October 26, 2020
The Proper 26A Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Matthew 23:1-12 from the Lectionary Gospel; Joshua 3:7-17, from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 43 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Gospel Lectionary: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 81 (Lord’s Day 30)
Author: Scott Hoezee
Matthew 23 indicates that pastors (i.e., most of us reading this sermon starter) need to be wary of the titles people afford us. Although neither “Reverend” nor “Pastor” is specifically mentioned in Matthew 23, only a very wily preacher would ever suggest this indicates that those titles are exempt from Jesus’ comments. So what are we to make of Jesus’ words in Matthew 23?
We will begin with the passage in context, which means glancing back at the end of Matthew 22. As Matthew 23 opens, it looks like Jesus has had about as much as he can take from the religious leaders who had been engaging in a tag-team effort to trip him up. So he cuts loose with the single-most harsh and negative speech Jesus gives anywhere in the New Testament.
Beyond the verses of this particular lection, the balance of Matthew 23 presents seven hard-hitting indictments, each of which charges the clergy with hypocrisy. The Pharisees are all about false fronts, facades, public relations, prestige, and just generally getting ahead in society. And in detailing all this, the otherwise soft-spoken man from Nazareth does not spare the verbal lash: he calls them sons of hell, blind guides, stinking graves, snakes, vipers.
Bracing stuff, that.
Yet all that fiery bluster begins quietly. Jesus even tells everyone that they must obey the words of these leaders. Probably what Jesus means is that when these ministers read from God’s Word, the content of the Scriptures must be heeded. But that’s where the positive part ends. “Do what they say, not what they do,” Jesus says. “They don’t practice what they preach, and so even though they want you take note of their lifestyles, ignore them!”
He doesn’t practice what he preaches.
There are few indictments of a minister more wounding than that. From personal experience, I know how that accusation, whether or not it has any truth to it, cuts straight into a pastor’s heart like the sharpest of scalpels. (After an unhappy staff dust-up that led to the dismissal of a staff person, I had a few people tell me how sad it was that I was good at preaching forgiveness but not living it. That’s just shattering for a pastor.)
It is hurtful because if it were true, such a charge would undermine all credibility. It is not something to say lightly, and there is every indication that Jesus has given this a lot of thought. This is not how Jesus began his ministry, this was not based on a mere week’s worth of observation. This had been a long time coming. But after all that time had passed, Jesus felt certain that this was the verdict. The Pharisees did not practice what they preached. They did not listen to the words of God they themselves read from the pulpit (as it were).
Instead, they focused their energy on just looking good. They strutted around trying to look ever-so-holy but only because it generated prestige. They made certain always to have their flowing robes on because when they did, they got a clergy discount on fruit in the marketplace, got upgraded to First Class when they traveled, got seated up on the dais at the head table whenever VIPs came in from out-of-town to speak at a banquet. (Alas, this still happens with certain religious leaders today too . . .)
Like altogether too-many celebrities today, the Pharisees came to believe their own press releases. Actress Helen Hayes was always known as, introduced as, and lauded as “the first lady of American theater.” Over time what most reporters forgot was that it was Helen Hayes herself who first cooked up that sobriquet and then spread it around! But that’s the way it goes when image becomes a way of life. After a while, things get so weirdly inverted that it’s difficult to tell what’s what anymore.
The entertainment industry is an ego-driven affair populated by throngs of people who are full of themselves. As even actor Marlon Brando once observed, “The greatest love affairs I have ever witnessed took place with one actor, unassisted.” Yet there is even so a kind of unspoken “code” among these people that says if you are too obvious with this self-infatuation, you will be shunned. Back in 1985 when actress Sally Field won her second Oscar in the span of only a few years, she famously gushed in her acceptance speech, “You like me! You really like me!”
Well, not after that speech. It would be 28 long years before the Academy ever even nominated her again (for her role in 2013 as Mary Todd Lincoln in the film Lincoln).
After F. Murray Abraham won an Oscar for his stellar performance as Salieri in the movie Amadeus, he was tapped to be an Oscar presenter at the following year’s ceremony, and when he did this, he conducted himself quite pompously–in other words, he outwardly displayed the same pompous pride that inwardly filled the hearts of every actor there. But because he made the mistake of letting it show, he, too, has ever since been cast out into a kind of wilderness.
