There is a vast difference between being told how to do something and being shown how to do it, and we all know which technique works better.
This is the genius behind YouTube instruction videos. You can learn how to do almost anything on YouTube. Type in something you need to do, and someone will be willing to walk you through whatever it is, step by step and show you how it can be done.
Need to replace the battery in your particular model of laptop?
There is a video on that. You can watch the person disassemble, dig into the guts of the machine, lift out ribbon connectors and make comment on where the problem spots will be, show you how to re-seat them.
Need to know how to fix a leaky faucet? You can look it up by brand, style and even preferred plumber! Rich Trethewey of “This Old House” will show you how to do it this way….
Want to know how to make a Beef Wellington? Would you prefer to be taught by Jacques Pepin, Bobby Flay, or Julia Child?
Sure, you can still buy repair books, cookbooks with illustrations and directions, but just reading the directions is never as clear as watching someone actually do it and learning the craft of it directly from a master.
John in his gospel begins the story of Jesus in this way. In the sweeping narrative he writes:
“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
John insists that what is happening in Jesus is God coming to be with us “in the flesh” full of grace and truth.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” he says.
Over and over in John’s gospel we hear Jesus insist when asked that if you wish to see God, you are to look to Jesus.
This “becoming flesh” thing is for us the equivalent of a YouTube tutorial.
It isn’t that we don’t know what God’s hopes and dreams for us as a people are. It’s not that God has been silent through the ages, or hasn’t given instructions or teachings to us.
That was the point of creation from the beginning. God walking in the garden, talking with Adam and Eve, providing the world in order.
“Tend, nurture, have dominion, be fruitful and multiply.” You can do this!
That was the point of God calling Abram out of Ur, to walk with him and bless him in order that Abram might be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. “Show them how you can walk into promises.”
God was Instructing us how to live in the Covenant at Sinai, Moses bringing down the laws from God on the tablets of stone.
“Because you are my people, this is how you are to live together.” God says in those commandments and reiterates time and again.
“I am the Lord your God, there is no other.”
“Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
“Honor your Father and Mother.”
“Do not Kill.”
“Do not Steal.”
“Do not commit adultery.”
“Do not bear false witness.”
“Do not covet….”
The commandments had come to us through Moses. They were clear. They were concise. They were the written instructions on how we are to live.
They were to be inscribed upon the heart, kept ever before you, affixed between the eyes, fastened to the right arm, as reminders to us that these commandments were to shape everything we saw, and every action we undertook.
The laws given by Moses were the way to live, act, treat one another and go about daily life.
But such written laws are not always so easy to interpret.
The instructions given by IKEA on how to assemble a piece of furniture are also detailed and concise. And yet, if you have ever tried to build a piece of furniture from them you have found yourself turning the instruction sheet one way and then another trying to get the right perspective on the written and illustrated words there.
If you treat the laws of Moses like a recipe or like an IKEA assembly guide, isn’t just a little bit of license and adjustment well within the expectations?
Or if they are like a recipe, no one makes the same recipe exactly alike.
There are always “extra bolts and parts” left over after you’ve gotten the IKEA shelf together.
If you slavishly adhere to the recipe in cooking, you often still discover that it does not come out the way Mom used to make it. Techniques do matter! There are imperceptible changes and adaptations that take place over time.
“Mom did it this way, put in extra here, left out this….”
The law came through Moses, but over time the law has been tweaked and interpreted, or taken way too literally, or not taken seriously enough.
There are so many things that can go awry with things in writing, after all!
You can argue with words written, what the author might have meant, what the instructions written really were.
“See here, it says, insert tab ‘A’ into ‘Slot B’….and that’s just what I did…never mind the fact that I might have picked up the wrong two pieces, I still followed the instructions!”
Words alone, even on a page, are subject to interpretation and to context.
So it is that God comes down in Jesus to embody what God envisions, because it is much more difficult to dispute what you are shown than it is to argue with what you have heard or read!
