“The Word is Near You”

Lectio: Romans 10:5-15

 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.”

But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Meditatio: “The Word is Near You”

Lectio Divina is very difficult, I find, when dealing with a familiar passage. All the words have become both freighted with over-interpretation and, at the same time, made hollow by familiarity. It takes a great deal of extra concentration and openness to the let the Spirit speak where so many have spoken already.

Nevertheless, the Spirit speaks, sometimes even through the voices of the preachers and teachers and readers and Christian witnesses who have spoken in the past. It is more and more important for me to honor those through whom the Spirit has spoken in the past, rather than disregard them or discredit them (because I’ve been to seminary, and know what this all really means). Such arrogance and, to quote C. S. Lewis, “chronological snobbery,” closes me to what the Spirit wishes to say.

Lectio, is, for me, one of the ways that “the Word is near.” The Spirit can lift up and use any one of my remembered Sunday School lessons, or sermon I’ve heard, or seminary lecture, or conversation, or the Spirit can put all of them aside and speak in a new word. The key is humility and openness.

Oratio

Holy Spirit, Companion and Comforter,

Thank you for using the remembered and written words of thousands of years of Your people to speak still today, in new and fresh ways.

Amen.

Contemplatio & Incarnatio

I can’t help it. I have to include these excerpts from Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans, because they are a challenge and a call to me to reflect more on my view of the Church, its task, and the its relationship to words and The Word. Read at your own risk.

The Church is the place of fruitful and hopeful repentance; it is nothing else. When the Church crashes up against this point, it is overwhelmed with disgust at its convulsive attempts, at one moment to “ascend into heaven,” at another to, “descend into the abyss;” it is appalled that it should have tried to be both “height” and “depth,” to occupy them, speak of them, point them out, and apportion them. There is a certain horror at all attempts to bring about the work of God, to effect the incarnation of divinity or the resurrection of humanity, by employing the dynamic, demonic power of the Church’s own word. The Church may refine its liturgy; popularize its technical language; broaden the basis of the education of its clergy; see that its administration is made more efficient; yield hurriedly to the demands of the laity, however doubtful they may be; encourage theological journalism; approximate more closely to the uncertainties of the “spirit of the age,” to romanticism, liberalism, nationalism, and socialism; may, in fact, “bring Christ into the picture”! But when He is brought into the picture, it is discovered that we cannot introduce Him thus, either by bringing Him down, or by bringing Him up. For Christ is not the exalted and transformed ideal man. He is the new man….

Once this were perceived, the Church — and in the term is included every conceivable little conventicle which passionately denies that it is a Church — would be the place where, contrasted with all other places, the proper, inexhaustible distance of “height” and “depth” would be apprehended, set forth, and maintained.

Then the Church would be able to express itself. The Church is not bound to be silent…For silence before God gives meaning both to our silence and to our most eloquent speech. Then the Church would be the place where men receive the message of joy and the positive Word of God. For it would be the place where — distinct from all moralizings and sentimentalities — the supreme negation of the Word of the Cross could be heard without the disturbance of other words….

A Church capable of retiring from all its sacred heights and depths, from all its extensive and intensive ecclesiastical possibilities; a Church determined to retrace its steps from every distant country, in order that it may move in the “nearness” of the lives of men and in the ambiguity of their existence, would thereby embrace its true task, and in its own misery and responsibility would encounter Him, who has ordered human affairs that in them He may be nigh at hand.

In thus describing the resignation of the Church and its severe concentration upon the matter in hand, we are not describing some new “reformation.” Rather, we are thinking once again of [the True Church], of the Church in the desert; we are thinking of miracle and faith, of the impossible possibility, which is beyond our observation, and which, therefore, we cannot think of in terms of some new movement of reform or of some new school of thought. We mean that which is everywhere and always present in every possible Church as soon as it in any way takes itself seriously.

The retirement of the Church upon its inner lines is not a maneuver which we can plan, set in motion, and accomplish. The retirement of the Church is the strategic significance of its already existing maneuvers — a significance which already exists and which occurs without any preparatory circulation of orders, without any practical consideration whatever, and without any increase of establishment. What we mean is the new orientation of all possible human activity, the step from hope to tribulation and from tribulation to hope, the eternal advance, which accompanies or does not accompany, which assists or hinders, all human progress. Set over against all human possibilities, it is the “Wholly Other;” and because it is this it is the possibility that is always and everywhere open — the possibility for the living, Unknown God to be what He is.

Now, this open possibility means that behind and above and in [the False/Visible Church] — however degenerate and priest-ridden it may be — is [the True/Invisible Church]. When we say that “the Word is nigh thee,” we are simply speaking again of the righteousness of God, ever awaiting our serious consideration, ever waiting for us to hear it and proclaim it, ever ready to display its efficacy in causing us oppression and in setting us free. Yet, because it is the Word of Christ, it is beyond our hearing and beyond our speaking; for, to hear it and proclaim it — we must wait…Far too transcendant, far too important, far too full of significance, is the Word of God by which the Church is constituted! We cannot endure it — even though it be heard by human ears and proclaimed by human lips!…

The Word is nigh unto us….

But here we must not forget to reckon with impossibility. For impossibility is, as such, nigh at hand, ready at our elbow, possible. Impossibility presses upon us, breaks over us, is indeed already present. Impossibility is more possible than everything we hold to be possible. The light shineth in the darkness.

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