"The Living Word"
I'd like to begin this morning by reading from the constitution of the ELCA. I know that's a pretty exciting way to start a sermon - just bear with me and don't fall asleep yet, because it says something really important:
CONFESSION OF FAITH
2.01. This church confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2.02. This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.
a. Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, through whom everything was made and through whose life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation.
b. The proclamation of God's message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
c. The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God's Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God's revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God's Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.
Did you notice where the confession began? It began by talking about the Word of God; and as it began talking about the Word of God, it began talking about Jesus. John says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, and without Him was nothing made that was made." Jesus is God's eternal Word. It is through Jesus, first and foremost, that God speaks to us.
In our day there has been a battle over the Word of God - it is couched in different terms. For some, it is a battle over certain translations of the Bible. For others, it is the battle over inerrancy. But something is missing when we begin talking about the Word of God there. The Bible is not the Word of God - Jesus is. The Bible is, as Luther said, only 'the straw in which the Christ Child is laid." Of course, what straw! But when we talk about the Word of God, we are not talking immediately about the Bible - the Bible bears testimony to the Word. First of all, though, we are talking about Jesus - about God's revelation of himself through Jesus.
Why is that important? Because it is not the Bible that gives us new life. It is not the Bible that saves us. Our eternal salvation does not depend upon which translation of the Bible we use, or whether we believe Jonah was, in fact, swallowed by a whale. Our relationship with God is not dependent upon whether every word in the Bible is verifiable as scientific fact. Our relationship to God depends upon Christ, on what he has done and continues to do for us, and in us. The Bible is important, because it reveals Jesus to us. It is God's great love letter to us.
Have you ever gotten a love letter? Some of you fellows who were in the service, and who happened to have a girl back home while you were overseas, know how important a letter can be. Today we have a lot of other means of communication. We keep in contact with our kids both on the telephone and through e-mail and Instant Messenger on our computer. Those times that we get to talk to them, to hear from them, are precious to us. But we certainly wouldn't make the mistake of trading them for the real thing. They are precious to us precisely because they keep us in contact with people we love; they reveal to us what is going on in their life. But they are no substitute for the real thing.
Now, there are some important promises regarding the Bible. We are told that, through it, God presents Jesus to us. More than that, God works faith in us as we hear about Jesus. The Bible is one means that god has of proclaiming Jesus to us. It is a kind of standard by which we judge other presentations of Jesus to us. It's like that fellow who gets a letter that is supposed to be his Father's will, but the language isn't right. It's not in keeping with everything else he has said or written. So he knows someone has slipped in a fake. The Bible helps present Jesus to us, and it is a standard for everything that anyone else says about Jesus.
God does present his Word is other ways as well. Most notably, in preaching. When I stand here before you, I purport to be proclaiming God's Word to you. That doesn't mean that I am merely telling you the truth, or telling you things that are important for you to know, or even sharing important messages from the Bible with you. It means that, when I am up here, I am to share Jesus with you, to present Him to you. That is my job. To present Jesus.
We can take this one step farther. As you share Jesus with one another, and with others, you are also bearers of the Word. Not just when you quote scripture, but as people come face to face with Christ in you - you, yourself bear the Word. And the promise of scripture also, then, applies to you - that through you - your words and actions presenting Christ to others - God's Spirit works something wonderful, changing and converting hearts, healing, reconciling, forgiving, and bringing new life and light into the lives of others.
The Bible has a very important part in all of that as God's love letter to His children. But, just as important, is the Word that is presented through us - through our words, and through our acts of love in Christ's name. When I think of that, the person who always comes to my mind is my wife's grandmother - her dad's mom. In her later years, she lived in a Lutheran retirement center outside of Pittsburgh. She was wheelchair bound and, in her late nineties, sometimes wondered why God kept her around. But we knew why, and so did the staff of St. Johns. The called her, "The Peacemaker." If they had a patient who was giving them trouble, they moved them in with Grandma Huber. She had a wonderful effect on people. She had all of the problems of old age. But she shone with the love of Christ. In her, people met the living Word, garbed in human flesh.
Luther said, "sola scriptura." "By God's Word alone." That Word is, first and foremost, Jesus Christ. It is a Word presented to us through Scripture, as God tells us how that Word has come into the lives of so many throughout the centuries. It is our standard and norm for talking about the Word. It is also a Word that was, and continues to be, clothed in human flesh - two thousand years ago, when Jesus walked the shores of the Galilee, and now, in His people - in you and in me. Through that Word, He converts hearts, he destroys sin and death, he heals and forgives, and raises us up to new life.
May that Word which God sent to us, which we proclaim, dwell in you richly, that you may also become a bearer of the Living Word.