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"The Word Turned Toward"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 6, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:The Word Turned Toward)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 1:1-18

On the ring finger of my left hand is a metal band made of white gold and possibly some nickel and platinum. You ever wonder how they make a wedding ring? Well, you start with a thin strip of metal and you cut it to the appropriate length and then gently hammer it into a circle and then you permanently fuse the two ends of the band together with a process called soldering.

Before you solder though, you cover the whole thing in flux. Flux is a paste that cleanses the metal and prevents discoloration as it's heated up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit with a soldering torch. Hot enough to melt the solder, permanently closing the gap between the two ends of the metal band. Then you cool it in water and file off the rough edges. Scour it with a brass brush, shape it some more with the hammer and again, scour, hammer, shape, repeat, scour, hammer, shape, repeat, then polish, and there you have it, a wedding ring. Almost.

See, it's not a wedding ring without the word. It's not yet a wedding ring until the groom turns toward his bride and the bride turns toward her groom, and the two share that short and sweet speech and offer the ring as a sign, as a pledge and token, of the words spoken in that speech.

Author, Tom Wolfe, in his book, The Kingdom of Speech, calls language humanity's superpower. Language is central to being human. If you meet another human being who doesn't share words of some kind, you know that something's not right. Language is what separates us from every other creature on earth.

We communicate in complex and powerful ways. We tell stories, we utter threats, and issue promises. It's not just barks at mailmen and chirps like dolphins warning of danger. We communicate in powerful ways. We use words like a soldering torch to bind lives together in relational connections. We use words to build up families and institutions and nation states. The Incredibles don't got nothing on us. Words are our superpower. We have become civilization- builders with our words.

Sometimes we use our words in evil ways. Sometimes we turn words against other people. We attack those bonds, or even worse, sometimes we turn away from other people and refuse to share words with another human being out of apathy or bigotry or indifference. For better or for worse, words are what make us the kind of creatures that we are.

Where do we get the words? Where did we acquire this power of language? When social scientists try to answer this question, some focus on nature and others focus on nurture. Those who focus on human nurture account for how families and cultures have shaped us and have taught us this superpower, generation after generation. Other scientists who focus on nature say human beings seem to be born with this innate capacity for language, almost like a language organ that no culture could give to them. And these nature versus nurture scientists, they argue with each other, but on one point they seem to agree, the origin of language is an enigma, an unsolved puzzle. The word is a mystery.

Two thousand years ago, a small-town, Jewish fishermen wrote the following: "In the beginning was the Word." It's the opening line to John's book, and it looks back to the opening line of the ancient Jewish account of the creation of the universe. The uniquely Jewish claim is that God spoke the world into existence. Out of nothing, He spoke the world into existence, and one creature on earth, one kind of creature on earth, He did something different. With the other creatures, He moved them like a bulldozer moves rocks and clay; He moved them with His Word. But with this creature, the Scriptures say that He formed as though by hand. Scour, hammer, shape, repeat, scour, hammer, shape, repeat, and then a human being. Almost.

Because the human being was not complete until God turned toward him with His Word. The man and the woman were not complete until God spoke with them. And so, the ancient Jewish answer to the question of "How did we get the word?" is this: language does not come in the first place from human nature or human nurture, but from the nurturing God who created our nature. We are special creatures because God speaks with us. He shares His Word with us, and that's why John starts his book with the Word.

Two thousand years ago, John put his quill to papyrus to write a biography about his Rabbi who has become the most talked about man in human history: Jesus of Nazareth. And, it's a specialized biography, it's not like a contemporary biography that you could pick up in a local bookstore. It's not relaying information about some dead person who is important in some ways. No. The goal of John's book is to build up a bond of trust between you and a living Person. The goal for John's book is that you who encounter it would hear the voice of your Creator speaking to you in Jesus.

John believes that this Jesus is the Messiah. This Jesus who was crucified on a Roman cross around the year 30 A.D., that this Jesus is the promised Messiah, and he believes this because he witnessed Jesus raised from the dead. And he witnessed other things. Before Jesus was crucified, with a word, He transformed water into wine, and John witnessed it. With a word, He gave sight to a man who was born blind, and John witnessed it. With only a word, He called a dead man to life again, and John witnessed it.

All these things were like pieces of an unsolved puzzle for John. John calls these things "signs" in his book. Signs are an occurrence, a meaningful occurrence that points to something greater, sort of like the ring on my finger points to something greater. And when John saw Jesus raised from the dead, all the pieces came together for him. This Jesus isn't just some other guy. He is the eternal Word of God in the flesh. He is the darkness dispelling sin, forgiving, eternal life- sharing Word of the Father who's come to be our Brother.

Now listen to the opening lines of John's book: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was turned toward God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning, turned toward God. Through Him all things came to pass, and nothing has come to pass without Him, and what has come to pass in Him is life, and this life was the light of humankind. The light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not put it out.

"There came a man sent from God. His name was John. He came as a witness to testify about that Light so that all people would believe through him. He himself was not the Light. He only came as a witness to the Light, the true Light. The Light who gives light to all people was coming into the world, and though the world came to pass through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, but His own did not accept Him. But to those who received Him, to those who trusted in His Name, He gave them the authority to become children of God. Children born, not of natural descent or of a human decision or have a husband's will, but children born of God. And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we have seen His glory.

"The glory of the only Son sent from the Father full of grace and truth, full of steadfast love and faithfulness. John cries out; he bears witness. 'This is the One of whom I said He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.' From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The Law, the Torah, came through Moses. Grace and truth, steadfast love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God, the only Son who is at the Father's side, He has made Him known."

