Tuesday, May 22, 2012
I have given them Your Word....
How easy it is for us to think that God has forgotten us or abandoned us. For too many of us, God is mostly absent from our lives. We think He is not there until we summon Him. So prayer has become the great sacrament that we under take to bring an absent God to bear upon our needs and problems. But this goes in the face of the promises of Christ. The disciples who watched Jesus ascend did not wait for uncertainty to become clear, they waited upon the promise of Christ to be fulfilled. They had His Word as their comfort, consolation, guide, and power.
Now 2,000 years later, we act like we have nothing until we call upon God, no promise and no Word to fulfill that promise. We point to heaven as if God were out there somewhere. We are not sure where God is but we know He is not here. We pray and He comes. Oh, we have the Spirit but the Spirit is not who we want. We want Jesus. And for us Jesus is away from us in heaven until He is bidden.
Interestingly, Matthew's Gospel does not even record the Ascension. Mark's longer ending tells us that Jesus was taken up to be present in the proclamation of the Word. Luke alone gives us the details of Jesus' Ascension. John's Gospel does not record the Ascension but here we have the high priestly prayer of Jesus on behalf of His disciples and those who will believe through them. It is in John's Gospel that we are told these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and that by believing you might have life in His name.
Jesus prays for us saying, "I have given them Your Word." Remember that Jesus delivers to us the Word of the Father and keeps the Father's will. Jesus insists that He has not left us alone or vulnerable; we have His Word. Jesus' Word and Jesus are not different things. Here on earth we say one thing and do or mean something else. But not Jesus. Jesus Word is His bond, His promise. There is nothing more true than the Word of Christ.
Jesus is present among us through His Word. This Word is not a text book about Him but His own Word to us. It is a living Word, a voice that speaks and not words on a page that is read. It is the Word that does what it promises. Jesus works through His Word. Through His Word He keeps His promises to us and delivers what He has said He will give to us – even His very self. We have for too long assumed that to know the Word of God is to know words on a page, chapter and verse. But to know the Word is to know Christ. We learn His Word not because we pursue knowledge but in order to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
You may feel alone but you are not alone. Christ is here in His Word, the written Word of Scripture, the visible Word of the Sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, and the proclaimed Word of witness we bring to the world. We are not alone and we have no mere consolation prize. We have Christ and the power of His Word. That Word continues among us to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify us, to wash us and make us new, to feed and nourish us.
What we bring to the world is not some second hand word about some thing or someone. What we bring to the world is this life-giving Word that is Christ. It may be the preacher's mouth on Sunday morning but it is Christ's Word speaking through it. It may be your mouth on Monday morning but it is Christ's Word speaking through it. This is what gives our witness its power – not our winsome character or eloquent language but Christ who is the Word we speak. Jesus ascends into heaven so that we might give us His Word, so that He might speak through this word and witness to the world. Jesus has given us the Father’s Word. The Spirit makes known Jesus’ Word. And the witness we give to the world is to speak this Word that the Spirit may engender faith in the hearer and move them to repentance.
By ascending, Jesus keeps His promise. "I have given them Your Word." His Church now stewards this Word. Look at what Jesus prays. He uses Word and Name interchangeably. I have given them Your Word. I have given them Your name. Where two or three are gathered in My name, He says, there I am. The community of faith gathers around this Word, this Name, and this Word and Name is our witness to the world. Here is Christ and here Christ is known among us and here is what we are called to bring to the world. Not thoughts or opinions but His Word. How sad it is when somebody misses church we act as if they have not missed anything special. Christ is here. In His Word and Sacraments. Can there be anything greater? Can we miss anything more?
Christ works through His Word. It is not how fervent our prayer or how pious our hearts that makes Christ present. It is His own promise to work through His Word. He works through His Word in Church where that Word calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us. The Spirit is in that Word equipping us to respond with faith and repentance and to be renewed in faith and repentance. We may distinguish between the written Word of the Bible, the oral Word of preaching and witness, and the visible Word of the sacraments, but Christ does not. He works in and through them all. The Spirit is not some consolation prize because Christ is gone. The Spirit enables us to recognize His voice in His Word and to trust in that. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and of His resurrection.
It is there He guards us against our enemies. It is in His Word that we are united as one people. Unity is the fruit of His Word and not the result of negotiation. It is here in this Word that our hungry hearts are fed, our weak souls are made strong, our weary hearts are uplifted, our uncertain minds are guided. We are people of the Word. To say that is to say we are Christ's own people.
We are not alone – not here on Sunday mornings and not all the rest of the days. Christ is with us in His Word. We are not on our own to figure it out. Christ has give us His Word. That is the Word we are to speak. That is the Word that accomplishes its rich purpose, never returning to God empty handed. That is the Word that does what is says so that we need not even see it fulfilled to know that it is done. Either this Word is the center of our lives and the power of our witness, or we are no Church and no Christians at all.