Finding the Right Word
Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; John 1:1-5, 14
Finding the Right Word
Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; John 1:1-5, 14
(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, 5-31-2020)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. Then more words came and more words followed after those words and the words are still coming. You and I are awash in words. Often dreaded words, doublespeak words, deadly words.
Dirty shades deflect the bright light of the newly risen sun pouring into the room. Clothes are wrinkled and matted from a lost battle for sleep in the ER waiting room. Finally, the doctor stumbles in and says that the pregnancy has miscarried and she cannot explain why. Too many words. Dreaded words.
The carpet is worn from pacing as he waits for a call. The interview went so well, better than any before. Why don’t they call? The phone finally rings and then he wishes they had not called. Too many words. Disappointing words.
The car door slams in mid-sentence. “You just don’t get it, do you?” is his futile attempt at stopping her. And, she does not get it or get him. Neither one does. They shoot words at each other like live ammunition regardless of the fallout. Theirs is not a marriage; it is a survival contest. Too many words. Demeaning words.
I spend so much time looking for the right word. Preachers traffic in words as much as anyone I know. No sooner is one sermon over then it is time to start looking for the right word again.
And that is true not just for sermons. I look for the right words when I am sitting with a family in the hospital and the surgery has not gone as planned or when a parent calls and the teenager has left home without a going away party or when someone is fiery mad about something the church did or did not do or something I said or failed to say. Finding just the right word is hard.
If the biblical story holds true, this is not just a preacher’s problem. It is part of the human condition. We are all desperately searching for the right word and God knows, we need it. God knows, the whole world needs it.
What is the right word to say to over 100,000 families who have lost a loved one to this viral virus? What is the right word to say to friends who laugh at all our precautions, our hand washing and mask wearing and keeping at a distance, friends who think that closing anything, especially the church, is a fool’s mission?
What is the right word to say to our sisters in brothers in the African American community as, once again, they watch vicious killings of black men while white leaders pronounce it has nothing to do with racism? What is the right word to say to those in positions of power so that they do not rest until justice comes in all colors?
Long ago and far away there lived a human community that had the right word. They had no trouble sorting out each other’s accents or dialects. They had no trick words in their language, no local idioms that made understanding impossible. They spoke and no one needed a dictionary or an interpreter. They always knew the right word.
This community had a serious problem nonetheless. They lived constantly in fear of losing the right word. Every minute they worried about being divided, split into groups speaking different words, spread across the face of the earth into a hodgepodge of competing words.
So, they set out to erect the Babel Building, an architectural wonder, an impressive structure to wall in their treasured right word. Once it was complete, they would make a permanent name for themselves, a name written in one language across the sky. They would never be at a loss for words because they would have them all at their fingertips.
Tragically, though, their Homeland Security project failed. The wall reaching the sky did not pass divine code and they lived into their greatest fear. The higher they built, the more fragile was their understanding of each other. Their one word became a hundred words, then a thousand words, and then ten thousand words. They were scattered across the land into a chaotic cacophony of words. Those whom God had already given a name now could not even name each other.
Years passed and the babel grew worse. People kept looking for the right word, but just missed finding it. Yelling increased and arguments intensified. Nations spit out awful words against other nations.
Then something totally unexpected happened.
John says it this way, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth.” It is no accident that the name for Jesus in John’s Gospel is “Word,” or in Greek, “logos,” the word, the “right” word.
In Jerusalem, not long after Rome pierced the Word made Flesh and then bereft women found an empty tomb, the Spirit of God rushed into the lives of anxious, sequestered disciples. People of different races and genders, classes and religions could hear each other, could make out what each other was saying, could finally genuinely understand each other again.
Not everyone understood, mind you. Some thought the disciples had hit the sauce a bit too early. Many, though, marveled finally to hear the right word, the Word made Flesh. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
Pentecost is a festival of words or more accurately, the Word of God turning life into a festival. Pentecost is more than an ancient Jewish and Christian history lesson, more than a holiday that we moderns find puzzling at best; it is a continuing miracle in our midst.
Pentecost happens every time we come to the table to eat the bread and drink the cup, every time the waters of baptism drown out all the lesser words that people use to try to name us, every time God’s consoling and agitating Spirit sends us out to protest on the streets for those with no voice or with a voice that no one cares to hear, to give to or volunteer in Food Pantries when the economy has collapsed on the shoulders of the poor, to insist that everyone be able to be tested for this vicious virus regardless of how much they money have in the bank, and to not settle until racially motivated beatings and killings stop in our land.
In the beginning was the Word and in every true beginning is the life-giving Word of God, breathing out community where isolation reigns, breathing out solidarity where schism seduces, breathing out courage when the powers that be would have us cower in fear, breathing out the true Word, not dreaded words, not deadly words, not divisive words, not toxic words, but the right Word, the Word made Flesh, the incarnate Word living in Palestine, the Spirited Word still alive and active on this Pentecost morning.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
In every true beginning is the Word.