thy strong Word…

It has been a nice break the last few weeks. I decided when Christmas rolled around to take a break from blogging for a while. I figured I’d pick it back up sometime after New Year’s and today is that day. Not only is it my return from a mini-sabbatical but it also marks the beginning of my Winter Quarter here at sem. Once again it seems the next 10 weeks are filled with a seemingly insurmountable reading list, more papers than I can write, and less time to give to other areas of my life. I suppose it’s not that big of a deal that my break is over. I mean, it’s been nice to have time off, but I have filled it with more useless and mind numbing activities than ones that might be of some benefit. Although, I suppose that is what break is best for, a release. A time to step back and recharge using whatever means we have or benefit from.

The quarter started off as usual as any other. Ill prepared I walked into class, banking on the fact that nothing of substance happens the first day anyway. And although I was right that nothing major happens as far as the syllabus is concerned, I was surprised at how much this first day of class seemed to provide things to ponder. Take for instance my Internship II class. People told stories all about how busy they were over the break and when it came to me all I had to say was that I actually had a break. Rather than despair over it, I rejoiced in it, because I have a feeling that I won’t get many more of those. It seemed like so many people had the Christmas/New Years worship services dominate their landscape at precisely the time people should be able to relax.

Though I guess relaxation isn’t the name of the game during holidays. Parties, cooking, shopping, and a myriad of other activities often dot the landscape of the holiday season more so than taking the time to do nothing. And it was that doing nothing I hoped would carry on through the first day of classes, only my brain had other plans. I don’t talk much in classes, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything, at least in most classes. I tend to keep my comments to myself because I don’t want to speak up every time I have a thought, if I did, nobody else would get a chance to speak. Today it so happened I was able to avoid dropping my two cents in, only I wonder if I should have spoken up.

The topic of discussion centered around the idea that the father-in-law of Moses told him that he needed other people to help him do what he was doing. This in turn meant, apparently, that pastors or leaders in the church must do likewise because it is not up to them to carry the burden alone. I do agree that pastors and leaders need to create boundaries so that they are not overwhelmed or neglectful to themselves or their families but I don’t know if this is the place to go to defend that idea. I’m not Moses. I’m not in charge of a huge group of people wandering the desert. But this was not my issue, being at a seminary with Baptist roots I’m used to people using scripture anyway they want. My issue was that people seemed to use humility and piety as a smoke screen to abdicate responsibility.

This is perhaps a little too harsh but I was getting the feeling that the pendulum has swung too far the other direction. Where once the pastor was a respected and valued part of a community and was differed to in all matters, they now find themselves squarely on the other end of the stick. Either apologizing for something they didn’t do, pretending things didn’t happen or don’t matter, or clinging to the idea that people hate truth. In some ways they have brought this rejection of the office upon themselves, but I wonder if the way to fix it is to say pastors need to assert emphatically or altogether abdicate their authority.

I have often found myself struggling with the idea and necessity of the office of pastor. I don’t know if they would even exist in a perfect world. But I don’t get to deal with a perfect world, I live in a broken one, but not one void of hope. Part of my struggle rests upon the examples of those who call themselves pastor, not because they have done things well or poorly, but because everyone seems to have a different opinion of what a pastor does. This has reared its ugly head most visibly during the sermon. Not so much in delivery style, but in the content. Sermons can often fall into a few different categories, not the least bit concerned with delivery, but focused squarely upon the point being made, or the hidden curriculum being taught. They validate themselves, invalidate others, purport an understanding, expound upon a difficult passage, but they all tend to have one thing in common, they frustrate me.

Those of you who have sat near me during a worship service may have noticed that I take little notes. These notes, even though I would like to pretend are my way of trying to remember some key point of inspiration, are often sarcastic comments. Having studied theology for the better part of a decade I feel like there isn’t much for me during sermons in the way of communicating knowledge. This is an arrogant statement, but it is honest. I know it isn’t right. I know I need to be humble. I know there is so much so many preachers can teach me, but in a sermon, I don’t want to be taught. I want my reality to change. Life outside the walls of a church is often harsh. It’s as busy, loud, contradictory, and frustrating as any endeavor one could attempt. It has times of joy and sorrow, peace and war, love and hate. It is often quick to teach you something you don’t know or forgot. I wonder then, when the people of God come together isn’t  the last thing that should be happening is more of what the world passes off for life?

