What's in a Word?
Travel With a Purpose
Words! Cheap! Dime-a-dozen! We are drowning in them. They hardly seem to matter anymore. And, in a world of word-spinners, can we really trust words, anyway?
The Christian tradition — particularly as it has been tended by Lutherans — has a rich understanding and practice of words. Care to spend a few minutes exploring what’s in a word?
Let’s start with the most basic aspect of being human — our relationships with others. What’s in a word? We really believe that God is in the words that move between us! We really believe that the Gospel of Christ is right there in our speaking and listening! The “mutual conversation and consolation” of sisters and brothers, the speaking and listening that flows between us, is nothing less than God’s word.
Christians share a kinship with Jews and Muslims who claim an identity as “people of the Book.” What a gift it is that we don’t wander in the dark, hoping against hope that we’ll bump into Good News by accident. As God has spoken, our mothers- and fathers-in-faith have been listening. They’ve listened with pen-in-hand, recording what they’ve heard. And haven’t kept it to themselves! The jottings, the scrolls, the letters and the books were passed along to others with a come-and-see kind of attitude. Come and see what God has spoken in a Word!
This word-in-a-book has a place of honor among us. It’s often a beautifully-bound book, large enough to be noticed. We place it in the front of the room, often lifted up enough to be in a noticeable place of prominence. Everyone can see it. Why? So that when it is read, not only will every ear but also every eye will be focused on it! And it often has a place of prominence in our households.
But the miracle is only beginning! Think about it! Ink-on-paper words, carried by light through the window of the body — the eyes — mixed with breath, exploding from the mouth, carried by the air to the ears of hungry listeners. And the Word — read, sung and proclaimed — reaching those dying to hear. But stay with me just a little longer.
A pilgrimage in search of the word
Have you ever looked beneath the book? Looked at what is holding the book? We would never think of confusing the book holder with the book itself! Neither would we confuse the book with what it says to us. Luther described the Bible as the manger in which we find Christ! Jesus Christ after all is the Word-made-Flesh. Ah, the wonder of it! In the reading, the hearing and the proclamation Christ is present with us!
So what’s in a word for you? How might you give your attention to this Word?
Immerse yourself regularly in the Word of God. Read it whenever you have the opportunity. Study it with others. Be part of a community where it is read and proclaimed.
When you’re with others, ask where God is in the words that are flowing between you, in the speaking and listening that is taking place.
Watch for the unexpected, unanticipated Word. At the end of each day, ask yourself “Where did God’s Word meet me today?”
Dick Bruesehoff is the Director for Lifelong Learning of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In October 2011, he and Diane Jacobson, Director of the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative, will serve as leaders of a study seminar called “Luther and the Word: A Reformation Pilgrimage to Germany & Prague” for CrossingBorders.