So here is a curious combination: the Academy Awards depends on self-congratulatory people all getting together to celebrate themselves, yet if a person lets this pride show, it is considered bad form. But probably what that points to is the core of hypocrisy: deception. The hypocrite is a deceiver of other people. What counts is not what you are really like but what other people think you are like. What counts is not whether you are worthy of the nice things people say about you but that they say them in the first place. What counts is doing whatever it takes to maintain your image, which often consumes so much time and energy that there is little left to nurture the genuine article in your heart.
Jesus, of course, is interested only in the inner person. If it should be that people admire you for the kind of person you genuinely are, that is fine as far as it goes, but Jesus’ warning in Matthew 23 indicates that even so, those honors should not assume too high a profile in your own mind. Because Jesus also knows the seductive power of such things. If you start falling in love with your own P.R., then even if public respect for you began originally as a proper response to the kind of person you really were, eventually it may well be that your own focus will shift.
Frederick Dale Bruner points out that in Matthew 23:5 when Jesus says that everything the Pharisees do “is for people to see,” the Greek verb there is theathenai, and even a quick glance at that Greek word suggests its connection to the English word “theater.” What Jesus is saying is that for people like this, the entirety of the religious life has become less about God and more about a kind of public theater, a drama meant to unfold in front of the eyes of other people, who in turn are no longer brothers and sisters in God but passive viewers, an audience. But one of the main things Jesus always taught is that the only “audience” we should think about is our great Creator God. When we make other people our audience before whom we perform theatrics designed to garner us lots of attention, our desire truly to serve God in our hearts diminishes right along with the enhancement of our own theatrics before others.
Although I am quite certain I won’t be doing so anytime soon, if I ever felt inclined to write a letter to Pope Francis in Rome, papal etiquette would suggest that I close and sign my letter as follows: “Prostrate at the feet of Your Holiness and imploring the favor of your apostolic benediction, I have the honor to be, Very Holy Father, with the deepest veneration of Your Holiness, the most humble and most obedient servant and son, Scott.”
As someone has wryly noted, this may explain why the pope gets so few postcards!
Whether or not any given pope would ever insist on such a salutation, the fact is that over time, honorifics and titles of privilege and prestige have most assuredly accumulated for members of the clergy. The pope is addressed as “Very Holy Father” or “Your Holiness,” cardinals and bishops are often referred to as “Your Eminence,” ordinary priests are always addressed as “Father.” Although the Catholic Church is a fairly obvious and large example of this kind of thing, they hardly have that market cornered. In my own Dutch tradition of the Reformed church, for a very long time every pastor was hailed as “Dominie,” which has clear connections to the Latin dominus or “lord.” These days few people in my tradition still use “Dominie,” but “Reverend” and “Pastor” are still pretty common.
Author: Stan Mast
It is not difficult to find the relevance of this first RCL reading for today, particularly in the United States. My country is only two days away from Election Day when Americans cast their ballots and thus express their opinion on who ought to lead our country. For Christians, that means trying to discern which candidates are approved by God. That’s not an easy thing to discern. How do we know? That is the very issue at the heart of this text. How do we know who God’s new leader is? Well, says God to Joshua in verse 7, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so that they may know that I am with you, as I was with Moses.”
But there’s an even wider and deeper relevance here for our troubled world. In subsequent verses, God addresses the entire nation which is on the brink of triumph or tragedy as they look over the Jordan River at the Promised Land. Will we be able to conquer the enemy that looms before us? Will we be able to take the Land God has promised us for hundreds of years? We’ve come this far by God’s grace and power, but will God be with us over there and will God do for us what he did for our parents? How do we know? Well, says God in verse 10, “This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you [your enemies]….”
How do we know? We walk by faith, but how do we know that our faith is right? That is the question that each of us faces in our individual Christian lives and that all of us face in our corporate life as the body of Christ. How do we know which leader is the God appointed one? How do we know God is with us in the many struggles of life and will give us success as we strike out into the great Unknown?
