Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015.What more in the name of love
In the name of love
In the name of love
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
It’s been nearly 40 years since Paul Hewson, David Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen got together for the first time in Larry’s kitchen in Dublin, Ireland.
40 years since four teenagers who individually had limited musical proficiency and seemed like they were nothing special first realized that together they might be something special.
40 years since the beginnings of what would become U2.
Since that day in 1976, U2 has become the longest-continuously running and most successful band in rock n roll history. And in those nearly 40 years and close to 2,000 concerts only once have they not taken the stage together – November 26, 1993 in Sydney, Australia when Adam Clayton was too hung over to take the stage. Afterward, the band sat him down, lovingly and angrily got in his face about how he was self-medicating his depression with alcohol, helped him get into rehab and he hasn’t had a drink and they have never performed apart from each other ever since.
How have they stayed together? How has U2 survived the forces that have torn other incredibly successful bands apart. How are they as they end their 15th concert tour, arguably stronger and more creative than they have ever been.
Lead singer Bono will tell you it’s because drummer “Larry Mullen cannot tell a lie. And his brutal honesty is something we need in this band.” They will talk about a shared commitment never to be satisfied with their success but to risk and experiment and remake themselves continually in the hope of getting even better.
And then Bono tells this story:.
|Bono (left) and Adam Clayton|
“The singer laughs. You know, of course we’re playing the gig, of course we go onstage. And I’m standing there, singing “Pride in the Name of Love,” and I’ve got to the third verse (which is the verse about Dr. King being shot and killed), and I close my eyes, and I know I’m excited about meeting my maker, but maybe not tonight. I don’t really want to meet my maker tonight. I close my eyes, and when I look up, I see Adam Clayton standing in front of me, holding his bass like only Adam Clayton can hold his bass.
“And you know, there’s people … who tell you they’d take a bullet for you, but Adam Clayton would’ve taken a bullet for me – and I guess that’s what it’s like to be in a truly great rock and roll band.”
This morning we hear another song -- the song of the Gospel according to John:
In he beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
In a world of statistics and prose, the prologue to John’s Gospel is a love song. It’s not the historical context of Luke, full of “when Quirinius was the governor of Syria” or the mechanical “now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way” of Matthew.
John sings a song of the cosmos.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Think about that for a second. Think about the size of the universe. It’s 93 million miles even to get to our sun and cosmically that’s like walking across the street to Tim Horton’s to get some donut holes. And God is the God of all of it.
And yet …
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
And the word John uses for dwelt is an important word.
It doesn’t mean just drop in for a visit.
It doesn’t even mean just move into the neighborhood.
The Greek word for dwelt John uses here is ἐσκήνωσεν (skénoó) and it means to spread your tent over someone. It means not just staying with someone but enfolding them, standing between them and danger. Saying there is nothing out there you will ever face alone because “I will always be standing right next to you and in front. Always right next to you and in front.”
It’s Adam Clayton standing in front of Bono ready to take a bullet for him during the third verse of Pride.
It’s the band loving Adam enough to get in his face about his depression and alcoholism even though conversations like that can break up the best of families.
It is a commitment to brutal honesty and never to put personal achievement over what we can do together.
When John sings that the Word became flesh and dwelt, and skénoó with us, John is proclaiming the deep and soul-exploding truth that even though we are a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck in this vast 91 billion light years wide universe among who knows how many other universes, the God that created and continues to create it all chose and still chooses to go all in with us, to stand right next to us and in front, and to never, never, never, ever leave.
In the name of love
What more in the name of love.
That is the gift of Christmas. God’s gift of the divine self. Not just dropping in for a visit but dwelling with us, skénoó –ing with us, covering us, loving us enough to take a bullet for us and loving us too much not to speak the truth to our face. It is God standing with us and saying “sink or swim, succeed or fail, win or lose, pride or shame, I am with you today, tomorrow, forever.”
And God has two more words for us in this pledge of love. In this pledge of dwelling. In this pledge of skénoó .
The Word made flesh gazes up at us from the manger this morning and says two words:
This Christmas gift is not meant for us to keep to ourselves. In fact, that would be the deepest blasphemy. This gift of Godself, of the divine presence who broods over the world like a mother over her children reminds us that this is the image in which we all were created and this mission is our deepest joy as well.
That just as God stands with us in our deepest pain and most frantic anxiety. Just as God meets us where we are most isolated, most closeted and most rejected, we are invited to do the same for this world into which Christ was born.
To go into the heart of the most agonizing pain and paralyzing fear.
To go to the places that are the furthest out and the most rejected. To the people that the world views as completely inconsequential and not mattering at all.
To go to the places that as far as the world is concerned are as useless as a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck and not just drop off a care package with a few things to make life a little more bearable.
Not just drop in for a visit and an encouraging pat on the back.
But to dwell there, to skénoó there. To not only with our lips but with our lives enfold those who dwell there, stand between them and danger. Say that there is nothing out there you will ever face alone because “I will always be standing right next to you and in front. Always right next to you and in front.”
What does that look like?
What does it look like not just to hand out pastries and eggs to those among us who are hungry but truly to skénoó together?
What does it look like not just to keep this space open for those among us who have no place to go but truly to skénoó together?
What does it look like not just to say “Black Lives Matter” but across the lines of race and class truly to skénoó together?
What does it look like not just to denounce Islamophobia and homophobia and transphobia and misogyny and so on and so on and so on but truly to skénoó together?
I don’t have a simple answer for us today. But I do know that if we are to be the church of the one who became flesh in Jesus, we get to find out. I do know that if we are to listen to the cry from the manger this morning to join the Word made flesh in becoming flesh in new ways and new places ourselves, we get to find out.
I do know that like the Word becoming flesh, this mission will lead us out of our comfort zones into places of unfamiliarity, vulnerability and risk. That like the Word made flesh, this mission invites us to dismantle “us serving them” models of ministry in favor of building Beloved Communities together. That like the Word made flesh we must be willing to sacrifice power and privilege, resources and respectability, safety and security to stand with one another in truth and solidarity and love.
What does it look like to live the skénoó life of God? I don’t have a simple answer but I know it is giving up a life of safety for a life of self-sacrificing love. It is recognizing that in the words of Dr. King until we have found something we will die for we are not fit to live. It is realizing that in Christ true greatness lies not in how much we accomplish or how much we acquire or how faithfully we preserve but in how deeply and fully we are willing to give up ourselves - even our very lives - for one another.
Bono said, “You know, there’s people … who tell you they’d take a bullet for you, but Adam Clayton would’ve taken a bullet for me – and I guess that’s what it’s like to be in a truly great rock and roll band.”
That’s what it’s like to be a really great church, too.
The Word became flesh and skénoó among us, showing us what true greatness looks like.
The Word became flesh and skénoó among us, and we have seen her glory, full of grace and truth. And from her fullness we have all received grace upon grace.
The Word became flesh and skénoó among us … and lying in a manger, the Word made flesh in Jesus invites us to do the same. Amen.
 Will McAvoy to Sloan Sabbith in Season 1, Episode 6 of “The Newsroom” by Aaron Sorkin. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2299127/)