In the Beginning Was the Word...
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey

Gospel:John 1:1-14
(This sermon is also available in audio.)

The book of Genesis begins, "In the beginning God created," but the prologue to John's Gospel pushes us far back beyond creation. "In the beginning [before there was creation] was the Word." Now, that's too much for me. There is a God-shaped void in my heart that reaches out, but I can't understand that God of infinity and that God of eternity. I stand on the edge of mystery and try to probe to some understanding. "In the beginning [long before the Big Bang] was the Word."

What is the Word? That is the question. I feel somewhat like Moses must have felt in his search for God when he said, "Lord, show me your Glory," and the message came back, "No one can see my Glory and live." So Moses stood in the cleft of the rock, and the Scripture says, "he saw the receding Glory of God" -- just a little glimpse of the Glory of God. I guess that's the way it is with me and the way with you. We get a little glimpse of the Glory of God.

I get a glimpse of the Glory of God sometimes by listening to music. When I stood as a young teenager and heard Fritz Kriesler play in the auditorium here in Memphis, I got a glimpse of God. When I stood on the top of Mount LeConte and saw the rolling clouds, after having climbed up the most treacherous path, I got a glimpse of God. When I read history and get a little token of God's movement in history, I say, "There's God." I can discover God, but God eludes me. I cannot prove the existence of God, I can only experience the existence of God, so I looked for the Word.

I searched for the Word. What is it? Well, the Greek word used in the Gospel of John for Word is logos. The Greeks used that word a long time before the New Testament's writer used it. Logos, they spoke of it as reason. In the beginning there's reason. Reason controls the world, and they moved it beyond reason to harmony. The world is controlled by reason and thus becomes a harmonious world. They were looking for that kind of synthesis between all things that brings all things together and makes sense out of it.

The Biblical writers speak of it in terms more of a message. In the beginning was the message, and the message was with God, and the Word was made flesh. The Word became human and dwelt among us. What is the Word? It is the message.

I'd like to add a word beyond that that explains it better to me. In the beginning was interpretation (in the Greek, it's exegesis), and the interpretation was made human and dwelt among us. I need an interpreter. I need someone or something to teach me what it's all about. The Scripture said Christ Jesus of Nazareth became the interpreter of the nature and the mission of God in the world -- Jesus as the interpreter. Yes, I can believe that. The Word was made human and became interpretation for me. It's everything.

We use the word exegesis in the theological sense, but the Greeks used it in a theatrical sense. It meant to lead into the open, lead out, to bring the person onto stage. When the character walked out on the stage, he revealed a character. When Jesus of Nazareth walked out on the stage of human history, he revealed the character of God. This is a drama scene. God is interpreted through Jesus. This great God of infinity and eternity brought himself down (or herself down) in the person of Jesus so that I could understand that the Word did not become word, the Word became human.

The event of Jesus Christ is the thing that reveals God to me. I can explain it by telling you that as a child I discovered the power of the magnifying glass. I discovered that if you put that magnifying glass between the sun and the bare back of someone, you could do a little damage. (I discovered that when I put it on the bare shoulder of my mother.) I believe that God, the sun, is shining all over the world, but in the magnifying glass it becomes intense. It becomes powerful. It becomes warm with heat. I believe that God's love is shown all over the world. God's love is trying to break out.

Do I believe that the Christian religion is the only religion in which God reveals Himself? No, I have discovered God in many philosophies, many religions. God is not limited to just our religion. God's love is trying to break through to all people. I think a step in maturity for me was to be able to accept Truth from whatever source it came--to ignore the label and to say, "Is this true?"--and to know that God is trying to break through with Truth. But for me, that Truth of God, that love of God, shines more intensely in Jesus of Nazareth than anywhere else in the world.

You remember reading Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan's great allegory? In one scene, Pilgrim is with his family in the City of Destruction. He has heard the message that his world is going to be destroyed, that it's going to crumble around him. He takes a look around, and way down at the end of the path he sees one little glimmer of light. He understands that it's the Celestial City, and he must make his pilgrimage out of the Land of Destruction toward the Celestial City. On his way he comes by Interpreter's house, and that's where he gets his greatest impulse to keep going, because he understands more. ...

Yes, Jesus reveals God to me, but Jesus of Nazareth also reveals myself to me. He interprets not only God, he interprets who we are. He is the interpreter of what humanity ought to be. Culture and history has presented a pretty dismal picture of human beings. We are proud, arrogant, selfish, jealous, territorial, war-like at times. Out of our hearts spring all kinds of evil things. Is that the true picture of humanity? That's not the picture Jesus gave. He gave us the model of what God intended when he created us.

We have to look at Jesus to see who the person is we ought to be. We judge ourselves by him. We submit our images of ourselves to the image of the Christ, and in that light we can identify the ongoing mission to become more like him. God became like us so that we could become like God. That's the story. He interprets life to me.

Jesus interprets God to me, and Jesus interprets what I ought to be, what humanity was created to be, but we have to interpret Jesus. And you see, there's the rub. There are so many misinterpretations of Jesus that you wonder how we can survive with the conflicts about who Jesus really was and what his message really was.

I was the minister of the First Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, during the racial struggles. I was part of a reconciling group of people trying to bring racial harmony to that city in turmoil. In the midst of our greatest struggle, the Ku Klux Klan came to town. Another Baptist minister spoke to the 5,000 people gathered with the Klan on the edge of town, and afterwards they burned a cross. They wrapped rags around a large wooden cross of Jesus. They soaked those rags with gasoline and then someone ignited them. That cross burned as a symbol of hatred, and the message that came that day was, "Run that preacher [meaning me] out of town." We had two Baptist ministers, both upholding a cross--one was a cross of love, which I was trying to present, the cross of inclusiveness; and the other one represented a cross of hate and exclusiveness. ...

How do we interpret Jesus? With every fiber of my being I believe that Jesus came into this world to reveal God as the God of freedom and love. "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." The Word became human. No man at any time has ever seen God. The only begotten has led him onto the stage. He has interpreted God.
Amen and amen.

Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church


Excerpted from a sermon preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, December 31, 2000.


Gospel: John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. NRSV

[back to top]





Copyright ©1999-2006