This question arose as Israel entered a new situation in its history. Egypt and the Exodus were far behind them. All the adults who had witnessed those miraculous events were now dead, having wandered for 40 years in the harsh wilderness of Sinai. That included their great leader, Moses. Now only their children and grandchildren were left, and they had little memory of those history-shaping events. Moses had appointed Joshua to take his place as the main man, but how could Israel know that Joshua was really God’s choice.
With an untested leader, Israel now faced a challenge as difficult as their parents had faced. It wasn’t Pharaoh thundering behind them and the Red Sea churning before them. It was the Jordan River at flood stage roaring before them and the 7 nations of the Promised Land looming unseen in the distance over the Jordan. Those natives of the Land had scared the Israelites out of their faith 38 years ago because they seemed so fierce and invincible. As with every new generation, these young Israelites needed to know if they were following the right man and if God was really with them in his grace and power. In verse 4, God says to them, “you have never been this way before.” The same is true of us, so how do we know?
For Israel, it would take the Ark of the Covenant carried by priests who dared to step into the raging River, so that a new miracle would convince a new generation to continue the faith of their fathers and mothers as they faced a brave new world. Each of the elements of that last sentence is important, so let’s parse it together.
It was all centered on the Ark of the Covenant, the gold covered box in which was past evidence of God’s presence and power—the budded rod of Aaron, a pot of manna from the wilderness, and the tablets of stone on which were written the will of God. The Ark was the visible symbol of the presence of God; indeed, the Shekinah cloud hung over that Ark when it was ensconced in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. It was as close as the non-idol worshiping Israelites ever got to seeing their God. When Moses had interceded with a furious God after the covenant breaking sin of the Golden Calf, God has relented from his threat to destroy them and promised, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (Exodus 33:14).” The ark was the symbol of that Presence.
But these young folks needed more than a symbol and a memory. They needed a new miracle, a modern-day equivalent of the Red Sea crossing. The Jordan River presented just such an opportunity. Those of us who have seen the Jordan in its modern form cannot imagine that it would be much of an obstacle; it was a trickle when I saw it a number of years ago, a greasy, grey-green dribble of a stream that anyone could wade across. But that is the Jordan at its lowest flow in an era when much of its water is siphoned off to irrigate neighboring farms. The Jordan in our text was at flood stage after the rains had fallen and as the snows of Mt. Hermon were in full melt. Most scholars think it was at least half a mile, maybe three quarters of a mile wide and racing downhill as it falls over a mile from its headwaters on Mt. Hermon to the Dead Sea. It would have swept away every man, woman, child and sheep.
So, it took real courage to step into that River, especially carrying hundreds of pounds of gold. Indeed, it was an act of faith. So, of course, God chose the men of faith and courage who always carried the Ark; there was a whole cadre of them. But now they are given new orders. “When you read the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.” And God adds a promise; “its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” To quote Noah as performed by Bill Cosby, “Right! What’s a heap of water?”
We have seen heaps of water in lakes and oceans; we call them waves. But they don’t stand up for a day; they collapse and come crashing down in a moment. God says that if the priests will walk by faith and step into the raging current and then stand there in the middle of the River, it will stand up in an immense heap, a literal mountain of water in the town of Adam 20 miles upstream. And it would stay heaped up for a whole day as the entire nation of Israel passed through the riverbed on dry ground. The hydrology of that boggles the mind.
By faith the priests carried the visible sign of God’s Presence into the flood and by God’s grace and power, the water did exactly what God said it would do. Israel obediently and humbly walked into the Promised Land. How do we know Joshua is God’s chosen leader? How do we know that God is with us to give us victory over an overwhelming foe? Look at the mountain of water. Look at the dry river. Look at the people passing by into the land.
Miracles like that don’t happen all the time, just when God’s people need them the most, at turning points in the history of redemption. So it was that when God came to the greatest moment in that history, the Promised Land was flooded with miracles. How do we know that Jesus was God’s chosen Leader, the Christ? How do we know that God was present in him and would act for us in him? Well, God had Jesus perform one miracle after another precisely to answer those questions.
At the conclusion of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus performs miraculous signs to prove that he was who he said he was (the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, etc.), John writes, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).”
