Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
I have some concerns about the word of God. Actually, my concerns are not about the words themselves. But, whether or not we have rendered The Word dead or ineffective.
In my Eastertime travels, I had two experiences that reminded me of the value of the Word. First, I attended a Catholic “Way of the Cross” through the streets of Denver. There were only six stations and the Gospels were read at each of them. But they did not seem to have a place of prominence.
The story of anguish and suffering of Jesus was presented, but also sort of lost in extensive choir music (mostly traditional, mostly not in my native language) meditations from the founder of the movement hosting the walk, a little bit of spiritual poetry, and a folksy homily given at each stop. So, mostly a whole lot of words, but no-so-much of THE Word. That was a little something to grumble about, but Easter morning was even more challenging. I attended a non-denominational worship service with my brother’s family. It was highly energetic and familiar. The preacher came out and gave a good testimony and witness. It was only while walking out that I recalled that the scripture was ever-so-briefly referenced and never distinctly presented. And, then, suddenly, this very same model re-occurred in flashbacks of prayer within groupings of youth ministers throughout the past few years. Great testimonies and witnesses, not so much scripture referenced.
So, this got me thinking – what are we missing? Where did the Word go? Here are a few of my thoughts….
We must present the word for it to be transformative
We live in a post-Christian culture. If we are to continue to be faithful Christians, we must be able to share beyond our own experiences and history. The HIS-story of the scriptures leading to Jesus and beyond must be a source for our religious imagination. We can no longer assume that folks, especially young folks, actually understand creation and the fall. Or the parables and beatitude of Jesus. Or even what’s occurring in the breaking of the bread. How about why the live performance of Jesus Christ, Superstar ended with the crucified Jesus fading into a bright light. (Sorry! Spoiler alert!) We must present the word for it to be transformative.
We must be present TO the word to become transformed by it
Worship and Praise music is just fine. But, despite it speaking to the experiences of many, it often risks presenting lyrics that utilize the words “I” and “me”. This turns the focus to what we seek to get rather than what we might give. Too often, we sing of us rather than God.
Take this popular song – “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God, You’re altogether lovely, Altogether worthy, Altogether wonderful to me.” It seems as if we are the protagonist of our faith, of the faith. Yet, our praise and worship is for all that flows from God.
Psalm 96 reminds us “Give to the LORD, you families of nations, give to the LORD glory and might; give to the LORD the glory due his name! Bring gifts and enter his courts; bow down to the LORD, splendid in holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth.” We must be present to the word to become transformed by it.
The Word has the power to transform lives
Recently, Pope Francis reminded us:
The prayerful reading of God’s word, which is “sweeter than honey” (Ps 119:103) yet a “two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12), enables us to pause and listen to the voice of the Master. It becomes a lamp for our steps and a light for our path (cf. Ps 119:105). As the bishops of India have reminded us, “devotion to the word of God is not simply one of many devotions, beautiful but somewhat optional. It goes to the very heart and identity of Christian life. The word has the power to transform lives”. GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE 156.
As we continue to seek how to bring young people to missionary discipleship, to a transformative relationship with the Lord, we must recognize that it is not our voice that counts the most.
“If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! 1 Corinthian’s 9: 16