November 7, 2010
Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way
The Challenge of the Word
In case you have ever wondered, sometimes ministers do add specific points to their messages that are intended for specific people. I did that; once. A number of years ago, as I was writing a sermon, one person came to mind as I wrote part of the message. I added a point I believed that person really needed to hear. On Sunday that person was in worship, and at the conclusion of the service, as I was greeting people, they approached me and said, I’m glad you preached that sermon this morning, and I’m especially glad you made that one point (which was the point I had intended for them). But they went on to say, I’m glad you mentioned that point because so-and-so was here and they really needed to hear that.
That moment taught me we should never underestimate the difficulty of self-understanding and our capacity for self-delusion.
Because we don’t always have insight into ourselves and because we don’t always reflect deeply enough about ourselves, we need something that will challenge us, something that will reveal the truth of who we are as well as the truth of who we can be.
It is, I believe, the Word that accomplishes that for us.
We are nearing the end of our series Meet the Challenge: The Disciple’s Way, and this morning we are talking about The Challenge of the Word.
The Word – the Word from God – comes to us in several forms. One of those is The Spoken Word, which, in our case today, is a sermon, or message. You receive from me a word each Sunday. One of the challenges of the spoken word is that it is filtered through my perspective and my viewpoints. The spoken word is like water that seeps into the ground and eventually makes its way to a spring. As that water seeps through the soil and through the rock it picks up materials that become part of the water.
The word you receive from me arrives to you after running through the filters of my perspective and my experiences and then arrives in a form that is influenced by all those factors. The difficulty of the Spoken Word is differentiating between thus saith the Lord and thus saith Dave. Those are not one and the same.
This is why I hope you are not overly dependent upon me when it comes to the Scriptures. I hope you are studying on your own. If you depend on me you are getting it somewhat second-hand, and it comes to you with all the extras that are added by my perspective and my personality.
One of the most important parts of our heritage as Disciples is the emphasis on the freedom and responsibility of each person to study and interpret the Scriptures for themselves and to not be dependent on what someone else tells us it says. That heritage reminds us that each of us brings the Word to others. You bring the Word to others as they listen to and observe you each day.
The Word comes to us also as The Written Word, which is Scripture. What was the topic of my last sermon? If you don’t remember sermons very well, don’t worry about it; I don’t either. But there are a few that have really lodged in my mind over the years. One that I remember hearing dates all the way back to 1983, and it was a sermon about how we develop our own personal Bible, gravitating to the passages we like, and ignoring those we don’t like, until we create a much smaller Bible, one that suits our tastes and our perspective. And I think that is absolutely true. Some people gravitate to the book of Leviticus and raise every regulation they find there to an absolute necessity. I feel that way a little bit, because I don’t like casseroles, so I like those verses that prohibit the mixing together of different items. Some people would be happy to remove the book of Leviticus altogether.
During my seminary years, there was continual controversy about the interpretation of the Bible. The written Word came to be used as a weapon, attacking those whose interpretation was different. And when the Word is used as a weapon it devalues both the Word and its hearers.
One thing I learned during that time is that no matter how one identifies himself or herself, we all ignore – or water down – certain passages. I know people who are very, very strict literalists when it comes to the Bible, until they come to Matthew 5:39, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, suddenly they forsake being a literalist. Or Matthew 19:19, love your neighbor as yourself. But Jesus doesn’t know how irritating my neighbor can be. Or Matthew 25:45, what you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
Lastly, the Word comes to us as The Living Word, which, as our Scripture passage for today tells us, is Jesus.
I have a friend who says that when he reads the Bible he pays special attention to the words printed in red. I think that’s a pretty good perspective. It is The Word, the person of Jesus who is our ultimate measurement. In the Sermon On the Mount it was Jesus as the living Word correcting misinterpretations and misapplications of the written Word.
Philosophers and theologians and people in the pews argue over interpretations and points of view sometimes, I believe, because it is easier to do that than to hear the Living Word. I would rather argue the finer points of Arminianism versus Calvinism than face the painful truth of not loving my enemies or being interested in praying for those who would persecute me. It’s easier to discuss some esoteric theological point than it is to confess why I don’t love my neighbor as I love myself.
The Word became flesh, John writes, and dwelt among us. He pitched his tent among us, as my Greek professor taught me many years ago.
Most of us have had a nickname at some point in life. The early Christians were called Christians as a derogatory term. It means little Christs. But what was meant as an insult became a description, as they were indeed like Christ. May we seek to be like Jesus, the Living Word.