That’s one of the reasons why as a Pastor I often get nervous when people like to quote scripture as “God’s Word” in justification of something.
“The poor you will have with you always.” Jesus said that!
And yes, Jesus did, in specific reference to Judas’ fixation on the cost of the ointment that Mary had poured upon him. But the words were not spoken as a justification for ignoring the needs of the neighbor.
They were spoken to help Judas see how he was missing the larger point of the beauty of what Mary was doing.
Show me a place where Jesus in his life and actions ever modeled dismissal of the needs of others, and if he did, did not quickly move amend his actions!
What Jesus came to show us is what God in the flesh would do, and what God deeply cares about.
Not just the words, not just the commandments, not just the expectations laid upon us from the outside, but true engagement in this world, with all of the complexity that comes with such engagement.
“This is what God would do if God were here….”
And so, in Jesus, God is here.
Now watch and see just what God does!
Watch as God in Jesus surfaces all the places where just following the letter of the law is not enough, or can get you into trouble, or fall short of the hope and dreams of God.
Recognize just how much adhering to what God would do ends up being a lot of fudging with the instructions!
Healing on the Sabbath? Jesus is breaking one of the laws of Moses there! Jesus does it anyway, because God is much more interested in health and wholeness than with rules and regulations.
Forgiving sins – God alone is supposed to be able to do that! Jesus does it anyway, partly because he is God and can, — but then Jesus goes on to confer that power to forgive sins upon his followers.
He does so because God is much more interested in life and wholeness than in keeping score or retributive justice.
Touching lepers, including the outcast, talking to Samaritans and Gentiles… all those things that we thought the Law of Moses was so clear about! Jesus goes ahead and does them anyway because the original intent of God was for life and wholeness and a creation healed and whole, and using the law to perpetuate brokenness is mis-reading the intent.
Time again the Word who becomes Flesh, full of grace and truth, ends up calling into question what we thought were all the hard and fast rules and written instructions!
This should give us pause at the beginning of the new year.
Many of us will or have undertaken that time honored tradition of “New Year’s Resolutions”, and the people who do life coaching and time management kinds of things will urge you to “Write them down!”
Once committed to writing, you will find them easier to adhere to, refer back to, keep.
Or at least you will have something to argue against when you want to fudge on them!
“No one had any idea there would be a pandemic when I made that resolution to go to the Gym last year, and so when the Gyms closed… well……”
Writing down your resolutions are no guarantee that you will live them out.
Living them out however, in daily action? That will make them a habit, and habit has a way of becoming a way of life over time.
That’s what the ministry of Jesus is about, in no small way. It is three years of him living out with his disciples an alternative way of being.
Three years of blessing the poor, healing the sick and caring for the broken, lifting up those left by the side of the road or excluded from society.
Jesus’ ministry is three years of showing us what it would be like if God were here.
“If God were here, this is what God would do….”
But more than that.
Jesus does not do that alone.
Jesus invites his disciple to experience it as well and engage in it with him.
He sends them out, two by two, when they think they really aren’t ready yet, and says, “You’ve seen me do it, do it on your own.”
Or as John puts it, “gives them the power to become Children of God,” filled with God’s Grace and empowered by the truth as well.
This is the ultimate YouTube video experience, because no matter how many times you watch someone else fix the computer, or fix the faucet, or make the recipe, there come the time when we you turn the video off and have to launch into it yourself.
This is, after all, the reason why you watched in the first place, so that you could one day do it on your own.
“The Word became flesh” is about God doing more than just telling us what to do or giving us the commandments for us to figure out for ourselves.
It is God coming to show us how it is done, this Grace and Truth stuff… and then setting us loose with the full authority to do it!
Because Grace and Truth have walked in among us and have shown us how to live, it can be done. This is what God would do if God were here, and because God in Jesus has conferred grace and truth to us, God is here in you, child of God! God is with us empowering us to do the grace and truth stuff!