17 Nov 2013
“It really is God’s word which is also at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13) (+)
In 1909 our 12 year old church denomination named a brand new sacrament for us. That took a heck of a lot of moxie. The sacraments are the greatest gifts that the church has received and the greatest gifts that the church can share. You don’t treat them lightly. You deal with them with all the respect you can muster. This is why children go to catechism with me for a school year before receiving the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, why teenagers spend two school years with me before Confirmation, why engaged couples have to meet with me again before I can marry them, and why I had to spend three years in the seminary before I could become a minister of these sacraments. All of this is a sign of the great importance we attach to the church’s sacraments. They are never supposed to be regarded casually. So when our church met for the Second General Synod it was huge that those lay and clergy delegates voted to declare the Word of God Heard and Preached a new sacrament of our church. It was only two years earlier that we had entered into intercommunion with the Old Catholics of Europe when they consecrated Fr. Hodur as our first bishop. This group did not understand, appreciate nor accept what we had done, but we did it anyway because we felt so strongly that Jesus Christ is Himself present in the proclaimed and received Word of God.
Why it was never named a sacrament before 1909 surprises me. The only connection between Jesus and the sacrament of marriage is that He was at one in Cana of Galilee. The only Gospel to mention Jesus baptizing anyone is John’s, but just as quickly it corrects itself and says it wasn’t Jesus but His disciples who baptized. He never ordained a priest. But Jesus preached. Everyone of us knows that Jesus preached. We all must remember at least one parable even if it’s the one I just read about the farmer and the seed. And while Jesus did tell His disciples “do this in remembrance of me” at the Last Supper, and while the resurrected Jesus commanded them to “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” what primarily defined the earliest church was the Word of God.
Pentecost explodes upon the church, and the first sign of the church’s new life is preaching. Then even before we meet Paul, who was all about the Word of God, we find Peter and John preaching in the Temple. They’re arrested by the religious authorities and they are charged “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) But they’re like the honey badger, they don’t care. Instead, they pray to Jesus that they may be able “to speak your Word with all boldness.” (4:29) Then, says the Bible, everyone there was filled with the Spirit, and evidence of this was that they all “spoke the Word of God with boldness.” (4:31) Jesus preached God’s Word. The church preached God’s Word. The Word defined Jesus’ ministry and it defined His continuing presence in the earliest church. Why it was never named a sacrament until 1909 eludes me. It epitomizes the power and presence of Christ.
I’m afraid that why it may have taken so long for the Word of God to be honoured as a sacrament is that it cannot be corralled. It can’t be safely fenced in. You don’t know what to expect from it. The Word is by nature spontaneous and uncontrolled, and that is unlike any other sacrament. Remember what I said earlier about all of the preparation needed to receive First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage and Ordination. It’s not like that with the Word of God. When Moses was commanded to be God’s mouthpiece before Pharoah, he didn’t even know the name of the God who was sending him. When Paul was knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus, he didn’t have a clue that it was Jesus speaking to him from heaven. The Word of God is played in God’s court on God’s terms. It’s the only sacrament that can be received without being a Christian. And even for Christians, no one can be sure how the Word of God will be understood. This is why the sacrament says clearly “Heard and Preached.” The sacrament is just as authentic when preached by a priest or bishop as it is when it is heard and processed by anyone open to the gospel. You receive Communion from me, but we share together in the Word of God. The power of the sacrament doesn’t come through me. It comes through us. This vitality and independence is what can scare the institution, but it’s also what can give it life.
Today’s Lesson tells us that the Word of God is not only words. I think a literal reading of the Bible forgets this. Fundamentalists lock into just the words. And then they’re stuck with having to defend all sorts of outdated, unneeded and often times silly verbiage and legends. And worst of all fundamentalism assumes that God only spoke in the past. The Sacrament of the Word of God Heard and Preached is based on our belief that God is still speaking. The Word, says St. Paul to us today, is full of power and of the Holy Spirit. It is at work in us. For Paul, the Word he preached was inspired by Christ and then that Word took on new life in everyone who heard it. This is how God continues to speak with us and us with Him. The Word of God is what challenges the church to change and grow. And that the Word of God is active and working in all believers is what authenticates our Catholic democracy. For there is another phrase associated with the Word of God in the Bible and that is “you yourselves have been taught by God.” (1 Thess. 4:9) There is a fundamental equality in the church that is based on baptism and that is enriched by the Word of God. It is this collective inspiration and wisdom of the church that is our authority. It is the judgment of the majority that guides the church and it is the voice of the minority that can change the church, and both are necessary for Christ to keep speaking to us.
On this Word of God Sunday, let us appreciate afresh the gift and power of our unique sacrament, and let us trust that God is still speaking to us and through us. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo