calendar May 7, 2010 in Assembly, Bishop messages

Fall in love with the Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

Bishop Claire Burkat introduced the theme of the 2010 assembly of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod in her sermon, Inbreaking/Outpouring: The Living Word. She spoke of the magnitude and power of God’s creative Word in our lives.

“We will hear, see and experience the inbreaking of the Word of God, and take notice of its power and beauty in our lives while we are here together for these two days” said Burkat. “We will look for it, read it, taste it, drink it, share it, and proclaim it with the reverence, joy and celebration that the Word of God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ made known to us.”

She then spoke of why the three-fold understanding of the Word is so important to Lutherans. “With all of us gathered into assembly, what better time for us to be reminded of the three-fold understanding of the Word of God?” said Burkat.

Most commonly the Word of God is understood to be the Bible, which is the foundation of our faith yet also a source of conflict due to the variety of our human interpretations of its words. She pointed to the debate surrounding the issue of human sexuality at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in which speakers identifying themselves as “traditional” and “progressive” each passionately quoted scripture, yet also circled and prayed for each other out of their deep devotion to scripture.

God’s Word has great power and richness in our lives as demonstrated by a woman whose son had taken his own life. Her pastor read Psalm 139 to the grieving couple prior to the funeral. This psalm became the place where she went to remember her son.

“This is where I go, now, when I want to be with my son, she said.  “Doug is right here in these words.  Doug is in the Bible.  And I’m here, too.”

We Lutherans also believe that the Word of God is the person of Jesus Christ.

“Martin Luther encouraged us to read the Bible through the lens of Christ.” said Burkat. “In that regard not all scripture is equal. In faithfulness to the Word of God we seek ways for God to use us to incarnate the love of Christ in our lives and communities.”

She then gave an example of Feast Incarnate, a ministry of the University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, which since 1988 has fed those with HIV/AIDS each Tuesday evening as part of an ecumenical community ministry.

“The third understanding of the Word of God is what we call in Greek the kerygma, which is the proclamation of this Word through our own frail human words in preaching, teaching and through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion,” said Burkat.

She spoke of her ecumenical journey this past winter in which the delegation visited a catacombs in Rome.

“After the Word of God was read and preached, and we ate and drank and prayed, we sang the Doxology,” she said. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…Praise God all creatures here below…tears came to my eyes…We were those creatures here below, the communion of saints for all time made present in the Word of God.”

This third understanding reminds us that the Bible could never contain all the mysteries, miracles and blessings God has reserved for us, and for the whole creation.

In choosing as the theme The Living Word, “we wanted to help in the forming of our faith together as a church,” she said. “We want to equip the people of God for the work of ministry, we want us all to be connected as this communion of saints, and we want to release the gifts of the people of God in the outpouring of Love for this world.”

Our deep conversation and struggles with and in the Word of God are an indication that God is present and active right here and right now. The Bible is the story of how God interacts with people.

“The Word was here in the very beginning, and once it has been spoken, once the light has come into the world — the darkness cannot overcome it.  When the world tries to say, ‘The End’; God says, ‘Oh no –– we’re just at the beginning!’” said Burkat.

“During this assembly, I hope you fall in love again with the Word of God,” the bishop said. “It is yours!”