Resuscitating a Lost Language: A Review of Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch

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The language that we use to speak of God has evolved over time and Jonathan Merritt puts out the call for us to reestablish our foundation. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is a way to examine our beliefs and reach out to generations that did not grow up knowing God in a religious setting.

We must remember that the Bible as we have it today has been passed down through numerous generations with many additions and subtractions and what we find ourselves reading today is the best rendition of the original intent, hopefully, inspired by God. Our Israelite ancestors did not originally share their faith through written word. It was an oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation which was finally put to animal hide, papyrus, or paper. The writers did the best they could to get their thoughts down. Yet, even from oral to written text, there is a loss of the intention of the original meaning.

This evolution has never ended as we can walk into any book store and find numerous translations of the Bible, with each claiming to be better to reach a certain segment of society. This is the visible reality of our faith today. This boils down to the point that the majority of people do not know how to share their faith so that others can understand. As a pastor, I am no stranger to this and just when I think I have a great sermon, I am reminded by those listening that it either went over their heads or they did not pick up what I was laying down.

Merritt calls us to reexamine those words that we utilize to share our faith and realize that their meanings too have evolved over time. Many times, we make the definitions fit into our way of thinking that makes us comfortable. For example, in our current immigration battles in the United States, we look over what Jesus meant by neighbor. We do not truly welcome in the neighbor as Jesus would have when we refuse to support and welcome refugees and those seeking a better life. Instead, we lock up our neighbors and separate their children from them.

Merritt explores and attempts to build a definition for many others words and ideas as well, including Yes, Creeed, Mystery, Grace, Brokenness, Saint, and Family, just to name a few. These discussions bear some personal stories as well as getting to the root of the biblical foundation of the words. Many of the words have been co-opted to serve our own purposes over time. Or simply, in our more secular society, we have chose to overlook words and disregard their meanings. There is a language barrier that has developed over time. Merritt is attempting to break down this wall.

By learning to speak God from scratch, the hope is that we will be able to reach out with a new profound proclamation. It is not a new message, just a renewed way of saying it. This is a good start on the journey to listening to God in our lives and therefore sharing that story with others.

Learning to Speak God from Scratch is scheduled to be released on August 14. Thanks to the publisher for an uncorrected proof copy to review.

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Unity in Christ

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May 28, 2017

John 17:1-11

I am going to let you in on a little secret! I get a little uncomfortable when people do not get along with one another. At times, I can just walk away from the situation and perhaps pray for the relationship. At other times, I try to think of ways in which the people that are living in disagreement can come together and live into a unity. An example of unity which is with us from the very beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5

These verses are familiar. Of course, they come from the beginning of John’s Gospel. These verses point us toward a unity of the Trinity, and a call for unity among all of God’s people. In Jesus is life, and in this life, is a light which shines for who? For all people! In Jesus, many hope for a perfect life.

In reality, we have come to learn that not everything is going to be perfect. We have learned that not everyone gets along with each other. Unfortunately, we have also learned that there is evil in the world that appears at times to overtake us.

In the midst of this, we hear the prayer of Jesus. He has been teaching the disciples for the past few chapters in the Gospel of John and he now concludes this time with a prayer. Jesus has come to the point where he has instilled enough for now with his disciples and his last hour is approaching. The prayer is full of love and compassion for those that he has walked with for the past few years. However, the prayer is not just for the remaining eleven disciples, but all that have picked up their crosses to follow Jesus in his footsteps and those yet to follow.

Our lesson concludes in the midst of Jesus’ prayer, and it leaves us with questions. “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (vs. 11).

If we look at the world around us, it appears that Jesus’ prayer has not yet been answered. We are not living as one. Not in the sense that we think of oneness. There is still plenty of division that happens and it can be overwhelming. You name it, humans can and will find a way to divide. The church is no exception. Can you believe that out of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and The Way as St. Paul refers to it, the Christian church has grown to 2.2 billion members. The more surprising fact is that out of those 2.2 billion members, they belong to 41,000 different denominations. Whenever the church has had a disagreement through the years, we decide that we will just start our own denomination. Lutherans are just as much responsible for this. Did you know that in North America alone, there are close to 40 different Lutheran denominations?

How do our actions as followers of Christ lead us to such a split? We have left out the room for the mystery. The mystery that comes to us in the Word, that is with us from the beginning and is in unity with creation. It is an organic unity and oneness. A unity that has been fostered and nurtured from the very beginning of time.