I recently heard someone repeat a mantra that has figured prominently in my church tradition. “It will only take one generation for Christianity to be wiped from the face of the earth.” The idea behind that bromide is simple. If we don’t teach our children these stories and what they mean, the next generation will not know Jesus and his love. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, since Jesus has sent missionaries to the ends of the earth where parents never knew Jesus.
But apparently God agrees that we absolutely must teach our children. And not just with words. That’s why God had Joshua appoint those twelve men in verse 12. They don’t appear again in Joshua 3, but as soon as the whole nation of Israel has passed through on dry ground, there they are. God commands them to take twelve stones from the middle of the river and pile them up on the far bank as a memorial. And, goes the story, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them how the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the Lord….”
We need to keep telling the stories of God’s miraculous intervention in the history of his people. Memorials made of stone, and bread and wine, and simple water will point them to the stories. And to the One who is the Presence of God. It isn’t accidental that Matthew’s Gospel begins and ends with the assurance that Jesus is that Presence. Matthew 1:23 says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us.’” Matthew 28:20 concludes, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
That’s the assurance we need in this time of difficult transition when all are asking, “How do we know?”
The United States is in a very precarious place as we enter these elections, and that should concern every citizen and every country. President Trump has spent so much time talking about election irregularities and fraud that many people don’t know whether they can trust the results of the election. What evidence will it take to convince the public that we really have elected Trump or Biden to the Presidency? How will we know which is God’s choice? This is not a little question. And it should make Christians relieved to know who the Real Leader of the World is. “Jesus is Lord.” Thank God.
Author: Scott Hoezee
My Old Testament professor back when I was a seminary student and the Old Testament colleagues with whom I have taught the Psalms since becoming a member of the seminary faculty would not like the Lectionary’s choice of preaching on Psalm 43 alone. The reason is obvious: it is all-but certain that what we now call Psalms 42 & 43 were originally one poem. The proof of that is not difficult to discern. Not only are those two psalms thematically the same, but the final stanza of Psalm 43 is the refrain of—and also the final line of—also Psalm 42. There is a sense in which you cannot meaningfully preach on Psalm 43 without reference to Psalm 42.
So I will leave it to my preaching colleagues reading this sermon starter as to what to do with that but it is not too difficult to bring in Psalm 42. Just invoking the image of the deer panting for streams of water in Psalm 42:1 will ring bells with most people who are at least somewhat familiar with Scripture and with the Psalms.
In any event, both poems are about longing for God during a time when the psalmist cannot seem to locate God in the present moment. In Psalm 42 the psalmist ultimately takes some refuge in remembering past times when God had come through for him in vivid ways. Somehow that act of remembering provided some solace and hope in the present moment after all. When I preached on Psalm 42 years ago, I was reminded of what we are sometimes told to do if we want to see a rather faint star in the night sky: namely, look just to the side of it. Because of the way the rods in our eyes are put together, sometimes a sidelong glance at a faint object makes it pop into view in our peripheral vision after all. That seems to be the psalmist’s tactic in Psalm 42: trying to stare straight at God in the moment was not working so he glanced to side, to past events, and suddenly God popped a bit more into view after all.
This longing for God continues into Psalm 43 as the poet asks for vindication. Psalm 42 mentions “enemies” near the end of the poem and this theme dominates a bit more in Psalm 43. Whoever the psalmist’s enemies were, they were good at taunting him (think of the sneering question “Where is your God?” from Psalm 42) and making fun of him and just generally making his life miserable. So he needs God to come through. And then—as is true of many Psalms of Lament—the psalmist makes a promise: “If you do this for me, O God, I will return the favor by going to your holy place and making sacrifices to honor you.”
Probably not many of us would feel terribly comfortable praying this way. It feels a bit untoward to make a bargain with God! But you do see this a lot in the Bible. A little-remembered fact about the famous Sunday school story of Jacob’s Ladder is how Jacob actually responds to his dream of those angels moving up and down the ladder. Yes, we all know that he exclaimed “God was in this place and I did not know it” and hence he dubbed it Bethel or “House of God.” But that’s where we stop reading. Yet next up Jacob says, “So tell you what, God of Bethel: if one day you bring me back safely to my land and people after I have to go on the lam for a bit, THEN I will let you be my God and I will worship you.” Apparently until that happens, all bets are off! (Ah, you gotta love crafty old Heel-Grasper!)
