A Sermon for Covenant
The Fear of Intimacy
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
November 24, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
“He is the image of the invisible God.” Colossians 1:15
Christ the King, the glorious King: In a democracy like ours, what is so exciting about a king? We know how to get by without, after all . . .
Of course, the point in Christianity is never really that Jesus is King. The point is what kind of king he is, and this is where it gets interesting to absurd. Somewhere between surprising and ludicrous we find the truth about this God-king, and the truth is that Jesus is a king like no other, Jesus is God-in-human-flesh, Jesus is a Great Power who came into the world as a baby, Jesus is the embodiment of Grace.
As some would say, he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, in him all things were created, in him all things hold together, in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven. This is a king like none other.
And while the poet of Colossians chapter one waxes eloquent, let’s admit it, this is strange and scary stuff. Christ is the image of the invisible God, and this means Christ the King is also Christ the Human and Christ the Lord is also Christ the Babe and this is a terrifying paradox.
It is easier for me to relate to God indirectly through nature, through music, through art, and those things are wonderful gifts indeed. I am a little more reluctant to take God personally, as if God were here, in human form. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and if we get right down to it, I’m scared to know him. Scared to touch his flesh. Scared to get close enough where we could taste each other’s breath and see each other’s skin tone.
Christ is the image of the invisible God and this means he is one of us. He is among us. He is at your elbow. He has elbows, this God, and fingers and toes and skin and eyes. Oh, the eyes! Can you imagine looking into his eyes, those windows into a person’s soul, what would it be like to look into the soul of God through his physical eyes? They were probably brown and they undoubtedly had depth and shine and alertness to them. I bet he could pierce you with a look, redeem you with one gaze.
Jesus is the scariest part of the Christian faith. It means I have to engage a real person. I am so much safer out in the woods, admiring the trees, appreciating God from a distance. Don’t put me in a room with an actual person. Christ is the image of the invisible God, and we’d rather God stay invisible, thank you very much. Save us from the dangers of intimacy. Christianity takes away that distance we’re sure we need from the divinity and it puts God right, right, right in our faces. Nose to nose with God.
I don’t want that. I want to be safe. Jesus is not safe because flesh-to-flesh relationships are never safe. They always challenge you, always change you, always frustrate you, confuse you, bring you to your wits end over and over and over. Flesh-to-flesh always recreates you, pushes you, prods you, does not leave you alone.
It is an image that terrifies me: God as human flesh. Humans let you down. Humans are messy and smelly and awkward and emotional . . . This is hard because we cannot know God apart from people, but then, people really screw it up for us, don’t they? Fathers, mothers, spouses, friends, pastors—people we were supposed to be able to trust but did not know how to love us perfectly, were not capable of blasting us with the uninterrupted love of God, and so we get a little squeamish around God, that God might be like the people we have known who disappointed us, who let us down. This is a king who gets right down in the thick of your life and most people prefer their king on a throne, a ways off, don’t you know?
If God were spirit-only it would be so much safer . . . we don’t have to bring our whole selves into it that way. It is neater, cleaner to keep things segregated: body over here, spirit over there. This is why historically the church has so often been hesitant to talk freely or glowingly about sex—it is just too much body and too much mess, way too incarnational, way too much spirit plus skin.
Brené Brown was doing some research on the sense of shame we often carry surrounding sex, and she found out that a lot of people turn to porn, not because their partners aren’t sexy or beautiful or satisfying enough, but because they are too ashamed to initiate actual sex with a real person. It is too much risk to engage a flesh-and-blood person, to risk the rejection, to risk real encounter in all its humanness, to risk the inevitable ups and downs in the longevity of relationship. It is easier, safer, more predictable, less vulnerable, less work, less margin for embarrassment to stare at a screen. In this sense, porn is less an indulging of our appetites and more a failure of our courage to take real risks in real relationships.
And I wonder if we are becoming a culture with pornographic religion—we’d rather consume ideas about God on the screen from a blog than show up among the people of God where it is messy and risky and raw and flawed.
I, for one, wanted to stay home this morning. Today is a hard day to be at church for me for all sorts of reasons, and maybe, if you weren’t counting on me to be here, I wouldn’t have shown. So much of the time, I am just one step removed from a failure of courage.
I don’t know about you, but I need the prayers of today’s text: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” Real religion takes strength and endurance.
Theocracy isn’t so scary if God stays put in the skies. When God wants to mingle, through the person of Jesus Christ or through the person of our neighbor, this is when we want to shut our eyes. If we open them, look a person in the face, we might be staring through glass into God’s soul.
Jesus is this collision of body and spirit, the firstborn example of what it really means to be human being, that is, the image of the invisible God, and to try and picture him for myself is a risky business. I get nervous that I won’t think of God as God is, that I will think of God has I want God to be, or as I have heard God to be. To imagine the person of God is to risk getting it wrong. I have to risk the pain of misunderstanding that inevitably occurs any time two people decide to start relating.
It was so courageous of God to come to us in human flesh—not just because we would kill him, but also because we would misunderstand him, mislabel him, use him to our advantage, take him for granted, make assumptions about him, be clingy and needy, then distant and aloof. God opened God’s self to all the heartache and drama of being among us, took deliberate steps to engage the messiness of intimacy, trusted us to reciprocate.
This, I think, is what Christ the King Sunday says to us, falling as it does right before the start of Advent, that we are invited into incarnational encounter with God. That we have a king who stands not above us, but among us, and this doesn’t always produce warm and fuzzy feelings, this invitation. If you’re paying attention, it is asking for the soul and the body of you. And if you’re not paying attention, it might be because you’re scared, because you’ve got cold feet. You’re avoiding the invitation in all its intensity.
That’s okay. Take it slow. It’s not like God is going to give up on you. All in good time, may you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power . . . Amen.
 Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, 102.