For some reason, I’ve heard from a lot of you that you read this e-mail when it comes out. By “you”, I mean you, especially the you who is a part of the larger OSA community, but not a member of the church or even a sporadic visitor. I had no idea you read this, and I thank you for doing it. Hearing from all of you made me think about who I imagine I’m writing to when I write these things, and I’ve thought I had best just keep going on as I have. But I hope if you read anything here that stirs you or angers you, engages you or bores you, you would feel free to e-mail me back, or even set up a time for coffee to talk things over. It’s really hard to know what’s going on in another’s mind, much less their soul, and the only way I know how to connect is through words—those fumbling creations of ours that sometimes slide off reality like oil, and sometimes fit it like just the right tool. The Spirit may pray with sighs too deep for words, and so might we, but we are privileged beyond compare when we understand without them. Usually they are our only hope.
Words have been on my mind this week—the texts for this Sunday celebrate the Word. On one level this is God’s Word: Scripture, the Bible, preaching. That can conjure all kinds of visions: sweaty men with microphones and floppy Bibles condemning things, or perhaps early morning devotions with your grandparents, or perhaps a warm feeling of being together with others in piety. God’s Word of course also means Jesus himself—the Incarnate Word, the Word that was from the beginning, the Word made flesh who pitched his tent among us, the Word promised by the Word, the rabbi and authoritative interpreter of Scripture. Our Gospel text this week shows Jesus going into the temple, choosing a text, reading it, and preaching it. The Word interprets the Word—it’s all as simple and layered as an onion.
I believe in the necessity and gift of Scripture. I believe I need a word that confronts me, flays me, comforts me, and delights me. I need a Word that is not me but invites me. So I need God’s Word—the whole onion. I think God knows me better than I know myself, so I need God’s Word to show me who I am. As the Psalmist said last week—in your light we shall see light. What am I in Christlight?
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian, said “If we would observe ourselves in the mirror of the Word to our own blessing we must do this and do it first—not look at the mirror, but at ourselves in the mirror.” He meant we should first avoid all the apparatus, scholarly and unscholarly, that we use to approach the Word. We should just go to it and see what it shows. Otherwise we are looking at the mirror, and not ourselves in the mirror. The problem with this, as Kierkegaard points out, is that much of the Word may not be clear at first, but the clear part seizes you. That’s scary, if you hear “Love your enemies.” That’s easy to understand, but “In my opinion it is human that a man shrinks from letting the Word really get power over him—if no one else will admit, I admit that I do.” Me too, Soren. Who knows what it may demand of me? Still: “…in order to see yourself in the mirror when you read God’s Word, you must (in order to really see yourself in the mirror) remember to say to yourself incessantly: ‘It is talking to me; I am the one it is speaking about.’”
Scripture, Luther said, is the cradle of Christ. It is not God, but it cradles God. I think that when we talk to one another, we delight in our differences but also the way we recognize our humanity in one another. God is the great Other, yet the Other is my brother in Christ. When we see ourselves in this mirror of Scripture, I wonder if we see ourselves in the cradle with our brother, in our brother’s sufferings, in our brother’s resurrection, in our brother’s wounds, and in our brother’s words.
I don’t know. But I do know I need Scripture.