Monday, December 30, 2013

Sermon: The 'Hood

kungphoo neighborhoodSermon for Christmas 1A
9:00 Baptism and 11:15 Lessons and Carols
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, December 29, 2013
Gospel text John 1:1-18
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable to you,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

In the beginning
Well, those are powerful words. 
In every beginning, like the beginning of 2014,
we humans tend to mark beginnings in special ways. 
We set New Year’s resolution, post our “year in review” on Facebook, 
eat and drink ritual foods that only emerge
this time of year.  In the beginning…

Our Gospel today, opens with these profound words,
In the beginning was the Word and
the Word was with god and the Word was God,”
implying that all creation – ever since the beginning –
perceives and witnesses this primordial, sense-making Word. 

Meaning that God’s will and Christ are revealed as eternal,
ever since the very cosmic beginning. 
Does that give you an idea about the length and breadth
and depth of God’s love and existence? 

“In the beginning, not our wishes, hopes, dreams and plans,
but God and God’s Word, and God’s love for the world
that God chooses to create.”[1]

These verses echo Genesis 1:1,
“In the beginning, God created…”
and God creates by speaking. 
God said, “Let there be light; and there was light.”
The Word was not a heavenly being but
a role of God in creation.[2]

The Psalmist attests it in Psalm 33:6,
“…by the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of [God’s] mouth.
for [God] spoke, and it came to be;
[God] commanded and it stood firm.”

These texts and others remind us that
amid life’s chaos, amid our uncertain times,
amid our petty squabbles, amid our societal struggles,
ever since the beginning,
the world belongs to God and Christ always was.

That is to say, God’s intention for humanity
was to love the world right from the start.
God loved us first, so we love in return. 

And in God’s love we are all lit up by Christ,
which is why K. and C. have brought
S. to be baptized today. 
Through God’s love, they were each baptized. 
Through God’s love, they were brought together
to form a family. 
Through God’s love, S. came into their life.

And in the beginning,
even before she made it to their new home,
K. and C. brought S. to the church,
their faith community, for a blessing. 
In the beginning…

So with an eye and an ear for God’s Love in this family,
we take a special interest today in the middle verses,
“…to all who received him, to all who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God (to be adopted),
who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or
of the will of [human] but of God.” 

In the beginning…
Today, through the sacrament of baptism,
God adopts S. as God’s child. 
God makes her a member of the Body of Christ,
and an inheritor of the kingdom of God. 
K. and C., your gift to S.
gives her citizenship in the body of Christ
and redemption by God.
She becomes our sister in Christ. How cool is that?!

“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.” 

Eugene Peterson, in his interpretation of the bible,
“The Message,” offers this reading,

“The Word was made flesh and blood
and moved into the neighborhood. 

We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,
generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”[3]

I love this reading because of the word “neighborhood.”[4] 

“Neighborhood” reminds me of the place I grew up
and the people with whom I grew up. 
I remember the open field behind our house
where my family and neighbor friends played kickball.
I remember the public riding ring down the hill
where my horsey-friends would gather on Saturdays,
share equine remedies, laugh and dream. 
I remember the backyards and canyons behind our house, into which we rode bareback and built forts in the bamboo caves.
I remember the neighbors who raised a voracious goat
that seemed to get loose too often.
That’s what I think of when I hear,
“the Word was made flesh
and moved into the neighborhood.” 

The Word was made flesh and moved into
my hillside, zoo-like neighborhood
My neighborhood of laughing kids, secret forts, loose goats
and afternoons on horseback;
my neighborhood, not fit for the cosmic Word of God,
but one in which Jesus moved, anyway. 

And in the beginning, Jesus moved into every neighborhood
       from Barrio Viejo to Dove Mountain,
       from Armory Park to Pusch Ridge,
       from war-torn Sudan to extravagance of Dubai. 

The Word, Jesus, dwells with us all, in all our neighborhoods.

And when he moved in, Peterson says,
his “one-of-a-kind” glory was like Father, like Son,
generous from the inside and out, true from start to finish. 

Jesus, like the Father, lived God’s character two ways:
First, he was generous inside and out. 
In other words, generous from the center,
from his inner heart to his outer skin.
giving away everything that God gave him,
showing us there can be
no difference between inside and out.
Second, he was true from start to finish. 
In other words, true throughout his life and ministry,
with an integrity, honesty, and wholeness. 
Showing us how to live a whole and undivided life.

The Word is a great neighbor.  And from our neighbor
we learn about God’s character, God’s DNA, infused with love, generosity and truth - from which we receive
grace upon grace in our baptism. 

From our neighbor we learn about God’s neighborhood:
to share bread and to pray together,
to resist temptations that keep us from knowing God’s love,
to see the good in others and to ask about their hopes and dreams,
to get to know our neighbors in need and to help them,
to make the world a better place for all our neighbors, 
not just the ones we like (but the ones with loose goats, too!).

That’s what it means that Jesus, the Word,
moved into our neighborhood.

Some people are awed by God’s power
to create something out of nothing. 
Some people are awed by the “omniscience” of God,
the fact that God has infinite knowledge
of all things at the same time. 

For me, I am moved by God’s love
that brings Jesus to the neighborhood. 
Love and compassion bring God next door. 
Love and compassion bring K. and C. here,
with S., for her baptism. 
Love and compassion call us out into the neighborhood
to greet a stranger, to visit someone who is sick,
to help a co-worker who is struggling,
to say thanks to someone important with the words,
“You are God’s gift and I see God’s light in you.”

In the beginning,
the Word was made flesh and blood
and moved into the neighborhood. 

And so, this day, may we recognize God’s glory
in S.’s face and
in the face of every neighbor we meet in the ‘hood,
in every beginning!


[1] Informed by Aaron Klink, “Pastoral Perspective:John 1:1-14,” in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the World, Year A, Vol. 1, (Louisville, JohnKnox Press, 2010) p. 140
[2] Inspired by Douglas R. A. Hare, “Exegetical Perspective: John 1:1-14” in in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the World, Year A, Vol. 1, (Louisville, JohnKnox Press, 2010) p. 141
[3] The Message, John 1:14 can be viewed at
[4] Portions inspired by Frank A. Thomas, “Pastoral Perspective:John 1: (1-9) 10-18,” in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the World, Year A, Vol. 1, (Louisville, JohnKnox Press, 2010) p. 188, 190, 192

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