We cannot expect to have the same unity and oneness in our time if we do not foster and nurture it from the ground up. Let’s look at it from the very beginning of a relationship. Two people fall in love and decide that they want their lives to become one. They may perhaps decide to have children and in this the family unit lives together and is one. As a family, they may decide to attend a church or find a place that supports and loves them as they are. From our birth, we continue to grow into our environments. It is here that we seek out love and acceptance. It is here that we look for the unity and oneness that Jesus prays for.

The problem is, we are on this side of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are in a place where the Kingdom of Heaven has not fully come into being. There are struggles along the way. We feel at times that our prayers are not being answered. We cry out to God, asking why we have been confronted with various challenges.  Where is this unity that Jesus speaks of, we wonder?

This is where the mystery gets good! “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them” (vs. 7). When Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and the Father are one, he is praying all of us into this mystery too!

It is in this prayer that we can begin to imagine what a oneness in Christ feels and looks like. What if the church could be this place? It is at the cross and in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension that we are able to behold the great mystery that has been present since the very beginning of creation in the Word. It is here that we come to know and experience the love of God.

Jesus Prays for Us!

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John 17:20-26

Glory, to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

We find ourselves in the midst of Jesus’ farewell discourse as he is in prayer for those things he has done, yet to do, and for those that will carry the gospel message forward after he is crucified, resurrected, and ascended. The disciples together are one group waiting for what their next step may be in their journey with Jesus. Jesus encourages that oneness in his prayer on the night before his arrest.

I have to admit that the gospel of John in the past has been my least favorite of the gospels. Why, you may ask. Because, I like the down and dirty Jesus that is working in and among the people, healing, bringing good news and hope, and is doing so, humbly with little to no fanfare. The gospel of John has the tendency to lift up the glory of Jesus and ultimately his divinity. Not just towards the end of the gospel, but from the very beginning. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God (John 1:1-2). The divinity of Jesus is paraded boldly, so much to the point that Jesus says, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (8:23).

Isn’t it amazing how different parts of scripture can affect us differently given where we are at in on our lives or what is going on around us. Personally, I have experienced John’s gospel in a new and profound way this Easter season. The deep theological rifts that run through the gospel have become more alive. This is the Living Word of God, acting in our lives and breathing into us new signs of hope and inspiration. Scripture speaks of times past, roughly 2000 years ago, but it does not stay there. God’s Word comes to us in the here and now!

The problem 2000 years ago was that the World did not know God. Jesus came into this world proclaiming a message that angered people and fell onto deaf ears. Jesus reached out to those that were in need of healing and were struggling. He spoke to the outcasts of society and brought them God’s peace in a time when their voices were not being heard. He also lifted up their voices so that they could be heard by those that were in positions of power. It is was in these actions that he was condemned.

Jesus’ message brought conflict to a world that was already divided by race, class, culture, and sex. The conflict that occurred confirmed that there was still much growth to be had between “the world” and “the Word.” As we look around today we can see that that conflict still exists.  There are Christians that complain that the voice of the church does not have the same power that it once did. That the “world” is overtaking the Word of Jesus.  As society evolves and changes, we too must be willing to evolve and change as the Word of God is still just as provocative and prophetic today as it was thousands of years ago.

Jesus was well aware of the issues and conflicts that the disciples would encounter as they began to spread the gospel throughout the world. He knew that the world did not know God, yet it was through Jesus that others would come to know God. “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26). It is this oneness that brings Jesus to pray for the disciples and his desire for all to know that glory that God has given to him, that they can be a part of. It is Jesus’ prayer for oneness that starts to break down the walls of division and bring about a greater unity among people of faith. It is prayer that connects the disciples of Jesus to us in our time today. Here and now!

The prayers that are lifted up in this farewell discourse flow down through time through the Word that is alive and well and breathing today to touch upon our lives. How does that make you feel to know that we are connected to those first disciples through the sharing of the Word and Jesus’ prayer? For Jesus prayed not just for his current disciples. He prayed for those that would come to believe in him through the Word that we read this morning and pour over in our own prayers and devotions. As I pray for each one of you during the week, my prayers stem from those prayers Jesus prayed 2000 years ago.

Jesus’ prayer this morning is for us! IT IS FOR US! How powerful to know that the Words of Jesus’ prayer flow down to us and wash over us in his desire for us to be one with God and to share in the love that he has showered upon all. Like a mother praying for her children when they go out the door until their return, Jesus always has us in his prayers. It is in his prayer for us to be one that we come together communally, not under dogma, but under that own desire in our hearts to be in relationship with others. Our mission is to keep this experience of faith alive in the community, so that we can offer it to a broken and fractured world.

May we embrace Jesus’ prayer for us before he took up the cross and suffered. May we be in unity with him when we are called to bear our own cross.

Let us pray…

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us; teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace. Be present, Lord, among us, and bring us to belief. Amen.