Sunday, May 9, 2010

All Theology Is Plagiarism—Part 2: All Theology Is Communication

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2010
John 16:23-33

Perhaps because it’s so much an ordinary part of our daily lives we don’t realize how important communication is. But if you do doubt it just don’t call your mom today or give her a card. You’d really find out how important communication is if you went the whole day today without talking with her on Mother’s Day.

Of course talking with your mom, telling her you love her, giving her a card, maybe some flowers, doing something nice for her, all this isn’t communication for communication’s sake. Communication is the vehicle used to actually love your mom, to show her you appreciate her and all she does for you.

What happens between us and God? We communicate. He gives us His Word. We pray to Him. We use words to offer our petitions to Him even as He uses words to express His love toward us. And how do we share the Gospel with others? We communicate it. We tell others. We express God’s love toward them by putting into action His love toward them. We help them and are kind to them.

At the backbone of all this communication is the Word of God. Whether it’s our prayers, or what we say to others in evangelism, our communication with God and with others about Him must rest in the Word of God. Last Sunday I kind of slighted the notion that the book of Psalms is the Prayer Book of the Bible, emphasizing that the entire Bible is fundamental to our prayer life. But it really is genius what God did in giving us the psalms. The Psalms are the Word of God. The Psalms are also prayers. Here we have the Word of God, what God has given to us. And here we have the words of human beings, the prayers God’s people lift up to Him. The Psalms are prayers even as they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God even as they are the words Christians lift up as prayers. God communicates this to us in this form. When we struggle with what to pray for, God gives us what we need to be praying in His Psalms.

Are you having trouble praying? Spend some time in the Psalms. You will find them inspiring, challenging, even troublesome at times. But you will find there the Word of God even as you will find the words to pray, because they are right there before your eyes, right there in your mind and heart as you pray them, right there on your lips as you speak them. Reading the Psalms, praying the Psalms, will lead you into a deeper understanding and praying of the Lord’s Prayer. Our Lord’s Holy Prayer doesn’t stand on its own. It is not given or prayed in a vacuum. It flows out of and is at the heart of the Psalms. We could also say that the Psalms flow out of and are at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer. That’s why He’s given us His Holy Prayer to pray. That’s how our Lord works, He’s happy to plagiarize. Especially Himself.

You might have heard the saying that as you pray so you believe. I’ve always thought that it makes more sense that as we believe so we will pray. That, if you believe a certain thing, it will inform the way you pray. That’s true. But it’s also true that the way you pray informs the way you believe. If you keep praying a certain way you will end up believing according to what you’re praying. The way you pray will actually form the way you believe.

This really helps us out when it comes to what we should pray, how we should pray, what words we use, and where we come up with the words. It informs also what we say to others when we are sharing the Gospel with them.

When Christians gather for worship how that worship is done impacts what they believe. If you worship in such a way where the focus is primarily on yourself, guess what, your beliefs will primarily focus on yourself. Your prayers, also, will primarily focus on yourself. Even what you say when you evangelize to others will focus on yourself. If you worship in such a way where the focus is primarily on God, then your beliefs will focus on Him. In the same way, your prayers will also.

This brings us back to plagiarism. If we pray what God has given us to pray, then we will be praying in line with His will. We will be speaking the Gospel to others as He has given it rather than simply what we feel. The reason the Church down through the ages has drawn from the Word of God in the forming of the liturgy is because if a bunch of theologians or church councils got together and tried to be creative who knows what they would have come up with?

Actually, we do know. They would have come up with something that focuses on man. Something that appeals to our sinful nature. Something that is all about me and what I want and what I need and what things I’d like God to do for me. That’s the way our prayers naturally are, that’s the way our worship naturally is.

In the liturgy we have the Word of God. The liturgy is formed by the Word of God. Our prayers should be too. As we gather for worship, the liturgy forms our prayer life, focusing on God, receiving what He has to give us, and responding to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving by saying back to Him what He has said to us. That’s why God has given us His Word, the Bible; it’s why He’s given us His Word, His Son. The liturgy forms our prayers and we learn to pray according to God’s will because in the liturgy God is blessing us with His gifts, the opposite of our trying to offer anything to Him of value.

