary mystery of Christianity,
	that you and I, in our frustrating humanness,
		are exactly what the world needs.

I don’t know about you, 
but I spend a ridiculous amount of time
wishing I was somebody else.
I wish I were a politician, with the skills for leadership,
	and making people understand each other,
	necessary to get us out of the political mess we find ourselves in.
I wish I were an entrepreneur and advertiser, 
with the skills for business
	that would allow me to help people and make money.
I wish I were called to be a full-time pastor,
	to take on a congregation,
	and grow the type of community
	that is central to the faith.

And this is all very funny,
	because I wish other people were different as well.
I wish that people were the type of voters who would choose me
	to be their politician.
I wish that people were the type of consumers who would choose
	whatever it is I’d be selling.
I wish that people were the type of Christians who would choose
	the kind of community I value.

All of those things are partly true.
I am – sort of – that kind of person.
Other people are – sort of – that kind of person as well,
but it all works so much better if we simply show up.

Jesus Christ gives me the courage to show up
	as I am, with the gifts I have,
	and say, here I am, Lord.
	What would you have me do?
The church gives me the courage to show up
	without expectations about other people,
	so that I can open my eyes
		to who they are,
		what they need,
		and what they have to offer.

Jesus does this in the incarnation.
I believe that Jesus did not know what would be asked of him.
We did not expect a child Messiah.
We did not expect a poor carpenter from Nazareth.
We did not expect a homeless martyr.
But that was what we needed.

Throughout scripture we get stories of the people we weren’t expecting:
	the bold adventurer Abraham and the con-man Jacob,
	the accountant Joseph and the murder Moses,
	the prostitute Rahab, 
	the overeager king Saul and the reluctant king David, 
	the somewhat dull Peter and the too smart Pharisee Paul,
	the contemplative Mary and the industrious Martha.
But they were each what we needed.
They were, each of them, an ambassador for God,
	when God reached out into the world.

God is everywhere.
God is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.
God is the order behind the orderly universe,
	and the surprising change behind the mysterious universe.
God is the light, by which we see,
	but also, strangely, the primordial dark – 
	the canvas on which creation was painted.

Such a God is hard to wrap our heads around.
Indeed, we say that we cannot.
G.K. Chesterton put it well:
	“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. 
	It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. 
	And it is his head that splits.”
As Christians, we are accused of being unrealistic, illogical,
	and, at times we are,
	but the things most troubling to the world
	are our belief in the transcendent God,
		our belief in the immanent Jesus,
		and our believe that our daily lives matter
			in the grand scheme of the universe.
These are statements of which we should be most proud,
	the beliefs we must hold most dear.
For the world really is greater than we know.
	Humility and perspective demand that the world
		is greater than we can imagine,
		deeper and fuller and richer than reason and logic alone.
	This is not an excuse to ignore reason and logic.
	It is anything but an excuse to ignore the evidence and our senses.
	It means paying attention to the boundaries of reality and our grasp of it.
	When we know that God as Creator is
		as a statement about our limits 
		and not about our dogmatic certainty,
	God as Creator forms the core of our reason.
	God is transcendent, because we need a word 
		that captures something 
		more than “mystery” or “ineffability” or even “wonder.”
	Wilderness may be a good for it,
		or “mystery” in the Greek sense.
	God is not only transcendent, but the kind of 
		transcendence that has power over us.
	We confess that there is always a powerful, important “more.”
	In this, I truly believe that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.”

As to the immanent Jesus,
	that is a harder claim, a difficult claim.
There is something embarrassing about committing to one person,
	out of the billions of humans in the history of earth.
There is something embarrassing about the particularity of Christ.
	We run the risk of being wrong.
Some of my friends would have me believe in an abstract Savior,
	or an even more abstract ethical principle or cosmic force.
These will not do.
We need Jesus because a concrete Savior has concrete consequences.
	He makes real, specific demands on our lives, our money, our priorities.

