16 Nov 2009
WORD OF GOD SUNDAY
Fr. Randy Calvo 2009
“… the Word of God at work within you who believe.” (1 Thess2:13) In the name …
Today our church celebrates the 100th anniversary of the designation of the Word of God as sacrament. It was called into existence at the Second General Synod of our church in 1909 by the clergy and lay people there gathered. There hadn’t been any fundamental changes made to the sacraments of the church since the Protestant Reformation over 350 years earlier when they chose to remove some of the sacraments. It was a brave and decisive choice for our 12 year old church to instead create a new sacrament. The Word of God has always existed, but our church gave it the recognition that was its due as sacrament. This act testified to our belief that God is present in His Word just as He is in the other sacraments. The Word of God, therefore, does not only convey meaning; it shares directly with all who hear and respond the presence and power of the almighty.
This past Thursday I was watching the Frontier girl’s soccer team play at Northampton High School. At the beginning of the second half, my daughter Kristin is lined up for the start of play, and as they’re waiting for the whistle to blow I yell out from the bleachers, “Kristin, wave to your father.” Oh, she heard me, but I got no wave. Those words carried meaning, but they didn’t convey power. On the other hand, our first encounter with God in the Bible is through the power of His word. God says “Let there be” and lo and behold there it is, the whole process of creation begins. It’s the same with Jesus. He says, “Your sins are forgiven” and they’re gone; He says “Be healed” and there’s a cure.
What I find extremely humbling, however, is that this Word of God is then shared with the whole of the church of God. It’s only natural to associate the Word of God with the commands of God and those of Jesus, but the Bible reveals, and the sacrament confirms, that this presence and power of God’s Word is also shared with God’s church, with us. St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit …” (1 Thess. 1:5) This means that it’s not only the written and preserved words of the Bible, sacred though they are, that convey the Word of God, but also the church’s ever-changing proclamation and her ever-current voice. This means that the Word of God is as real today as it was when Paul spoke of “our message of the gospel.” Revelation is not dead. God’s Word is never silent.
Paul didn’t regurgitate the words of Jesus when he arrived in Thessalonica; he preached Jesus to the Thessalonians in a way that made sense to them, and in response to their needs and questions. And anyone who’s been to our Bible study classes this year knows that Paul changed the church and her proclamation. He didn’t preach again what Jesus had said; he preached Jesus. His own words, “our message of the gospel” as he says, became the Word of God. Jesus and the earliest church were Jewish people speaking to other Jewish people. Paul took the church out into the world of the Gentiles, the non-Jews, and when he preached the Word of God he spoke according to the new circumstances of his ministry. If he hadn’t he would have failed. The presence and the power of God’s Word was in its ability to adapt. God is never silent so why should His Word be? God is never static so why should His Word be? We’ve sanctified Paul’s words by making them a part of the Bible, but what about the reason behind those words? Do we still see the Word of God as able to reveal God’s will and to inspire God’s church to speak to a changing world? If we can’t credit this to the Word of God, then the church will become irrelevant and ignored. This is why we speak of the sacrament of the Word of God, that the Bible and the church’s proclamation are not locked into the past, but that they are always with us in a way no different than Communion, or Baptism or any other sacrament.
Paul also writes to that same church of Thessalonica: “We constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the Word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s Word, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:13) Paul defines the Word of God not only according to what is proclaimed, but also according to how it is received. Last Sunday 11 of us traveled out to Boston to see the opera Carmen. We arrived about an hour before the show. I thought it would be nice to walk up to the Common and look around. Tim says to me, “You come all the way from Deerfield to look at more grass and trees just because they’re in the city?” But anyway, half of us started to make our way over to the Common, but we never quite made it there. Across the street from the Common is Remington’s Bar. That’s where the group chose to go instead. And why I tell you this is because Carolyn wanted a cup of tea, but not just regular tea, but herbal tea. When she asked, the waitress looked dumbfounded. “Do you have herbal tea?” That look from the waitress. “Do you have decaf tea?” That look from the waitress. “Do you have any tea?” That look from the waitress.
We can speak words, but if the person hearing them doesn’t comprehend what we’re saying, then it’s all for naught. St. Paul emphasizes, and so does Jesus in today’s Gospel, and so does our sacrament of the Word of God, that the proclamation which conveys the presence and power of God is completed only when it finds a response. Paul doesn’t only speak about “our message” he ties it together with “when you received,” and evidence that it has been heard, says St. Paul, is that it is “at work in you believers.” The Word of God has to be open to change, but the ones who hear it must also be open to being changed by the Word of God. This is the power and the purpose of our 100 year old sacrament. That we as church may be faithful to the power of the proclamation of the Word of God, and that we may receive and let it work its mystery through us, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.