If we are honest, though, we understand this instinct. No, we would never say to God that we will believe in him only if he comes through for us. We don’t make the entirety of our faith a bargaining chip. The psalmist doesn’t either: after all, Psalms 42 & 43 are addressed TO God. This is the irony of Psalms of Lament that I have noted before here on the CEP website: the psalmists have way of lamenting God’s absence to God’s face. In one sense that seems weird. It would be like coming home after work, seeing your spouse in the kitchen, and then saying, “Why aren’t you here?” Well, your spouse IS there—that’s why you could ask him or her the question!
On the other hand, we all know the experience of being in someone’s presence and yet the other person feels as though he or she is the proverbial “million miles away.” When we are distressed, distracted, preoccupied with this or that we are not very good listeners and sometimes are frankly not very good company. That is how God seems: present and yet absent too; present yet a million miles away. Still, the belief that there IS a God over Israel is always there. So whatever bargaining the psalmists may do with God in Psalms of Lament—vows to praise God again when life gets better and when God does something to deliver them—they happen on a more narrow bandwidth than wholesale faith in God vs. no faith in God.
Even so, bargaining with God feels wrong to most of us. But maybe it’s less actual bargaining and more an honest admission that when we are down, when we are feeling beat up by life, when we are sunk into sorrow or uncertainty, it flat out is more difficult to sing the doxology than when times are better or even when times are just normal. Yes, we all know people who are pretty good at denying this, at repressing any negative moods or feelings or even whole seasons of life. “I’m fine!” some will say when the rest of us know full well they are anything but fine and we wish they would just fess up about how crappy they are feeling and be done with it.
Probably the Psalms of Lament, including Psalms 42-43, give us permission for this way of being with God. And perhaps in preaching honestly about all this we as pastors can signal this permission to the congregation. That is one of the better acts of pastoral care we can perform from our pulpits: give people permission to be honest with God.
And, of course, we never leave it at just that. That is why the final lines of both of these Psalms (or the final line of the single Psalm this probably was originally) is so important: Put your hope in God for you will yet praise this God who is your Savior and your God for certain. To signal hope in the midst of raw honesty is a bold thing to do. And a loving one as well.
In a sermon, the preacher Tom Long once told the story of a minister he knew whose wife—on the day before Easter one year—fell suddenly ill in the morning, got worse in the afternoon, and by evening was dead. The pastor obviously could not preach the next day, though he still showed up at worship somehow. But he could not sing that day. He could not, he said, even believe in the resurrection. Not that day, Easter or no. And so he said he let the faith of the others in church carry him that day. They had to believe for him that day. They had to sing for him that day. And that’s just the way life goes sometimes. Like the psalmist of Psalms 42 & 43, we just have to acknowledge to God that when times are bad, we may just have to wait a bit until God smooths things out or heals us in some other way before we can go to the house of God with rejoicing in our hearts again. That’s just being honest with God.
And God surely understands that. The Bible tells us so.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Author: Scott Hoezee
We preachers need to be careful. When someone catches us at the church door to disagree with our sermon some Sunday, it is tempting to say “Hey, your quarrel is not with me but with God. I was just preaching God’s Word so . . .” Of course, sometimes that really may be the case. Sometimes and upon further conversation with the upset parishioner it turns out that what this person does not like is less your sermon on this or that text but the text itself. Other times, though, what was disagreeable was more our application, the spin we put on the text, the rather careless way we spoke about some situation or subject. Sometimes those who object to a sermon are right—we messed something up.
All of which is to say, we had best not move too quickly to what some might regard as the dodge of saying “Your problem is with God, not me.”
True enough. But at the end of the day what all preachers should hope will be the case is that the bulk of what we present in a sermon really is God’s Word, not merely our ideas or thoughts about God. We cannot paper over our occasional mistakes by slapping a “Thus saith the Lord” label overtop of the sermon but hopefully a lot of what is in any given message is from the Lord. Or at least the most important things that we communicate should be rooted firmly in the biblical text.
In some ways this lection from 1 Thessalonians 2 is covering the same territory thematically that was in the previous Sunday’s lection on the first 8 verses here. Paul is taking pains to remind the Thessalonians that the apostles were neither charlatans nor money-grubbing leaches when they were in Thessalonica. Stung by accusations along these lines—and as noted in last week’s sermon starter it seems that such accusations go back to the earliest days of the church—Paul hits back with reminders of their gentleness, their love, their sincerity, and their having earned their own keep by doing honest work with their hands. That theme continues into this text in verses 9-13.
But the new element in this reading is that the Thessalonians ultimately received the words of the apostles not as mere human speech but as no less than the Word of God. As such, the Word they received was elevated in importance, it rang with truth. What’s more, unlike human speech—no matter how eloquent or stirring—God’s Word is active. Paul says it was “at work” within the very people who heard and received this divine Word. The “at work” here is the Greek from which we get our word “energy.” God’s Word is an energizing Word that activates all kinds of things inside of people who have faith.
Indeed, that distinguishes this Word from all others. But you wonder sometimes if we still really believe this is so about God’s Word. In our world right now we all bob around in a sea of verbiage, of language, of words, words, words. Tweets, Facebook status posts, Instagram messages, blogs, comments on articles posted online, never-ending streams of emails, talking heads on split-screen cable news shows, shouting matches encouraged by TV hosts who know that verbal back-and-forth arguments are good for ratings . . . On and on it goes but so very often to so little effect.
As one Facebook post I read recently said, “Posting your political views on Facebook changes the minds of so many, said no one ever.” And it’s true: we all tend to live in our own echo chambers today, gravitating to anything that props up our pre-existing viewpoint, disagreeing angrily with those who challenge such positions, but then walking away from those fields of verbal warfare unfazed, unchanged. Maybe now and then we actually succeed in making someone re-think something briefly. But mostly we don’t really expect much to come from lobbing our verbal hand grenades about. It all ends up feeling like that Beatles song in which John Lennon sang “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup. They slither as they pass, they slip away across the universe . . .”
In the midst of all this, can we believe there is an enduring Word of truth that can and really does go to work inside people? Can even we preachers whose lifeblood is the proclamation of that Word believe that the Spirit will take what we say and—insofar as it is transparent to God’s enduring Word—actually DO something, create something, activate something glorious and far beyond anything any other form of speech could ever do? Paul knew the power of that Word preached. He saw its fruits in the lives of the Thessalonians and so many others.
If today we let our expectations for the powerful working of God’s living Word to atrophy on account of our overall verbal bombardments on multiple fronts, then we have pretty much given away the Gospel farm. Yes, it is hard to be heard in this cacophonous environment. It may be even harder to sell the idea that in all that noise there endures a true Word that cuts through everything else and that goes to work inside people in a way nothing else could ever do. But that is what we are called to say, to proclaim, to believe.
We preach the Word and then sit back to watch what the Spirit of God will do. And we should expect it will be amazing.
From Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. Harper & Row, 1973, pp. 96-97.
“God never seems to weary of trying to get himself [his word] across. Word after word he tries in search of the right word. When the Creation itself doesn’t seem to say it right—sun, moon, stars, all of it—he tries flesh and blood. He tried saying it in Noah, but Noah was a drinking man. He tried saying it in Abraham, but Abraham was a little too Mesopotamian with all those wives and whiskers. He tried saying it in Moses, but Moses himself was trying too hard; tried David, but David was too pretty for his own good. Toward the end of his rope, God tried saying it in John the Baptist with his locusts and honey and hellfire preaching, and you get the feeling that John might almost have worked except that he lacked something small but crucial like a sense of the ridiculous or a balanced diet. So he tried once more. Jesus as the mot juste [exact right phrasing] of God. ‘The word became flesh,’ John said, of all flesh, this flesh: holy, hick, whore’s hero, poor man’s Messiah, savior as schlemiel. Jesus as Word made flesh means take it or leave it: in this life, death, life, God finally manages to say what God is and what man is. Means: just as your words have you in them—your breath, your spirit, power, hiddenness—so Jesus has God in him.”