The First United Presbyterian Church of Loveland
Rev. Amy Morgan
January 3rd, 2021
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being
4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,
13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 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.
15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)
16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
OXYPHENBUTAZONE is a powerful word. In substance, it is a drug with anti-inflammatory powers that was removed from the market in the 1980’s when it was discovered that it also had the power of bone-marrow suppression. But the reason this powerful word is known today, decades after it ceased being practically useful, is because it is, theoretically, the highest-scoring word possible in a game of Scrabble. No one has yet managed to use this 15-letter word in an actual game. But if someone were to manage it, this word would have the power of 1,458 points. That’s more than the highest recorded combined score of any entire game. That’s a powerful word.
Games like Scrabble, or Words with Friends, Quiddler, and other word games, quantify for us the power of words. They show us that words are worth something. Especially big words. Or words with rarely-used letters. In these games, you can put a number to the impact of letters coming together to make sounds and meaning.
But, of course, the true power of words is qualitative, not quantitative. No matter how many points we may score with OXYPHENBUTAZONE, the word has no power to make meaning. The word doesn’t do anything. For that kind of power, we have to turn to words like, “love,” “deceive,” or “lachrymose.” “Love,” that four-letter word, only worth 7 points in Scrabble, has the power to change our lives. To love and to be loved, to be denied love and long for it – the power of this word cannot be overstated. But it can be experienced – in joy and heartbreak, in elation and loneliness - other powerful words that strive to describe what it means to be human and in relationship. “Deceive” – now that’s a word with power. Just the sound of it sends shivers down the spine, makes the heart grow cold. Broken trust, lies and scams. “Deceive” has the power to undo us, to destroy relationships and harden our hearts. And then there’s “Lachrymose.” I just threw in there because it’s one of my favorite words – so powerfully beautiful. It sounds like weeping and has the power to make us fall in love with sadness. And it happens to be worth a good 20 points in Scrabble.
The words we speak have the power to build or break, to connect or reject, to inspire or disgust. Words are powerful.
Which, perhaps, is why the Gospel of John employs the image of a Word to describe one so powerful as Jesus. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (En arche en ho logos) For those who don’t speak Koine Greek, these words are meaningless, powerless. But for Jews of the first century, these words had the power to transport them and transform them. In the beginning was the Word. ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς (en arche epoiehsen ho theos) Reading from the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the reference couldn’t be missed. In the beginning…en arche. In the beginning, God’s word, God’s speech, ho logos, creates the cosmos – from the most powerful stars to the smallest insects. Through God’s logos, all things come into being. That is a powerful Word. But that is not the only power of the Word of God.
The Hebrew scriptures speak of God’s Word in the Law that guides God’s people and in the prophets who speak God’s truth. The Word is wisdom and life and enlightening. It is life, it is the light of all people, shining in the darkness.
The Word of God in the Hebrew scriptures is powerful, active. God’s Word accomplishes God’s purposes in time and space, it gets up and goes to work in the morning, it moves and shakes. And, according to John’s Gospel as interpreted by one translator: The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. The power that shaped the cosmos is living next door. And it’s unlikely that it will be quiet and keep to itself. There goes the neighborhood.
If God’s Word can transform a formless void into mountains and oceans, if it can transform oppressed slaves into a chosen people, if it can transform God into a human – I have to believe it can transform anything. Neighborhoods and nations. Lost souls and lonely hearts. It can transform even the most powerful words we know – even love, and deceive, and lachrymose.
These human words are powerful. But they cannot describe a God who loves us enough to become one of us, to be rejected by us, and to die for us – all this for the love of us. Those actions have the power to transform love. And that love transforms everything.
Human words cannot describe the multitude of ways humanity has deceived itself – the lies and distrust, the ways we’ve separated ourselves from God and each other through broken promises and false pride. In the face of God’s transforming Word, human deceit is transformed from an unfortunate problem into an existential crisis.
God’s powerful Word transforms lachrymose from a lovely, sad sentiment to the cry of those longing for redemption. It becomes the cry of those sitting in darkness, ignorant of the true light. The cry of those who speak meaningless words, waiting to hear the one, true Word that will transform us from dust to glory.
This past week, our house has been full of creative projects. Our son assembled a new Lego set and a clock made of laser-cut wood pieces, and Jason created several delicious meals from new cookbooks he got for Christmas. But we’ve also been working on some re-creative projects. Re-painting my home office, restoring a trailer, and rearranging the furniture in several rooms. The re-creative projects are far more difficult than the creative ones. They take more time and energy, more flexibility and skill, more faith that the effort will be worthwhile. But these projects brought new life to drab spaces, renewed strength to well-used equipment, and a fresh perspective on the value of what we have.
The Word of God has tremendous creative powers. But it’s greatest power, perhaps, is the power to re-create, to take something old and make it new, to take something broken and make it whole, to take something dead and make it live, to give us a fresh perspective on the value of everything. The Word, in John’s Gospel, has the power to make us children of God, to re-create us, re-birth us. In John’s prologue, the Word performs this great reversal, where we are born of God as God is born into flesh. Everything is re-created by the power of this Word, everything is infused with grace and truth, everything is full of life, everything, and everyone, is precious and beloved.
In the Advent kits that members of our church received back in November, you each should have received a star with a word on it. Don’t worry if you didn’t get one or lost yours. There’s nothing magic about the words on the stars. You can pick any random word in any random way – the third word in the last text you sent, or go to randomwordgenerator.com, or ask your mom what she thinks the world needs most. The word itself is not the most important thing, you see. The power of this exercise lies in our belief that we can be re-created. A random word might give us a focus for this re-creation, a lens that allows us to see the transformation taking place. But a word for the year is really an opportunity to embrace THE WORD, the Logos who created and guided and inspired, the life and light of the world who moved into the neighborhood and is making all things new.
There are some words, however, that point the way to THE WORD for all of us, each time we hear them. “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The words of institution. They aren’t magic. But they are re-creating us. Because they are the words of the Word of God. They transform words like “bread” and “cup” and “remember.” They transform ordinary things into spiritual sustenance. They transform memory into present reality. They call us to life and love and justice and peace. They re-create the body of Christ out of deceitful, lachrymose people.
And they are worth a whopping 134 points in Scrabble.
But we know that quantifying these words won’t reveal to us their true power. Only hearing and speaking them, allowing them to live in and through us, will manifest the re-creative, redemptive, transformative power they possess. And so we speak them often, while we eat and drink, participating in the re-creative power of God’s Word, again and again, until that Word is all we hear, all we speak, all we know.
To God be all glory forever and ever. Amen.