“Jesus’ Work: Where is God?”
A Meditation on Acts 3:1-10 for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year C; preached by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister
Part of a Lent preaching series: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?
Last week, we took a moment to focus together on Jesus’ grace, that reality of our being loved by God with a love ever more unbounded that we could possibly ask for or even imagine. And as we did so, I mentioned the reality that this truth we understand about God’s grace, it is something we Christians hold as central to the life of faith in a way few other traditions do.
What’s truly unique, though, to Christianity is our belief in the incarnation—that in the person of Jesus Christ, somehow God God’s self became truly human, became one of us. God took on our human flesh and lived our human experience. That’s our uniquely Christian confession about Jesus.
But I don’t actually want to talk this morning about Christology—the study of doctrines and views about who Jesus is. I don’t want to perplex you with metaphysical paradoxes about just how it could be that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Neither do I want to tour all of the different perspectives Christians have had down through the years on just what the relationship is between Jesus and the one traditionally called “God the Father.”
Instead, I want to lift up something very basic about God that our belief in incarnation points to. And while our belief in God’s incarnation in Jesus is particularly and peculiarly Christian, this thing it points to is something very basic about God that is actually fairly universal, transcending different traditions and faiths. And it is simply this: as people who believe in incarnation, who see incarnation in the person of Jesus, we Christians understand fundamentally that God works in the world through human flesh. God’s coming to us in Jesus, in the flesh and blood of a real human being, it means that God does not shun embodiment or the created order or even human flesh itself. In fact, it shows us the rather universal reality that much—if not most—of the time God is at work in the world, it is through human instruments.
Some of you probably saw the movie Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks. That film—now some 20 years old, if you can believe it—retells the true story of a NASA flight to the moon in the spring of 1970. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you may know that just about everything that could go wrong in that space mission does—an explosion that leaves cripples a whole section of the spacecraft and leaves insufficient supplies (like oxygen and water) left in the sections that are still o.k. Prospects look bleak, and as time goes on, the chances for a safe return seem to be slipping away. In response to that grave situation, millions of people around the world fervently prayed to God for their safe return. The pope even celebrated a special mass on their behalf.
In the end, God answers all the prayers, and does so positively. Against all odds, the crew of Apollo 13 survives. However, God does not save the crew in a direct, supernatural way. Instead, God saves them through human instruments. God uses the wisdom, skills, and persistence of dedicated NASA engineers, and scientists from the University of Toronto, and other caring, gifted, competent, and called individuals to get them safely home.
The truth is, we see and know God working through human instruments, through the flesh and blood of those around us, and even through our own hands—we see and know it all the time. I watch this congregation, for instance, and see it in the attention offered to one among us facing a health challenge, that attention embodying the compassion of God. I see it in the manna from heaven delivered by the people making our bread ministry happen, supplying every FoodShare distribution in this town with overstock from the new Price Chopper here in Storrs Center. I see it in the generosity of donors past and present who have contributed funds to our ministerial discretionary fund, so that just this week I was in a position to help with some immediate needs of a local man at risk of becoming homeless because of a foreclosure against his landlord. And I saw it at work yesterday as our congregation’s Governing Board gathered for a planning and visioning work day, thinking and talking and dreaming and discerning together about what priorities we want to be moving forward on as a congregation this very year, and what open questions we should be exploring together in the meantime so that in the years ahead we’ll be better able to attend to that piece of God’s mission that God has given to this congregation as our unique and particular work in the world. All of these things are happening through human hearts and human hands, and yet all of them have the indelible mark of God’s handiwork impressed upon them.
In the reading we heard from Acts today, we witness God at work through Peter and John, as they addressed and lifted up the man unable to walk from birth. To be honest, I can’t tell you just how the healing was achieved. I simply do not know, at least not in any sort of physical or medical sense. What I do know is that in Peter and John, the man was met by two souls that were not satisfied simply to pass on by, or even to simply be yet another pair of hands willing to help lay the man out by the gate so he could beg another day. In the human hands of Peter and John, God grasped this man, lifted him up, and changed his life. And, I dare say, God probably changed Peter’s and John’s lives as well.
God’s work, human hands. Are there other ways God works among us or other ways God works in the world? Probably. But I dare say, my friends, that we are far from exhausting the possibility, the potential, or the promise of this one!
Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto God, now and forever. Amen.
 My retelling of the Apollo 13 story here is based, in part, on the retelling in Martin Thielen, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? A Guide to What Matters Most, 2nd. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 93.