"Does God Have Down's Syndrome?... And Other Questions We Ask:" Sermon for the 12th Sunday After Pentecost

"Does God Have Down

Aug 12, 2018

Passage:John 6:35-51

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Incarnation

Keywords: down's syndrome, faith, hope, incarnation, love


Father Robert's brother Dolph, who has Down's Syndrome, once asked: "If I am created in God's image, does this mean that God has Down's Syndrome?" All of us have questions about the nature of God. What does God look like, sound like, act like? This sermon addresses these questions!


In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

One of the things I really enjoy is using Facetime to talk to my mother. I admit it was pretty funny the first few months we started using it. Mom would forget we were on Facetime after a while. Before you know it we'd get to talking and she'd move the phone back to her ear. I'd have to say, "Mom, I'm enjoying the close-up of your ear, but can ya move it out some so I can see your face?"

She's gotten much more adept at the technology now.

These days, one of the really enjoyable parts of our conversations is when my brother, Dolph, figures out that I'm on the line. He's usually back in the other room when I call, but he might walk through and see Mom talking to her phone and get curious.

Dolph, many of you may recall, lives with my mother. He has Down's Syndrome, and he enjoys watching Netflix and listening to music.

But when I'm Facetiming Mom, Dolph will walk through and the conversation is always the same.

"Mom, who you talkin' to?"

"Dolph, it's Robert on the screen here."

"Robert?? Really?? That's neat!  Well hi Robert! How are you doing?!?!"

Then he always, always, always follows with: "How's Jill? How's Catherine?"

I tell him they're doing well, and he seems genuinely pleased.  

What also strikes me, seeing my brother on that Facetime screen, is seeing his joy in his gestures.

Usually after this little exchange, he's ready to head back to his Netflix. But, I do love the fact that Dolph asks wonderful questions.

One time, a few years ago, he asked me a question that came out of his deep sense of  faith.

I was visiting home, and seemingly out of nowhere Dolph looked at me and said: "Robert, let me ask you something: If I am made in God's image, does God have Down's Syndrome?"

I've gotta say, this really threw me!

Of course, some of the major issues at the core of this question are: "What does God look like? What does God sound like? How does God act?"

I think that the scriptures we heard today help us to answer these questions.

In the reading from First Kings, we come across Elijah at a pretty low point in his ministry and in his life. Queen Jezebel has put a bounty on his head. Elijah is convinced that he will not be able to go on. He goes to the southernmost part of the kingdom of Judah, out of Jezebel's jurisdiction, but cannot find safe haven. He is adrift in a wilderness. He feels the pain of isolation, desolation, and despair.

Elijah sits under a broom tree and asks God to "take his life away." What's God's response? God nourishes Elijah with bread and water. God fortifies Elijah for his journey. God provides strength to Elijah, so that he may continue on his path. We hear that Elijah "got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God."

Horeb, of course, is the other name for Mount Sinai. This is the same mountain where Moses encountered God. In his darkest hour, Elijah is shown that hope is present where despair had been his only companion.

In the Gospel of John, we see that this same theme is carried forward, but on a much grander scale. Elijah had found himself going to a place of desperation in order to receive the bread of life sent from above. But in John's gospel, Jesus tells those gathered something quite remarkable: HE is the bread of life, sent down from heaven.

This is amazing! This is strange! What does he mean?!? Isn't this Joseph and Mary's son from Nazareth? What does he mean he was "sent down from heaven?"

It is natural to ask these questions. But what we have been let in on that the Judeans who first heard this "I am the bread of life" proclamation had not, is the Prologue to the Gospel of John. We have heard that Jesus, who is proclaiming such things, is more than just Joseph and Mary's son. We know, for instance, that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," and that "all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him is life, and the life was the light of all people." "And the Word became flesh and lived among us."(John 1:1, 3-4, 14)

So John has told us this right up front. By the time we hear "I am the bread of Life, sent down from heaven," we are supposed to "get it."

But let's think about that "Word became flesh" part for just a minute. When we hear Elijah's story, it's comforting in the broad sense.

But how many of us REALLY expect to have an angel pop down from heaven with warm bread and a cool drink when we're feeling low? I'm not saying it cannot happen! I just think that it doesn't happen often--even in the Bible.

But Jesus is telling us something different. The bread, which is something tangible, something even mundane, is what he IS.

This is what the incarnation means. This is what the "good news" is all about.

Folks, we don't have to wonder what God looks like!

We don't have to be curious about how God talks!

We don't have speculate about how God acts!

 We KNOW because in Jesus we see, standing before us, "the fullness of God."

We don't have to climb up to God.

God unveils, God emerges, God enfolds, God peeks through, God embraces, and God climbs down to us.[1]

Jesus is the bread of life because Jesus IS the love of God for everyone in all of creation. Jesus declares God's forgiveness outwardly and in our hearts. And as the Body of Christ, the Church proclaims the peace of God to all of creation.[2]

We become that love for all of creation.


So, when my brother Dolph asked if God has Down's Syndrome, I told him, "Of course God has Down's Syndrome. Because every time you forgive someone.... every time you bless someone.... every time you hug someone.... every time you love someone. God is doing it through you."



                [1]See William H. Willimon, “John 6:35, 41-51—Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol 3, ed. by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 337.      

                [2]Some of the ideas for this paragraph come from Edward F. Marquart, "Eternal Life: Pentecost 10B John 6:35, 40-51" Sermons From Seattle Website available at