Yr A ~ Lent 4 ~ Mark 1:9-15
In the flesh. Somehow, this incomprehensible, astounding, mind-boggling Holy Mystery that we’ve given the name God to, this Spirit, this force that somehow has an intention toward us for our good, this fundamental vibration at the heart of the universe that seeks resonant harmony in us and all of creation – somehow this God-thing is more than just an ‘out there, far beyond, transcendent wonder’. Somehow, we have a deep sense that this Sacred Mystery is also all around us, and even more wondrously is deep within us.
The fancy theological word for this is incarnation. It simply means in the flesh. Spirit enfleshed. Mystery with skin on. Godstuff in bodies. Wonder breathing and walking around. It means that God isn’t just an abstraction, cannot be limited to a ridiculous old-guy-in-the-sky caricature – God, or Mystery, or Spirit, or God-ness, is also concrete, tangible, embodied, incarnated.
This is how we speak about Jesus, that he is God incarnate. The challenging part is that we can hear that a number of different ways. The area of theology that thinks about how we perceive Jesus is called Christology. There’s no one right way to think about Jesus (except mine, of course!). It’s a continuum that has at its two poles high Christology and low Christology.
A high Christology emphasizes Jesus’ divinity whereas a low Christology emphasizes his humanness.
If you primarily think of Jesus being born with foreknowledge of events, and miraculous healing powers, and that he’s somehow ontologically different than us you lean toward a high Christology.
If you tend to think of Jesus being an inspired human male who was profoundly plugged-in to Spirit and lived it out supremely you’re more toward a low Christology.
It’s not either/or. We’re all somewhere along the continuum.
How we understand incarnation is a major issue for the church.
High Christology says Jesus is a divine being having a human experience.
Low Christology says Jesus is a human being having a divine experience.
Classic doctrine says Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.
As you contemplate that it should evoke a state of wonder!
High Christology (which is what most of us have inherited and what many of us struggle with) suggests that you and I are fully human and not divine at all and that Jesus is fully human like us and also fully divine like God.
But I like to put it this way: Jesus is fully human and fully divine, and I am neither.
Wonder about that for a minute.
It says we are not fully human – that we fall far short of our ability and capacity to live as we know we ought to – that we know what the standard for practicing full humanity looks like and we shrug it away saying it’s too hard or too costly. Our motto is “Love, love, love” but we know that far too often we are not nearly loving enough. We all have room to grow in our humanity – some more than others.
Jesus, on the other hand, was fully human.
His practice of love was perfect.
He loved where we shrug.
So Jesus is fully human, and I’m not.
The other part of this suggests that while Jesus was also fully divine we are not – but the implication is that we are somewhat divine!
We are divine! (at least a little!)
We have Godstuff in us.
We are Spirit touched.
We have, in our spiritual DNA, divinity.
We share in the same divinity that Jesus has – only his is fully realized and ours is largely untapped and under-nourished.
But again, think how wondrous it is that we share divinity with Jesus.
We are a junior version of Spirit enfleshed – we are, in varying degrees of maturity, God incarnate!
The Eastern Christian church celebrates a concept called theosis. It means divinization, to grow in divinity. They see the Christian journey of deepening communion, broadening compassion, and strengthening connection as growing in divinity or becoming ever more divine. Which means on some level we’re already divine – which means on some level we too are God-ness incarnate.
Why does this matter to you and me? – Because your Christology profoundly impacts how you read scripture. Consider Mark’s version of the baptism of Jesus. Mark arguably presents the lowest Christology of the gospels. Imagine you lived in the year 0075 and Mark would’ve been the only gospel you had (it was written years before Matthew, Luke and John). Jesus appears at age 30 – no birth narrative or genealogy – just adult Jesus coming to John for baptism. So you’ve never heard anything about the Christmassy stuff, and Jesus would seem like any other ordinary human male to you – until this scene when something amazing and wondrous happens to him.
Jesus goes under the water for baptism and when his face breaks through the water on the way back up he has the most incredible experience of the Presence of God that you could imagine. Remember, the basic symbolism of baptism is that you die by going under the water and you are born anew as you come back up.
So picture Jesus breaking through the surface of the water. It falls away on either side of his face, and as he begins to open his eyes he sees and hears the most wondrous thing: the heavens appear to be torn wide open, and the voice of God blesses him.
Ok, we need to stop a second to get why this is so important. They didn’t understand the world like we do now. For them, it was a three-tiered universe: God’s realm was up in the heavens, the human realm was here all around us, and the underworld or death was down below us. To experience God’s Presence in a visceral way the barrier between the heavens and the earth had to be broken through in some manner.
In Jacob’s dream it was broken with a stairway or ramp joining heaven and earth. In the Temple in Jerusalem they had a special innermost room called the Holy of Holies where the Arc of the Covenant sat which was the one place on Earth that God hung out in.
So the remarkable image in this story – an image that would’ve shocked and astounded the first hearers of it – was that as Jesus emerged from the water he saw the heavens torn open!