We can never exhaust the Word of God. Our Lord teaches us to pray throughout our lives. Each day God builds us up with the words to share with others. When it comes to the Word of God plagiarism is a good thing. When we are in the Word of God and we pray we are praying according to His good and gracious will. Praying according to what He says, not what we think. What He desires, not what we want. What He has come up with, not what we dream up. What He has creatively brought about, not what we tiredly revert back to in our sinful flesh.

For example, in the Bible our Lord gave us the Lord’s Prayer. His prayer is meant to be plagiarized. He didn’t say, Hey, here’s some good ideas for you to base your prayers on. He said, This is how you pray. You take what I have said and you say it. And you don’t just say it, you pray it. You believe it. You take it to heart. You meditate upon it and take refuge in it. Because it’s not what you can’t know for sure to be of value or the right thing to say. It’s what you do know to be what He Himself wants for you. You can see this in each petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

You know the Father’s name is holy and that it is holy among you because of Christ and His Cross. And so you pray it.

You know His Kingdom comes and that it has come to you in the incarnate Son of God who has joined Himself to you in your Baptism. And so you pray it.

You know that God’s will is perfect and holy and that it is done among you because of His mercy in His Son Jesus Christ who lived and suffered for you on Calvary. And so you pray it.

You know that God gives you your daily bread and that He gives it to you because He has given you all things in giving you His Son to suffer all, even death on a cross, and conquer the grave in His resurrection. And so you pray it.

You know He forgives you of your sins and helps you forgive others theirs and that He forgives you because He has separated you from your sins as far as the east is from the west in forsaking His only-begotten Son. And so you pray it.

You know God does not lead you into temptation and that He guards you in the time of temptation because your Lord Himself has endured temptation beyond what you have experienced and has overcome temptation in the Holy Word of God and in suffering for our sin of falling into temptation. And so you pray it.

You know that God delivers you from evil and that it is so because He delivered you from the punishment you deserve, delivering His own Son over to the punishment in your place. And so you pray it.

You know that His is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever and that it is so because Jesus rose from the grave, ascended into heaven, and reigns on high forever, coming to you in His Word and Sacraments to forgive you and sustain you in faith. And so you pray it.

You know it’s all true and so you say “Amen.”

There’s no shame in this kind of plagiarism. There is only the glorious prayers of the saints of God lifted up to the eternal and merciful God who has given His saints the freedom to go against their stifling and short-sighted sinful nature. Freedom from our harmful desires and wants. Freedom to plagiarize straight out of the God’s own Word.

In the Gospel reading today Jesus is talking about prayer. It doesn’t seem like it because He is talking to His disciples and He is standing right in front of them. But isn’t that what prayer is? Talking with God? Communicating with Him? He communicates with us and we respond, communicating with Him. And to make matters even more interesting Jesus talks about things that only people interested in language and words and communication theory would be interested in: figures of speech. It’s true that many people have no interest in this. But it’s also common that everyone uses them. Most people are also aware that things can be very confusing if figures of speech are being used and the person who is hearing or reading them doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what is being communicated.

He says there will come a time when He is no longer with them. A time when He will no longer use figures of speech, where He will speak plainly. In His Holy Word He not only comes to us but communicates with us. Likewise in Baptism and His Holy Supper.

What we must always remember when it comes to communication in our relationship with God is that He hasn’t simply given us His Word, the Bible, He has given us the Word made flesh, His only-begotten Son. What we must always remember when it come to communication in our response to Him is that there is nothing better that we can do then plagiarize Him, say back to Him what He has said to us. For example, on this day, and really every day, as Christians, we don’t just thank God for our mom, we are grateful to Him for mothers who are godly, who raise their children in a Christian home. We don’t just love our mothers, we pray for them. We don’t just tell them we love them, we communicate to them God’s love for them by how we treat them.

Theology is nothing without communication. Communication is a natural part of life, even as it is in God’s relationship with us. How has God loved the world? He gave His Son. How has He forgiven us of our sins? Jesus suffered in our place. How has He guaranteed a mansion for us in heaven? He raised His Son from the grave on the third day. This is what God has given us, communicating it to us in His very Son, both in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection and in His Word and Sacraments. It is the vehicle as well as the subject of our communication now and always. Amen.


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