Knowing and Speaking
Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by the Son... (Hebrews 1:1)
We are a very verbal society, we talk and explain and discuss everything. This reflects the fact that we have become a very intellectual society. Reason and comprehension often drive our actions and decisions, our relationships and decision-making. We seek to understand everything and the drive for knowledge and comprehension, the lifting up of reason, which has been a part of the Western experience since the 18th century Enlightenment, is in many ways a good thing. It has led to great discoveries in science and breakthroughs in, for example, medicine. This has led to the space program and the development of computers and the internet. Of course the dark side of all of it is that it has also led to more and more sophisticated and lethal weapons.
In the area of faith this emphasis on reason and logic, on knowing and explaining is more of a mixed blessing. Many of our friends and neighbors have, on the basis of their own reason and understanding determined that God is not logical and have opted either for out and out atheism, or usually more often for disinterest. Many do not see the value of faith or of being a part of a faith community mostly because for many of them it doesn’t make logical sense and they have not had an experience of the Holy to build on. (This is one reason why it is so important to bring children to worship from their youngest years – so they can begin to experience worship, experience a faith community in worship, experience Christ present and in our midst.)
Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking to know about God. I, myself, consider myself to be seeker and a bit of a scholar and I prize learning. But there comes a point at which we must be willing to accept and admit that there are some things that are unknowable, and simply not understandable about God. If God is God, then we humans, no matter how smart we are and how deep we dig, will never be able to answer all of the questions of the universe. And I would suggest that this is what the book of Hebrews is suggesting in the very first verse of the text. God is beyond us, unfathomable and there are times when we have to be able to say, “yes Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief!” There are times when we must allow ourselves to quiet our minds and just experience God’s presence.
In the opening statement of what many feel is actually a sermon, the preacher in Hebrews talks about speaking. “God spoke… by the prophets… now, God has spoken by the Son.” I suspect that when you hear these words many of you immediately think of words: God spoke words by the prophets, God has spoken words by the Son.” I want to suggest that this text is not about words. When God speaks things happen and the line between words and actions gets blurred. Think of the opening of Genesis: God creates and the poet in Genesis 1 describes this in terms of speaking – God says “become” and “it is!” When asked for a name, God tells Moses that God’s name is being itself. God is a God that IS! A God that just doesn’t lecture or preach, but a God that acts and accomplishes! We have a lot of words from the prophets but the prophets of Israel were much more than words as well. Elijah defeated the priests of Baal through action, Jeremiah purchases a property as a sign or action of hope and promise just at the point when the Babylonians are breaking down the gates to destroy the nation and life was falling apart.
And St. John tells us that Jesus, the Son of God, is the Word made flesh! God is not sending only words. God acts out of love and grace by becoming human, by loving, healing, caring, dying and rising! These are actions. God is a God of action! And God’s greatest action is living and dying and rising through a person – God incarnate – whom we know as Jesus. It is God, through Jesus, who opens his arms to us to invite us to live in him.
But what is our tendency? It is to replace experience with comprehension. To spend a lot of words trying to explain our faith in ways that would be understandable to skeptical 21st century men and women. So we hear about people going to great lengths and effort to explain, and explain, and explain. All those confusing parts of the bible, all those parts that don’t seem to jive with modern science, all those parts that seem to be contradictory, well we feel we have to come up with explanations. We cannot stand the ambiguity and so, too often we miss the main point because we are too distracted by these kinds of details.
The other difficulty of all this intellectualizing is that we end up turning Jesus into a great moral teacher and Jesus’ words then become a new law. The passage in our Gospel this morning is an example. Jesus has some harsh words about divorce and if you extract these words from the context of both the Gospel story and of Jesus’ own society then these words become a very harsh new law indeed. And many do just that and use these words and other passages to condemn and judge. But when we put this text back into its context in the Gospel, and set it also within the experiences that we ourselves have had with the love and grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus, then this passage takes on a very different meaning. While divorce is a sign of our sin and our fallen-ness, the resurrection of Jesus assures us of God’s forgiveness and acceptance. Not only that, but we also have the promise and experience of Jesus entering into the pain of loss and suffering, including the pain and suffering which comes as a result of divorce. Our faith is an experience; it is a relationship. It cannot be completely explained or understood; it is not always reasonable or logical. It is grounded in the experience of God’s love and grace that reaches out to us, to lift us up, to love us and forgive us and give to us new life.
So, here I am using words to try to explain the unexplainable: Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by the Son... How have you heard God speaking to you? How have you experienced God’s love and grace and forgiveness and acceptance? Have you ever wondered why worship is primarily actions: bathing with water, signing the cross, prayer, reaching out to greet another in Christian love, sharing bread and wine. The words we do share are primarily texts from Scripture, and the sermon seeks to open up scripture so that we might see and understand a little more. But it is all surrounded by action; action which reminds us of that we are loved and forgiven and treasured by the God who became enfleshed in the Word, and who then empowers us to act in the world in ways that reflect God’s love and grace.
"The Road to Emmaus" by HeQi - My favorite story from the Gospel and a story that is emblematic of the point I was making above. Talk, talk, talk and no recognition - but recognition comes in the breaking of the bread. Same with us!