Rev. Mieke Vandersall
Not So Churchy
July 19, 2015
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The Word was with God in the beginning.
Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.
God made the world come into being through words. Do you remember when there was a beginning, as it is better translated in Genesis, as things were beginning, God spoke into the world that God was creating and said: let there be light! And there was light. God called the light day and the darkness night. God said: Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters and let it separate the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. God called this sky. And God kept going naming and calling until God was super exhausted and had to have a day off.
God made the world through words. The Word is our model of God tonight.
Words can create our world, set the path of our direction. We think through words—some of us maybe more through images or through musical notes, but we put words to all of these things. When we pray we finally find words for the things that are on our hearts. And when words are released from our mouth, at times, it means that we are ready to do something about them. Maybe it is just me, but there are times I don’t want to speak words for fear that I will have to change. I don’t want to admit to what is because I don’t want what is to be so.
Words are powerful because they name what is. They name what is being created.
Do you remember just a few months ago when we talked about the figure of Sophia, which means Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs? Do you remember how she is the embodiment of this ancient Hebrew tradition, and how she has her own creation story, apart from the beginning ones in Genesis, how she was “set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth?” She was brought forth “when there were no depths,” “when there were no springs abounding with waters.” She was here “before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills.” And then, when God established the heavens, she was there. “When God marked out the foundations of the earth, then she was beside God, like a master worker.” She was a witness to God’s naming and calling, and might have whispered a few names even herself.
Remember how this Sophia figure hung in the balance between God and human, how she acted with God and dwelled among her people. Remember how Sophia is not a far away, solitary dictator but is present with us and how Jesus might just be the same?
So we get to our reading today, of this well known text from John, written so far after Jesus was born that some people think this is simply a work of fiction. And the author starts this book with the exact same words as Genesis is begun. It is popularly translated as “in the beginning,” but is more accurate to be “in a beginning” or “as there was a beginning” or “as things were beginning.” At these beginning times, when Sophia hung in the balance between God and humanity, there was also the Word. “The Word was with God in the beginning, everything came into being through the Word.” Word which is Logos, which is knowledge, wisdom, Lady Wisdom. All of a sudden we have a full circle, we have God, Wisdom, Word and perhaps they are all one and the same.
From Jesus’ beginning he seems to be hanging in between, in between the old dichotomy of male and female, sacred and profane, Wisdom and Knowledge. Jesus might blow these dichotomies out of the water, and at the beginning he is certainly exploring all of these dynamics.
Word in our text tonight might be referring to Jesus, but it also means knowledge. Somehow in knowing Jesus we know knowledge and vice versa, and somehow words lead to knowledge and knowledge leads to words. Our words, at their best, might just be the embodiment of knowledge.
Awhile ago I shared some of my writings with Jacob, who, in addition to being a drummer, is a writer. I have been writing to process the last many years of my life working for LGBTQ equality in the Presbyterian Church, undergoing this huge transition of shifting out of that work, in addition to the transition of leaving my long-held therapist and shifting martial arts practices. He kindly read these writings and said beautiful things about them and came back with advice to write more. He wanted more words. He thought I needed more words. He said I needed to write all the time so that I could figure out what my voice really is, what the core of the story really is that I needed to tell. Words would lead to knowledge about this story, and when I got that it would ring true. In order to do that, I also needed to write about what I am most afraid of writing about.
Put words on what you are most afraid of describing. Way back a few years ago in Not So Churchy, during the sermon sharing time, we asked this question of each other: how do you lie? We did this after I got home from a leadership development conference when we took up this exercise. We sat in front of each other and asked the question of each other: how do you lie? Our partner had to respond, stream of consciousness. When we paused, our partner re-posed the question to each other: how do you lie? We did this for several minutes each.
We also asked this question of Jesus, in how he was treating someone that particular night in our reading.
When this question is posed and you are forced to put words onto it, you see the ways that words are wisdom and wisdom is knowledge and that sets you free. In these moments we have to name the ways that we fall short that we don’t want to admit to the lies that too often construct how we go through our lives. What are you most afraid of putting words onto?
Nothing came into being without the Word. Nothing comes into being without words, speech, truth-telling, not how you perceive other’s truths to be, but truth-telling your own truth. What truth are you not telling? What words are you avoiding? Nothing comes into being without them.
And yet, what came into being through the Word was life. Knowledge begets words begets life. When words are freed from us, free and clear and no longer to fear, we find life.
God says a lot of things through the people that wrote the Bible. God calls us each God’s children, and God’s beloved. Nothing can take those words away. This is the resounding, forever repeating biblical theme: We are named by God and loved by God. No matter how we lie: we are loved. No matter how we manipulate others: we are loved. No matter how much we dislike ourselves: we are loved. No matter how many secrets we hold: we are loved.
When we release all of these things, though, it is easier to believe this and easier to move through the world with a more gracious, loving, generous, patient spirit.
Memoir writer Rachel Held Evans, in writing about baptism, says that “we all long for someone to tell us who we are. The struggle of Christian life is to believe we are loved and to believe that is enough.”
Baptism, the connection to water, which connects all that came before and all that will come, is a manifestation of that. It is a sign and symbol of that love, of that calling and naming, of those words: “You are my beloved.”
Through our words, we find life. Through this Word that hangs in the balance between all the dichotomies that work to separate us up, we find life.
In a beginning, God spoke creation into being. In your beginning, God spoke your life into being. In our beginnings God gives us words, and accompanies us along seeking life.