Torn open! – meaning the thing that they thought separated humanity from God’s Presence was totally ripped apart giving Jesus free and total access to God’s Presence.
Now, can you see that this is a low Christology scene? – Because in it Jesus appears to get or connect with the Holy for the first time – like he didn’t have it before and he was just like us, and that now he had it. Yes, it’s possible to read it as a confirmation of what Jesus already knew, but it isn’t really framed that way. It’s framed as a sparkling new revelation for Jesus that God was radically Present and that God communicated to Jesus that he was beloved.
Imagine how wonderful that must’ve felt for Jesus.
Imagine how wondrous it would be to experience God’s Presence and love so vividly!
Stay with me here. I’m going to ask a really weird question.
According to Mark’s gospel, did Jesus’ DNA change at that moment? Was something new injected into his body such that he became incarnated with God’s Spirit? Was his connection or communion with God a physical innovation?
Or would it be fair to say that this was an awakening – that Jesus went under the water unable to see and emerged with new insight as he knew in his mind he was being ritually and spiritually reborn and that combination opened his consciousness to seeing and experiencing something that had been part of him all along?
Jesus is God-ness incarnate. I think this scene in Mark is meant to show us how that incarnation came to life.
Jesus’ emergence from the water is Mark’s nativity scene where instead of being physically born he is spiritually born.
Jesus then spends the whole gospel of Mark trying to get other people to learn to see!
Experiencing no separation between yourself and the Holy Mystery we call God, and knowing yourself to be beloved and blessed by your communion with that Spirit, is what fuels your journey toward becoming more and more divine, and human.
So what I’m saying is that Jesus didn’t become incarnated at his baptism, nor did he confirm the incarnation he already knew, but rather he AWAKENED to his incarnation – he became profoundly aware of his inherent divinity and he embraced it and allowed it to grow his humanity!
Hopefully what I just said is stopping you in your tracks in bewilderment even as it moves you to start figuring out what it might mean for you.
Hopefully you’re thinking, “Is that, or could that be, my experience of God’s Presence?”
Hopefully it’s inspiring wonder in you!
I once heard a comedian say this very saucy joke, which he meant as a jab against Christianity, but that I hear as a profoundly rich theological question. He joked, “If we’re all God’s children, what’s so special about Jesus?”
Instead of hearing that as a shot at Jesus, I’m asking you to hear it as a blessing for all of us. If Jesus is God’s son, and we’re all God’s children, then we are sisters and brothers of Jesus – we’re kin, we’re family. And what separates one family from another? How are my kids different from your kids? It’s the DNA. We each have a unique family DNA. And if we’re all God’s children then we share, on a metaphysical and spiritual level, a common DNA – with one another, and with Jesus.
We have the same spiritual DNA in us that Jesus had.
We too are God incarnate!
We too have divinity and humanity within us and our journey – like Jesus’ journey – is to grow in BOTH of those things.
So it’s not that this idea makes Jesus less special, it’s that it makes us MORE special! Incarnation and divinity is woven into the deepest parts of every single one of us. That makes it on one level the most ordinary and mundane thing – and at the same time transforms that ordinary mundanity into an extraordinary thing teeming with spiritual potential and life-changing possibility.
I hope this is making your head spin with wonder!
You are God incarnate! You! Wow!
What are you going to do with that potential?
What kinds of experiences or rituals are you giving yourself to in order to help you awaken to your potential divinity and humanity?
What mundane experiences like coming up from under water are you embracing that have the potential to open you to sensing and savouring God’s Presence and allowing God’s love to fill you and fuel you?
What spiritual practices (like coming to church, or singing praise, or showing compassion, or vulnerable prayer) are helping you to see that the veil you think might be separating you from God’s Presence is in fact utterly torn open, and that you, despite what you might think of yourself, are in fact unreservedly beloved by God?
One last wondrous step. Earlier in Lent we explored the wonder of creation and that we are all profoundly interconnected because we are all stardust. Well, if all of creation shares God’s spiritual DNA then it’s not just humans that are God incarnate but also every animal, plant, tree, fish, and bug are filled with Godstuff too. Incarnation isn’t just us – incarnation is God’s solidarity with the ‘fleshiness’ of all life.
A Danish theologian named Gregersen calls this ‘deep incarnation’. Deep incarnation is about awakening to our inner divinity and realizing that we share spiritual DNA with one another and all of creation, which makes this simultaneously the most wondrously beautiful and mundane aspect of our being.
Everyone and everything has divinity in them.
EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING HAS DIVINITY IN THEM!!!!!!
The veil is torn and whatever you may think separates you from the Presence of God has been obliterated.
God is here. God is now.
God is beyond, around and within us.
God is mysteriously and wondrously incarnated in Jesus, and you, and me, in the flesh.
And this Spirit, this Sacred Mystery, this Ultimate Reality, this Foundational Love, is yearning for harmony with us and all of creation – and the message this reality we’ve named God is trying to convey to us is that we are beloved, we are one, we are God’s, and we are on a journey together.
iWonder where this love and Presence will take us?