the Beginning Was the Word...
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
burned a cross. They wrapped rags around a large wooden cross of Jesus.
They soaked those rags with gasoline and then someone ignited them.
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
I was trying to present, the cross of inclusiveness; and the other one
represented a cross of hate and exclusiveness. ...
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.
Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church
from a sermon preached at Calvary Episcopal Church,
December 31, 2000.