In Genesis 1 we read that God created simply through the power of His Word. This idea is difficult for many of us because words are so plentiful and so often ignored or thought of as insignificant. Yet in the Bible, words, especially God’s words, are potent. They get things done. BIG things! Consider God’s interaction with the prophet in Ezekiel 37. In a vision God gives Ezekiel, the prophet is told to prophecy (proclaim God’s words) to dry bones laying in a valley. The result? The bones come together, take on sinew and flesh, and skin covers them. Then breath returns to the bodies which were once VERY dead. The vision is an image of Israel which was as good as dead. God was going to restore them despite the fact that they seemed well beyond saving.
Or recall Psalm 1. Where the individual who delights in God’s words is compared to a robust tree planted next to a stream! It is always leafy and it is fruitful in its season. God’s word brings fruit. Sustenance. Meaning. Significance. Purpose.
The Words of God in the Old Testament point us to Jesus. Transforming the image of a tree to that of a vine, Jesus refers to himself in John 15 as the fruitful and ever-growing. And the best part of this image for us is that WE get to be a part of the vine. In that chapter, Jesus ties our health and connectedness to the vine to His words and our “remaining” in him. Paul also makes this connection in his letter to the Romans. Hearing the Word of God forms our faith, our trust in Jesus. This connects us. It’s how we “remain” in him. One of the images of the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is of Jesus standing in the midst of his churches, sending his words to them that they might be strong, healthy and protected.
But…there comes a warning. Lest we think that just knowing about God’s words is enough, the Bible reports that even the pharisees knew the words well and were in danger of missing out on God’s presence. You can memorize the whole Bible and miss Jesus. So, how do we ensure we don’t miss him? Jesus gives a BIG clue when he affirms the most important commandment God ever gave.
It’s found in Deuteronomy 6:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (encompasses the mind in Hebrew) and with all your soul (includes desire) and with all your might.”
Accounting for the Hebrew categories this amounts to mind, heart (desire), strength. At The Table we might say, love God with all your Academy, all your Abbey and all your Apostolate. These our our three areas of focus for discipleship in our community. The point is, loving God encompasses the whole person! All of our intellect, all of our passions and desires, all our our behaviour. This holistic approach to knowing and loving God is not a one off here in Deuteronomy 6, it is reinforced through the whole Bible. The Hebrew word that we translate, “to know”, itself is a relational and not a solely informational type of knowing. This paired with the Hebrew word for “hear”, which is more than what we typically think of when we think of hearing. It also implies obedience. If I “hear” you, it means I have taken what you said to heart and am acting accordingly. And “hear” is precisely how Deuteronomy 6 begins, “Hear (listen obediently), O Israel…”
This concept of relational, holistic “knowing” and obedient “hearing” carry over into the New Testament AND into the early church. For the early Christians, what they believed was so engrained in their behaviour that you could literally see it! It became a way of life to the point of habit, which occurs as a sort of reflex. As you can imagine, this transformed their whole community in ways that were compelling to outsiders. They focused on making their faith visible to the world. What was so amazing about this in the early church was that it was so counter cultural. Selfish desires were snuffed out in loving obedience to God’s powerful, life transforming words. The community became a beacon reflecting God’s own patience and love.
This counter cultural anomaly would be no less noticeable, peculiar and puzzling in our corner of the world today. Imagine being a community where each individual tolerated the others’ differences. Reading that last sentence, many of us will think of obvious, large scale differences. But I’m talking about the small things that tend to annoy us or make us turn away from true engagement and loving patience. Are you a kid person? What a weird question. As if we are given the choice by Jesus to either be actively involved in the kids that belong to our Table community or not. Yet I know there are many of us who would say “I don’t have that gift” or “I’m not a kid person”. Are you ignoring or taking no interest in 1/3 of the total population of your church community? What if it was a different group you were ignoring? Like people over 60. Or a racial minority? Would that be appropriate? Would it be Christian? Would it be obedient?
I’m not asking people to sign up to be a Kids Table teacher ;) —(we actually are pretty picky about it so we’ll call you). But I am using this as a point of application because I know its a place of resistance for many in our community. I could also appeal to our love and patience for any number of those who are not like us. Have different tastes or temperament. Or perhaps at a different age or stage in life that is hard for us to identify with.
The point is, we are not “hearing” God’s life giving, transforming words when we’re not taking them to heart and acting on them. And when we fail to do this it puts us in a dangerous category according to he Bible. So what does “hearing” God’s words look like in your life? Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. This is often not easy nor is it desirable from a selfish and self-protective point of view. Think of the implications of Jesus’ words when he days, “Who are my mother and brothers? Those who do the will of my Father.” Read one way, super comforting! Jesus is willing to be close to me as a brother! Read another way, super uncomfortable. Wait! I’m supposed to put as high or higher priority on my relationships with my Christian community than my biological ones???
The vision of the NEW FAMILY of Jesus people is pictured in Acts 2 where the community is truly living as a family. They shared their stuff!! All of it. Because they took the concept of NEW FAMILY to heart. And they “heard” God’s Word.
I wonder what it would look like for The Table community to take a step in the direction of hearing God’s words. What would it look like for you?
Before this sounds too hard, remember Jesus’ words from John 15, “If you keep my commands. you will abide in my love”. He’s not saying, “if you obey me I will love you”. He’s saying, if you really want to know me (the relational, connected to me kind of know me) you will take my words to heart, trust me, and walk in them. Jesus promises His presence with us to the degree that we are willing to walk with him.
In a future post we’ll explore how to read Scripture with an eye towards “hearing” what God is speaking to us and putting His words into practice.
Collect for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (a little early, but fitting):
Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
For more on patience and habit in the early church see: