Monday, July 13, 2015

Word Power

Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35)
As I was reading this passage from Luke this morning, in which Simeon tells Mary about the amazing future of the baby Jesus, I remembered another passage from Hebrews about the power of God’s word:
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
As I pondered these passages, I realized that it’s no wonder, considering what Simeon and Hebrews say, that the people of Galilee hearing the Sermon on the Mount[1] were saying this:
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law. (Matthew 7:28-29 et al)
That “real authority” was the word of God in the flesh speaking to them.  Every word Jesus spoke was God speaking, so of course it would go straight to the hearts of all those who listened like a sword . . . or a laser, to use a more modern analogy.  And some who heard wouldn’t like to have what was in their hearts exposed, and others would be encouraged and comforted to have these words touch their hearts, maybe because some would hear grace, and some would hear truth.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The grace would bring joy, but the truth would be difficult. 
It’s amazing to me how the same words can be so different depending on how we hear them.  This is one of the reasons I love having the opportunity to talk about the Bible with people.  We all hear and see God’s word a little differently, depending on what’s in our hearts and minds at the time.  That timeliness is another reason why the words of the Bible are so alive and powerful and timeless.  This is the mysterious and wonderful work of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Maybe I am fascinated by this idea of the piercing potential of Jesus’ words because I am a reader and a writer, one who seeks to find and share the power of words.  Even though I read and write prose, I love how words can point to a beauty that transcends the words themselves like poetry, just like how individual notes of music put together create something that transcends the notes themselves.  This I think is in essence what it means to be spiritual--being open to the experience of this transcendence, and appreciating its beauty.  If this happens with words and notes of human making, how much more powerful it must be when this happens with words of divine origin.  Surely this is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was thinking about when he said that the “proclaimed word is not a medium of expression about something else, something which lies behind it, but rather it is the Christ himself walking through his congregation as the Word.”[2] 
Maybe this is what Cornelia Funke was thinking about when she wrote Inkheart,[3] a story in which some people have the power to truly bring words to life.  When the people in the book with this gift read a story aloud, the characters in the story come out of the story and are stuck in the real world until another reading puts them back.  You can imagine the complications that result.   I wonder if any of us have read Jesus to life out of the Bible and then wished we could quickly put him back rather than deal with his grace and truth.  But oh how he lives on and on as those words echo through our hearts and minds and lives.
May you hear and see Jesus as you hear and read his words today and every day, and know the power of his word to bless and comfort and heal and reveal, and find in them grace and peace.

[1] Have you ever wondered about the location and the acoustics that day?  Me, too.  Here’s what I found:
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Worldly Preaching,, ed. Clyde E. Fant (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1975), 129.

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