Column by Mary Lee Talbot.
“God appeared to us as a baby to take God’s message of peace and justice all over the world,” said the Very Rev. Tracey Lind at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday Service of Worship and Sermon. “A few Christmases ago, a friend sent me a letter with a button attached to it. The button shows a baby crawling on all fours. I keep it at my personal altar with an icon of the face of Jesus, a cross, a dreidel and a rock in the shape of a heart. This baby was the human vessel of love who grew up to proclaim the reign of God. He was executed, rose again and lives on in the witness of the lives of the faithful.”
Lind’s texts were Genesis 1:26-31a and John 1:1-5, 14a and her title was “When God Pitches a Tent.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the radical truth of God came not as a strong man, or sage or saint, but in the birth of a child.
“Bonhoeffer was acting on behalf of so-called Christ killers in opposing Hitler,” Lind said. “As he waited in jail for his own execution, he was confident that the God-poured essence that was put in the baby Jesus would come at a great cost.
“What was radical, what was primary or the root, was that in Jesus, the Word entered the world as a human but remained God. God decides to show us rather than tell us the divine plan. As Verna Dozier said, ‘God did not come as a book, but a body.’ ”
The incarnation has deep roots in the ancient world, Lind said. In Greek mythology, the gods would mate with humans and have children who were demigods. In Egypt, the pharaohs were considered divine. Vishnu, in Hinduism, took the form of a human. In Rome, the emperor became divine when Octavian declared himself the son of a god.
“God’s word in the material world was introduced ‘in the beginning.’ Humans were made in God’s image and were blessed, and God said it was good,” she said. “All were meant to live in harmony and right relationship, but there has been brokenness and alienation from the beginning. “
God sent angels, prophets, storytellers, judges, lawyers and kings; God tried in every way imaginable to reach out to humans. Some understood, and others just did not get it, she said.
“God tried again in Jesus, one more time for people to try to get it and stay on the path of abundant life,” Lind said. “In the incarnation, the very character of God is revealed in a human being. God was trying to repair a tear in the great tapestry of the human condition.”
Lind’s mother was a Christian and her father Jewish, and she said that she wrestled with the Jewish insistence on monotheism versus the claims of the incarnation of God in Jesus by Christians.
“As I developed and matured in faith, a rabbi friend said to me: ‘Some are called by our Creator to see and follow the word of God through Jesus, and some are called to see and follow through other revelations.’ We are summoned to unity with other traditions; we are called by the one God,” she said.
The English word “dwell” comes from the Greek word that means to pitch a tent.
“It is not poetic, but in John’s gospel, the word became flesh and pitched a tent among us. The people who followed Moses made a sanctuary so the Holy One could dwell among them,” Lind said. “I love the image of the great ‘I Am’ pitching a tent to occupy our human realm — to have an up-close and personal view of the complex and chaotic life we lead.”
She said that when people build a building and put a moat or fence around it, they do not want to have interaction with people around them.
“When you pitch a tent in my yard, you use the bathroom, eat at the table and have conversation with the family,” Lind said. “This is why God became human, to be fully engaged with us, so we can feel our true worth, so we can really, truly hear what God has to say.”
She continued: “I am mindful today of people who sleep in tents because of war and famine; God is tenting among them. I am aware of those who put up tents in the public square, to protest for justice and freedom. God is pitching a tent with them as well. When I visited Occupy Wall Street, I kept seeing Jesus in the preaching, the teaching, in those picking up the garbage, quieting a child, praying with the sick or visiting those in jail.
“The word of God was dwelling with the people, and it is the only way for justice, peace and freedom,” Lind said. “Tenting with Jesus is not a cheap holiday. ‘It can be a literal reminder of what the world looks like when God’s word is made flesh.’ ”
She acknowledged that people’s movements could get out of control; it is sometimes difficult to discern if they are a blessing or a curse.
“It is hard to know if the occupation/settlement of the West Bank is rightful biblical action or a violation of international law,” Lind said. “For the self-identified anarchists in Cleveland on trial for attempting to explode a highway bridge, was violence acceptable, or what is the voice of anarchy in a democracy?
“Is violence in the name of the Lord ever justified when God is dwelling with us? These are complicated questions, and knee-jerk reactions don’t provide the way forward.
“I hope that we will have timely conversations together this week and that we will carry the conversation from here as informed people of faith. A people’s movement is frightening, but God is at work. Renovation is a dirty business, and it no wonder that we have muddled, messy, conflicted human efforts at reform.”
She said: “Jesus’ first disciples were frequently incompetent to spread the Word. They constantly missed the mark and fumbled the ball, and the beloved community has been doing the same ever since. When people speak and act prophetically, we might not like their form, but the protestors are saying, ‘We sleep beside you.’ When God wants a wrong righted, God comes to sleep and stand beside us.
“In Jesus, we find the good but radical news, first in a child and then an adult, that God decided to pitch a tent among us. In that most vulnerable and appealing creature, God spread love in the world while showing respect for those who know and worship God in other ways.”
The Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion, presided. Ms. Courtney Curatolo, the newly elected president of the Chautauqua Women’s Club, read the scripture. The Chautauqua Choir sang the anthem “Nearer, Still Nearer” by Leila Morris, arranged by Dan Forrest. The anthem was added to the Chautauqua Choir library in honor of Joyce Moskwa, who served as the Choir Librarian for 20 years. She retired at the end of the 2011 Season.
“All You Works of God” was the responsorial psalm based on Psalm 148. Pati Piper and Paul Roberts served as cantors for the psalm. The setting was by Marty Haugen. The hymn-anthem was “Peace Like a River,” an African-American spiritual, arranged by Mack Wilberg. The offertory anthem was “My Eternal King” by Jane Marshall. The text was from a 17th century Latin poem translated by the Rev. Edward Caswall. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services.
Present at the morning service were the 20 fellows of the New Clergy Program sponsored by the Department of Religion. It is the 12th year of the program. This week’s participants include six clergy couples from nine denominations and 10 states. They come from Bemus Point, New York City, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. Bill and Betsy Goodell and the Goodell family help to make the program possible.