Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Language of God

The Day of Pentecost
May 19, 2013
Even if you aren’t all that interested in language, you might still know who Richard Lederer is since he is a San Diegan and has somewhat of a celebrity status. Those of us who love him, though, don’t because he shares the same city we do, but because he’s such a fun writer with a passion for language. He has a way with words and uses them to capture the fun and richness of language.

So when two Saturdays ago in his weekly column in the Union-Tribune he gave his ‘creed’, so to speak, of language and why it means so much to him, it caught my eye. And no sooner had I gotten through part of the second paragraph that I knew I wanted to incorporate his thoughts into the sermon for Pentecost Day. For a couple paragraphs there, even, I thought he was almost writing my sermon for me, including Bible passages and everything.

He looks at language and communication as a very human thing. He loves it because it is what sets us apart from the rest of the animal world. In his words,
I have always felt that I was writing about the most deeply human of inventions — language. Words and people are inextricably bound together. Whether the ground of your being is religion or science, you find that language is the hallmark, the defining characteristic that distinguishes humankind from the other creatures that walk and run and crawl and swim and fly and burrow in our world. [© Copyright 2013 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.]

Now in his way of speaking, our ground is religion. And when he says that whether it’s this or science, that we find that language is the hallmark, or defining characteristic, that distinguishes us from, say cows, I am very tempted to go along with him. Not quite in the way he sees the origination of it, though. In that the Word of God tells us that God is the author of language, just as He is the author of us, we see this defining characteristic, as he calls it, as coming from God. And if you look at God, who He is, what defines Him, you see that language is inextricably bound up in Him as a being; as, in fact, the Triune God. God isn’t just some being, like others. He is God. He is the Triune God who is One and in three Persons; talking, communicating, being in perfect relationship with each other; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Now, I’m not sure it’s the best practice to recite long quotes, but listen to this amazing insight from a man who isn’t speaking from a theological standpoint, but simply as one who loves language, again in the words of Richard Lederer:
In the Genesis creation story that so majestically begins the Bible (Genesis 1:1-31; 2:1-6), we note the frequency and importance of verbs of speaking: “And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. … And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. … And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. … And God called the firmament Heaven. … And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas; And God saw that it was good.” (Emphasis mine.) Note those verbs of speaking and naming. God doesn’t just snap his fingers to bring the things of the universe into existence. He speaks them into being and then names each one. [© Copyright 2013 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.]

Now this is right up our alley. Seeing who God is, what He is like. How He does what He does. Hear how Lederer continues:
And what happens when God creates Adam?: “And out of the ground the lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof” (Genesis 2:19-22). In other words, Adam (Hebrew for “humankind”) does what God has done: He names things; he names voraciously; he names everything. Perhaps this is what the Bible means in Genesis 1:26-27: “And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.” Like God, man is a speaker and a namer. [© Copyright 2013 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.]

Now notice how the Word of God, the Bible, bears this out. Just with three Scripture passages as we have heard them this morning, from the Old Testament reading in Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel, to the second reading in Acts 2 and the Day of Pentecost, to the Gospel reading in John 14 and Jesus speaking to His beloved disciples shortly before He would leave them and send them the Holy Spirit, what do we see? Or better, what do we hear?

Language. Words. Communication. We hear speaking. We hear God talking to us and we receive those words with our ears and our heart. Richard Lederer speaks of the humanness of language, that that is what defines us; what sets us apart; what makes us what, or rather, who, we are. Fair enough. But he quoted the passage himself, we are made in the image of God. God is the God of language. We are human, true, but who we are as human beings, as people, is being created in the image of God. God created us. He spoke to us, drawing us into relationship with Him, just as He is in relationship with Himself, the Triune God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

The language of God isn’t just that there’s got to be some way of communicating between beings, whether people to people or God to people or people to God. The language of God is that He has created us and since we have fallen into sin and have cut off our relationship with Him, He becomes human. He uses language. In other words, He becomes flesh. He becomes a man. Jesus Christ is the eternal Word, the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us. This is the language of God, it is Christ, in the world, for us. It is Christ, in the flesh, loving us by coming to us and forgiving us for so great of sins that we are even unaware of ourselves that we need Him to speak to us. To speak to us that word of forgiveness. The Peace that passes all understanding. Peace that is not as the world gives, that uses simply language and words to state things, but peace that actually brings Christ to us, He uniting Himself with us so that we have true peace.

Now, Richard Lederer I’m sure would be the first to say that he is not a Biblical scholar. But he sure talks like a Lutheran with his emphasis on the words of God, on God speaking. We Lutherans look at Genesis 1 and see that pattern that has begun. God is constantly involved in the activity of speaking, and His Word brings about what it says. We could do the same thing Lederer did with his little exposition of Genesis 1 with the three Scripture readings before us today.

In the Old Testament reading we find that everyone shared the same language. Boy, that sure would make a lot less confusion in this world. But the problem is that we people are sinful and we scheme to make a name for ourselves. In short, to be our own god. You want to know how the languages of the world came about? It’s right there in Genesis 11. God confused their language. He dispersed them. They couldn’t understand each other anymore. They had used their one language to speak evil of God. Remember, God is the God of language, He uses it to communicate to us His love for us and we use it to take His name in vain.

Fast forward to the Day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, fifty days after He rose from the grave, and fifty-three days after He promised to send the Holy Spirit, and you see God’s use of language to each person, despite the fact that there are many languages. The Holy Spirit came rushing in with a mighty sound and that sound manifested itself in, guess what?, language. Words. Communication in clear, simple speech. The Gospel, proclaimed clearly and distinctly in individual languages so that all could hear.

And what is Jesus’ emphasis on in the Gospel reading? His Word. We keep His Word. We treasure it. We hold fast to it. What that leads to is speaking it ourselves. Speaking it to those we know and don’t know. To those who speak the same language we do and sending missionaries to speak it to people who speak languages we don’t know.

In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit. It is in the context of this language of God. If you want to know who the Holy Spirit is and what He does, you need look no further than what your Lord says of Him. He is the one, in the words of the Gospel reading, as He says, “whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” This, my dear Friends in Christ, is the language of God. It is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit speaking to you the Word; that is, the Word made flesh. It is the Father sending the Holy Spirit to bring Christ to you.

It’s not just that we’re human, and that’s a great and wonderful thing; after all, God created us! It’s that God loves us. It’s that He speaks to us, and communicates to us, and gives us His Son. This is the language of God. It is God, when we attempt to lift ourselves up by disregarding His Word, sending His Son and lifting Him up on the cross only to strike Him down; doing such a thing so that we may not be struck down and left without hope forever. It is God, sending then His Holy Spirit to seize on the very words of His written Word the Bible and make them come about in things like your Baptism; where He says, Baptism now saves you—and it does. In things like the Holy Supper of your Lord; where Christ Himself, using simple, clear language, says, “This is My body, given for you.” “This is My blood, shed for you.”

The language of God. The Holy Spirit speaking into your ears Christ crucified and delivered to you in your Baptism and His Holy Supper so that your very heart and soul and mouth may speak in response to the language of God, the language of faith; captured in a simple, yet profound word, “Amen.” It is so. He has said it.


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