Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Use your words

My sermon for this week was based on John 1:1-18.

As near as I can tell, my parents only ever lied to me about two things: 1. They said the dentist wouldn't hurt me, and 2. They taught me that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me".

They didn't mean to lie, of course.  In teaching me that little ditty that every school child knows, they were trying to tell me that I should not allow words to hurt me, but the fact of the matter is that words do hurt, and they can often hurt more than physical wounds and take much longer to heal.

The reason is that even today words have power, and this was even more so in Jesus' time.  Words accomplished things.  When you said "bless you" or "curse you" to someone, it was really believed you were doing something.  So when John refers to Jesus Christ as the Word of God, he is making a pretty momentous statement, one which signifies one of the greatest leaps in religious thought and philosophy that has ever been made.

Interestingly, the theology of the Word may never have come about had it not been for a problem John had to solve: how to make Christianity comprehensible to Gentiles?  Ancient Judaism was apocalyptic and messianic, meaning that they believed in an end time, and they believed someone would come to save them from and/or lead them through it.

Jesus was Jewish, as were all his Apostles and his early followers.  Partway through his ministry, however, he deliberately expanded his message to the Gentiles, many of whom were Greek, and by the time the author of John sat down to write his Gospel, Gentile Greek converts to Christianity outnumbered Jewish converts by many thousands to one.

These Gentile Greek converts did not come from an apocalyptic/messianic background, and there was little success convincing them that there was an end time coming, much less that they needed to be saved from it.  It was simply not an idea with which they associated at all.

So how do you convert people to a religion which relied so much on apocalypticism and messianic prophecy?

You don't.  You find points of similarity.

The Greeks could not relate to the apocalypticism of Judaism, but they could relate to the importance and power of words.  The Greek word for word is logos, but this concept extended much further than our own English definition of the word.  Logos could mean, logic, reason, will, thought.  It was a dynamic concept that referred to much more than the written or spoken word.  It was something that expressed the very essence of a person or being.

Think of expressions like, "You have my word on it" or "My word is my bond".  These express something that is sacred to us.

In other words, they communicate something about ourselves to others.  And that is what is at the heart of what a word is: it communicates.

A word is different from a sound or random noises.  Sure, the tone of a baby's babbling might give us an idea of what he/she wants, but there are no concepts being communicated or exchanged there.

To call Jesus the Word of God is to acknowledge that he was not just a random blip of wisdom, he was not just a really smart and profound guy, he was not just a prophet.  Rather, to make that claim is to say that Jesus Christ was the very will of God personified, the very words of God being spoken directly to us.

That's pretty serious business, and it leaves us as Christians with a pretty serious question to aks ourselves: how do we use our words?

Jesus conveyed the Gospel, literally the "Good News" to us.  He spoke words of love, justice, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance and tolerance.  Whether you are Christian or not, whether you are atheist, you can't argue that those are pretty good words to speak, and more to be preferred than words of hate, injustice, mercilessness, etc, etc.

But if you are a Christian, then that means that you have a responsibility to echo the words of Christ.  If you are a Christian, then that means you have an obligation to convey the good news, and to not use your words to hurt, damage, disparage or destroy.

Use your words, and use them well.

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