September 16th, 2012 “The Word of God” Rev. Heather Jepsen
Sermon Series: The Theology of Worship
(Based on A More Profound Alleluia ed. Van Dyk)
John 1:1-5, 14 and Acts 4:31-35
This morning’s sermon is the third in our sermon series on how and why we worship the way that we do each week. In our first sermon we learned about the opening of our worship. God calls each of us to this time and place, and we begin our worship by singing praise and adoration to God; acknowledging that true worship comes from God alone.
In the second part of our worship service we come humbly before God in confession. We are called to acknowledge who we are as individuals and as a community before God; sinners in need of redemption. We hear the assurance of pardon and are once again reminded that we are made new in Jesus Christ. We sing the Gloria, praising God for the gift of grace. And we share the good news of forgiveness with each other by passing the peace of Christ.
This morning we will talk about the center of our worship service; the children’s sermon, the prayer of illumination which I am adding in, the reading of Scripture, and the sermon. This is the part of worship that centers most clearly on the Word of God and is the very heart of what we do on Sunday mornings.
When we talk about the Word of God, we are referring to our experience of God in several different ways. Reformed theologian Karl Barth suggests three forms for the Word of God. “The Word of God, first and foremost, is Jesus Christ. Second, the word of God is Scripture, as it witnesses to Jesus Christ. Third, the word of God is preaching as it finds it source in Scripture. Barth’s purpose in formulating the threefold form of the Word of God was to make clear the relationship between Jesus Christ, Scripture, and the sermon.” (Van Dyk)
The Word of God is first and foremost Jesus Christ. In John’s gospel we read that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” To talk about Jesus as the Word of God is to talk about all that God is; living on earth among us. It is to talk about Emmanuel – God with us. It is to talk about a specific time and place in human history, a story of particulars, about one child in one time in one place; the infinite God in the midst of the finite world. And it is to talk about the way that we come to know God and hear God’s voice through the actions and words of Jesus Christ.
“The good news of the Christian faith is that God did not “keep still silence.” God spoke. God spoke through prophets and through God’s law to God’s covenant people. And God’s people spoke right back, in worship and praise and prayer. Then, in God’s good time, God uttered a Word that pierced the silence of our ignorance and confusion, a Word that became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. Jesus Christ is God’s Word to a world deaf to the truth. Jesus Christ is God’s Light to a world blind to the truth. In worship, we hear that truth and see that light. When we gather for worship, Jesus Christ is truly present with us in each of our hearts and among us as a body of faith.” (Van Dyk)
The word of God is also used to refer to Scripture. Theologian John Burgess helps us think of several ways that the Bible specifically is the word of God for us in worship. “First, the Bible sets forth revealed truths about God. These truths might be theological, such as “God so loved the world that God’s Son came into the world to save sinners.” Or these truths might be ethical, such as “Envying what your neighbor has is wrong.” (Van Dyk) This is probably the way that is most familiar to you when thinking about the Bible as the word of God.
When we say that the Bible is the word of God, we also think about the Bible as a source of symbolic revelation about God. “The Bible is a repository of symbols and stories that express the religious longings of the human spirit and help us interpret our own religious longings. The Bible is the word of God, then, in the sense that it helps us find the word of God in our own experience; it points to the word of God that we discover in our own lives; it may offer analogies, metaphors, and markers to show how God is speaking to us now.” (Van Dyk)
Burgess also talks about the Bible as the sacramental word of God. “As a sacramental word, Scripture is not only a witness, however unique or authoritative, to the revelation that has taken place in Christ; rather, Scripture as Scripture also sets forth the living Christ. It draws us into Christ’s presence and invites us to be transformed into his image. It opens the possibility of relationship between the divine and the human.”
When Scripture is read and proclaimed in worship, Christ is presented to the community. That is why we read Scripture every Sunday. You will never ever come to this church for a Sunday worship service, or a special holiday service, or a wedding, or a funeral and not find Scripture at the heart of worship. It is in the Bible that we meet our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Reformed tradition, when we talk about the word of God in worship, we are also talking about the sermon. Scripturally, we can find this idea in the book of Acts. When Luke writes about the disciples being “filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking the word of God with boldness” he is talking about preaching. Of course to consider the sermon as the word of God puts both the pastor and the congregation in a delicate space.
Leanne Van Dyk describes it best when she says, “Preachers who are even marginally self-aware know keenly the paradox of the comfort and the scandal of the sermon. The comfort of knowing that the sermon can and does become the word of God for the people is what gives the preacher, despite fears and failings, the courage to face the congregation each Sunday morning. The scandal that the word of God is housed in the poor words of the preacher and then set free by the Spirit is a stumbling block as well – a stumbling block to the preacher, who may feel discouraged; to the believer, who may sense the poverty of the sermon; and perhaps even to the nonbeliever, who does not, or does not yet, hear the good news of the gospel.”
Personally, I find one of the amazing things about preaching to be God’s continual presence among us during the sermon. On the Sundays when I think I have a real zinger, I am likely to miss the mark. By contrast, on the Sundays when I think I have nothing but a flop, many in the congregation are deeply touched. Often people tell me they hear some profound message in the sermon that I am pretty sure I didn’t say. Somehow, the Holy Spirit comes among us in the process of words leaving my mouth and landing in your ears and intervenes, making it a moment of the word of God. Even on the Sundays when you are bored out of your mind, like today perhaps, your mind wanders in God ordained ways and you may get a message simply through your day dreaming.
The sermon is the audible experience of the word of God in worship. The sacraments are the visible signs of the word of God. We are reminded of the visible word of God every Sunday as we gather around the concrete signs of baptismal font and communion table. Last week, as we celebrated communion, we had the opportunity to know the word of God in what we saw, what we touched, what we tasted, and even what we smelled. For those who are looking, the word of God can be present to all of your senses in worship.
This Sunday I am adding a prayer of illumination to our order of worship. This is a time when we deliberately turn to God in prayer and ask that the word may fall fresh among us and be present in the reading of Scripture and in the sermon. This is another one of those centering moments in our worship service, reminding us why we have gathered together.
In our worship every Sunday, we experience the word of God. We experience the word of God in the children’s sermon as both children and adults experience God’s message at a beautifully simple level. In the prayer of illumination we ask God’s blessing on our reading and preaching. As we read Scripture, we experience the word of God through the words of the Bible. After reading the Scripture, we declare our beliefs and offer thanksgiving stating that yes; this is the word of God. Then during the sermon, the Holy Spirit comes among us, and the word of God travels from my heart and my mouth into your ears and your heart.
In all of these ways, Jesus Christ is uniquely present to us. This is the heart of our belief and the heart of our worship service. The Word of God is the center of everything that we do on Sunday mornings. Every Sunday we gather together in God’s name and every Sunday we hear God’s word. Through the ancient words of Scripture to the fresh words of the sermon, we hear God’s message to us. From here we then go out to be bearers of the word in the world. Thanks be to God for the blessing of God’s Word. Amen.