A concrete Savior means that we really are
	right or wrong about what he wants,
	right or wrong in our ethical choices,
	right or wrong about what we do with our lives.
More importantly, it means that we can discover the truth about these things.
If Christ is abstract, then we can argue ad nauseum;
	if Christ is concrete, we can ask him what to do,
	we can judge ourselves by the standard he sets.
I do not mean we can simply read the bible,
	or listen to a preacher,
	or follow a doctrine of the church.
Those things would be all in all if we were dealing with opinion.
A real, concrete Christ that communicates with us,
	means that we can always, must always,
	question the bible and the preacher and the church,
	and judge them by Christ Jesus, incarnate, distinct, real.

God is everywhere,
	but first God is here.
If I cannot convince you of that in this place – this sanctuary
	on this day, then there is no hope.
Because that is our mission, 
	to take God, encountered concretely here,
	in bread, wine, and one another,
	and take it out into the world.
We learn to recognize here,
	what we come to see everywhere.
We learn to speak here
	of a truth that must be true everywhere,
	or it cannot be true at all.

I want to be very careful.
Too often Christians have taken our truth
	to mean that other people must be false.
Too often Christians have taken our salvation
	to mean that other people must be lost.
If the concrete God were all there was,
	perhaps this would be true.
If we only had Jesus Christ of Nazareth, our concrete God,
	we would be safe in such exclusions.
That, however, is not the faith handed down to us.
	That is not the faith of our fathers and mothers.
	That is not the faith of the bible and the church.
	And, I cannot speak for you, but that is not the man Jesus I have met.

The concrete, specific Jesus came in the context of Yahweh,
	the God of Hosts, the Almighty, 
	the maker of heaven and earth,
	of all that is, seen and unseen.
Jesus called this God, “Father,”
	and John called Jesus, “the Word.”
	“He was in the beginning with God. 
		All things came into being through him, 
		and without him not one thing came into being. 
	What has come into being in him was life, 
		and the life was the light of all people.”
The paradox we face is that the immanent God,
	the tangible, historical God,
	is also the transcendent God,
		whose face we cannot gaze upon.
That God is at the very limit of what we can understand,
	what we can be.

It is a paradox,
	but I think it is a necessary paradox.
Philosophers have been struggling with it
	from the beginnings of recorded philosophy.
	Parmenides and Heraclitus.
	Or, if you prefer, “Tat Tvam Asi” from Chandogya Upanishad.
Life is interesting, because we transcend ourselves.
	We miraculously change, while staying the same.
	We become more than we are.

I am going to tell you that Christ is important,
	because he is both immanent and transcendent,
	truly God and truly with us.
I am going to tell you that you are important,
	Because you are embarrassingly particular.
Whoever you are, that is God’s gift to the world.
	You may be a gift, because of something beautiful you share with the world.
	You may be a gift, because of something tragic you overcome.
	You may be a gift, because of a hidden wholeness,
		that fulfills your community,
		or a visible emptiness that, 
by being filled, draws people together.

You may not know what your gift is, 
	but your neighbor does.
	Ask her.
	Ask God.
All of you are important.
All of you are necessary to the health of the world.
Otherwise you would not be here.

People ask me to be specific, so let me be specific.
Show up.
Show up for people when no-one else will.
	Show up for your friends and relatives in the hospital.
	If you have none, show up for someone else in the hospital.
	Show up for students and listen to teachers.
Show up for people on the streets asking for your attention.
	Yes, them.
You are scared of them because they might change your perspective.
	They are embarrassingly particular 
and they remind us that we, too, are embarrassingly particular.
They might approve or disapprove,
	teach or learn,
	heal or hurt.

You have God to bring with you –
the embarrassingly particular God of Christianity.
That God tells us that we are each,
	in our soul and our baptism,
		in our faith, hope, and love,
		a sacrament of the transcendent God,
		an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
That God tells us that 
physically breaking bread together,
	touching and washing one another, 
caring for the sick,
	and forgiving sins 
makes the world a better place,
	makes us better people.

I wish I knew how to say it better.
I wish I knew how to do it better,
	but I can only try and begin.
Risk your particularity.
Risk the particularity of your neighbors.
Risk the particularity of Christ.

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; 
yet the world did not know him. 
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, 
he gave power to become children of God, 
who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh 
or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, 
and we have seen his glory, 
the glory as of a father's only son, 
full of grace and truth.”

“Come, let us adore him.”

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