The last few years have been quite a journey for me, with each passing day I am realizing more and more that the traditions of my youth are now my own, not because they have to be, but because I believe them to be right and for the first time I am willing to go to the mat for them. One of these traditions is a strong focus on the Word of God. By this I don’t necessarily mean the Bible, although the Bible falls into this category. Instead I mean the Word of God, Christ. The Word that was in the beginning.  The Word that brought things into being. The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word that chose to bear the burden on the cross. The Word that suffered, died, was buried, and rose again. The Word that changed reality as we know and experience it.

But it is not enough to understand this Word. Because this Word is not a static idea, it is a person to be apprehended. The Word says what it does, and does what it says. The Word changes reality, here and now, just as it did in days long since passed. The Word proclaims a new reality, one defined not by our inability to do or not do, but instead reliant solely upon the veracity of the Word itself. A Word that leaves one faced not with understanding, but with belief.

This is why sermons and worship services tend to frustrate me, because they do not bring this Word to bear on my life. This Word that changes my reality. I have always struggled with the idea of being a pastor. But if being a pastor means I get to bring this Word to bear on the lives of people. If it means that I get to enter in to a situation with the ability to proclaim a new reality, based not upon myself but upon God himself. If it means that my life becomes not about my ability to understand or teach, but about the Word’s ability to change lives, then sign me up.

There is so much uncertainty in the world. Who am I going to be in ten years? What the next paycheck is going to cover? Where the next meal is coming from? When will we start a family? Why did this have to happen today? How will we make it through not just the next month, but the next 24 hours? In a world that seems more eager to dictate fear than certainty the Word steps in and silences the cacophony. It reminds me that I am his. It reminds me that my future is secured. It reminds me that life is not about myself. But it does more than just remind, it acts. It creates. It brings certainty. It changes my reality. In the words of the old hymn…


Thy strong Word did cleave the darkness;
At thy speaking it was done.
For created light we thank Thee
While thine ordered seasons run
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia without end!

Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness,
Dark as night and deep as death,
Broke the light of thy salvation,
Breathed thine own life-giving breath.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia without end!

Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous;
Bright with thine own holiness,
Glorious now, we press toward glory,
And our lives our hopes confess.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to thee who light dost send!
Alleluia without end!

From the cross thy wisdom shining
Breaketh forth in conqu’ring might;
From the cross forever beameth
All thy bright redeeming light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise to Thee who light dost send!
Alleluia without end!

Give us lips to sing thy glory,
Tongues thy mercy to proclaim,
Throats to shout the hope that fills us,
Mouths to speak thy holy name.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
May the light which thou dost send,
Fill our songs with alleluias,
Alleluias without end!

God the Father, light-creator,
To Thee laud and honor be.
To Thee, Light from Light begotten,
Praise be sung eternally.
Holy Spirit, light-revealer,
Glory, glory be to Thee.
Mortals, angels, now and ever
Praise the Holy Trinity!

Thy Strong Word
Text: Martin H. Franzmann

2 thoughts on “thy strong Word…

  1. Eric

    “I know there is so much so many preachers can teach me, but in a sermon, I don’t want to be taught. I want my reality to change.”

    This is the hammer between the eyes for me. I’m a teacher. Everywhere I go, everything I do, teaching finds me. And defines me. But when I contemplate preaching, I am confronted with the truth that preaching is different from teaching. I can stand up and teach on a Bible passage easily, excitedly, effectively. But preach? For that I have to work my butt off. Too often it’s too easy to let teaching substitute for preaching. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. First of all…. if I had told you a few years ago that you would put the lyrics to “Thy Strong Word” in a blog post you would have laughed at me. Just putting that out there.

    What I find interesting is that Pastor Mark here at church seems to have been having the same sentiments lately. He’s on this big kick of how the church has forgotten the meaning of grace and how we need to be changing how people see the world. It’s interesting because I feel like this struggle will never end. Especially I think because we work in the church. We tend to be more critical, and we need to be growing and changing ourselves while helping others to grow and change. I know a lot of times during the sermons (as good as they usually are here at my church) I find myself flipping through the bulletin to be sure that the youth group announcements are right. Or I fill in my little “fill in the blanks” and zone out when they are filled in.

    But at least we know that He is working, even when we get frustrated.

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