Despite the fact that Acts was one of my first choices as part of your community, Acts is rarely my first selection. When looking at the lectionary–the 3 year cycle of Scripture that typically include an Old Testament, Psalm, Gospel, and New Testament Letters–I will most often settle into the Gospel because Jesus. Or the Old Testament for the amazing stories and characters that we find there.
In Acts, we have a lot of stories of men sorting out the church. And we have Paul, creating the doctrines of the church everywhere he went. And some of them were flawed and we keep carrying his legacy with us. So, I would most often skip over this story of Paul, and his flair for the dramatics.
Because tearing apart one’s clothes over what might be a misunderstanding sounds to me to be a bit over the top and seems a bit dramatic. First off, how many articles of clothing is he traveling with that he can be so casual with them. Also: Could they have used it as a moment to find humor? Or maybe it could have become a teaching moment. Used it to get a meal and have a conversation? Find a place to stay? Have one get out of jail free card–which they were going to need, a lot.
But, Paul and Barnabas didn’t want to be seen as god, but they wanted to bring God into the world, to reveal God who lived incarnate in Jesus. Paul and Barnabas wanted to reveal the God who reveals and works through bringing healing, compassion, love, nourishment, justice.
Paul and Barnabas were healing a man when others saw them, and called them Hermes and Zeus, Greek gods, but they were healing this man because it was one of the clearest ways that they knew God revealed Godself in the world. Jesus brought wholeness to those he met, God revealed Godself in bringing wholeness.
I spent a lot of money on a degree so that I can say some big words. Today’s work is: theotokos. It’s not a word that we use very often and certainly not one that we would probably use this time of year… The theotokos is Greek for the one who bears God. The Orthodox Church, the eastern branches that were the result of the Great Schism in 1000. It’s a word they use today. Instead of saying “Mother of God” like our Roman Catholic family says, much of the Eastern Church might call her the theotokos. This was a theological statement. There was a time in the earliest days of the church when the church didn’t have all the details and the theology worked out.
There was a faction who thought that Jesus was fully god on earth–just Spirit. And there were those who thought that Jesus was just a human–a prophet. And then there were those who thought that Jesus was half of each and those who thought Jesus was fully both human and Divine. Calling Mary the theotokos is a theological statement–claiming that God is born of a human, connected to both realities.
Because giving birth is a very physical plane experience, which I know sounds weird, but it’s not exclusively human, it is physical, tactile. It is pain and relief. And it is emotional. It is struggle and joy, fear and love, it is being overwhelmed and living in uncertainty. You stare at this tiny human and you don’t know who they will become, but you have not the responsibility to raise them up into a good person. It is everyday work. It is living the example you want to set. It means it’s going to be imperfect but it’s learning to be honest, ask for forgiveness, being vulnerable and forgiving.
And normally only think about theotokos in regards to Mary, and really only during Advent. We see Mary as the theotokos, the Godbearer. She, in some communities, is idealized, is venerated, is distinct in the world.
But it seems to me, Paul and Barnabas were upset because they were seen as gods and not as Godbearers, they were mistaken for gods but those around them missed the God they were pointing to, the God they were revealing. The God they were incarnating in the world.
My first church jobs were in children and youth ministry. When I finished college, I was 22 and thought I was way smarter than I was, and was all of 5 years older than the oldest student I worked with, which seemed like enough back then, but is almost nothing when I think about it now. I did my best to balance being honest about who I was with being separate and not much older. Along with everything else I was trying to do, it was being present, being authentic, and Godbearing.
Kendra Creasy Dean and Ron Foster wrote about the Godbearing Life. They wrote it for leaders of youth ministry, to help the youth leaders think about their role in the life of the young people and the life of the church. The youth leaders are revealing, incarnating the God revealed in Jesus to the young people, inviting them into the experience of the Holy, into the life of the church, who ought to be bearing God into the world, too. And doing all in hopes that they young people have God grow in them, leading them to love the world that God created revealing that love in compassion, kindness, healing, justice, mercy, abundance.
But I don’t think such work remains that of those who work with children or youth. We are called to be Godbearers. We are called to be present in our homes and in the world around us remembering that, for starters, bear the image of God for we were made in God’s image. Church, as a collective we might be the most significant representation of God to the people of our community. And as individuals, we might be the representation of God that our neighbors see.
And we, being made in the image of God, are imbued with a spark of the Divine. It grows in us when we gather together, when we study and learn. It call us to love and forgive our neighbor, and that helps us to grow too. But the spark of the Divine does not long to be locked away in our hearts but rather to burst forth into the world, bringing wholeness, love, compassion, abundance, nourishment, hope.
And I’m all for inviting us into spaces that are out of our comfort zones, but we don’t’ have to go somewhere different, because WE are different. When we live into the call of the Divine to grow, when we nourish the Spirit in us and between us, we are going to be changed, let least a little. And when we listen and answer the call of the Spirit in us that calls us to live The Way of Jesus: the way of compassion, reflection, wholeness, abundance, justice, we are Godbearers. In our every day we are bearing God through our lives, into the world, into our work, into grocery stores, into our families, to all the places we go and into all that we do.
How might that change the way we interact with store clerks? Co-workers, bosses, employees, clients, neighbors, our children–every interaction is revealing some aspect of God? Would we respond in love, kindness, curiosity, hope, patience, forgiveness, would we apologize more and defend ourselves less? Would we be more willing to go the extra mile or just invite a friend, or your family, to join you? To grow with you, to learn with you, to be a Godbearer too.