This is the Gospel of the Lord from John 1.

John tells us how we got the word. We are speaking creatures because the God who speaks wants to speak with us. He wants to move us to life with His Word. To move us, not like a bulldozer moves things, but like a tender father moves his frightened daughter by turning toward her with an encouraging word. He wants to move us, not like a bulldozer, but like a groom moves his bride by turning toward her with a word of promise. And just like my bride's word of promise transformed this ring into a sign of wedded love and faithfulness, so also do the signs in John's book have the power to transform us into children of God.

See, God's a father, and even if you don't know Him as a father, even if you've been running from Him and rebelling from Him, even if you've turned away from Him and turned against Him, it doesn't change who He is. It doesn't change His nature. He's still turning toward you. He wants to build up and nurture a bond of trust with you. Now, how is He going to do it? Let me answer that with a parable.

Once there were two ring-makers, and they went searching for gold to use for their rings. The first one had it set in his mind that he wanted to find a large gold nugget. As he was passing along a mountain stream or through a dark cavern with his lantern, sometimes he would see tiny flecks of gold in the cave walls or flecks of gold in the bed of the stream, but he would turn past these because they were so small, so insignificant. The second ring-maker took a different approach. He stopped and scraped and picked and scrounged and collected all of those tiny flecks of gold. And when they compared them, the second ring-maker had accumulated 10 times more gold than the first.

Dr. John Gottman performed hours of clinical research to determine what makes a relationship healthy, what makes any relationship healthy, but specifically a marriage relationship. His team of researchers discovered that the gold standard of a healthy relationship is emotional connection, relational connection--the bond of trust and mutual respect that exists between two people.

Through their research they debunked the myth of the relationship gold nugget. The myth of the relationship gold nugget tells a troubled and conflicted couple that they can solve their problems through a romantic getaway. The myth of the relationship gold nugget tells a disconnected family that they can make it all right again with a trip to Disney. The research showed that though these trips have their place, they are not the key. The key is those infinitesimal, seemingly insignificant moments of turning toward each other with a word.

Let me illustrate what I mean by this: suppose my wife paints our kitchen, and she comes in and tells me, "I finished painting the kitchen," and I say to her, "Took you long enough." How would that go for me? Let's try it again. "I finished painting the kitchen," she says. And I say, "Have you seen my car keys?" Strike two. One more chance. "I finished painting the kitchen," and I say, "Wow! Nice lines with the trim work."

See, the words, "I finished painting the kitchen," are not just relaying information about the status of the kitchen walls, they are a bid for connection. You can always do three things with a bid for connection. You can turn against that bid: "Took you long enough." You can turn away from that bid: "Have you seen my keys?" Or you can turn toward that bid: "Wow! Nice lines."

The research showed that it was these minuscule moments of turning toward each other in everyday life that these moments accumulated like a storehouse of gold in the relational bank. When they studied healthy married couples interacting, they found that on average Monday night dinner at home they would sometimes exchange as many as a hundred bids for connection in a ten-minute period.

Some people treat a relationship with God like a hunt for a gold nugget. If I just have a mountain top experience, then I'll be set. But the truth is God is turning toward us in Jesus our whole life long. Jesus, through His death on the cross, through His resurrection from the dead, He has won a storehouse of gold-standard love and forgiveness and commitment, and now He is turning toward us by His Holy Spirit.

God is much more like the second ring-maker. He is scrimping and scrounging and capitalizing on every opportunity to turn toward us. In every word of the Scriptures, in every Christ-centered biblical message that you hear, in each conversation you have with a Christ-follower, Jesus is turning toward you. Will you turn toward Him, not just once, but a life of turning toward Him?

In the weeks to come I invite you, as you look into the new year, I invite you to do this with me, more intentionally. On this program we're going to be going through the Gospel of John, sequentially, and if you've never read the Gospel of John, or it's been more than a year since you've read the Gospel of John, I invite you to do this again. And maybe along the way, you select some flecks of gold, and you commit those words to memory, and you repeat them all week long. Give it a try.

Only a word of promise has the power to make a wedding ring what it is. And only Jesus has the power to make you what you were created to be. He is the solder who fuses you to God. He is the flux who makes you clean. He is the torch who melts you down and purifies you. He is the hammer who shapes you. He is the Word of power who makes you. He is the pledge and token of God's steadfast love and faithfulness. And if you're willing, I invite you to pray with me to Him.

Lord Jesus Christ, Word of the living God, I confess, often have I turned away from You; often have I turned against You. Turn not Your Word from me. Turn my heart again toward You in faith and in love for all people that we might be bound to You, because You are the life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for January 06, 2019
Title: The Word Turned Toward

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. And we just heard Dr. Michael Zeigler with a message titled "The Word Turned Toward." I'm Mark Eischer here in the studio with Dr. Zeigler. And would you introduce our guest?

Mike Zeigler: Yes, Mark. Our guest is Dr. Rick Marrs. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. He is a professor at Concordia Seminary, the director of the programs that prepare men to be pastors and deaconesses to serve in the church. He was one of my professors at the seminary. And my favorite thing about Dr. Marrs is although he has all these titles, he asks the students to call him Pastor Marrs. And I think it shows his heart. So welcome, Pastor Marrs.

Rick Marrs: Thank you very much. Very good to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Mark Eischer: In your message, you talked about improving relationships, human relationships, through improved communication. What does that also tell us about God and how He relates to us?

Rick Marrs: God created us relationally. And I think that came through in the sermon. One verse that always strikes me in Genesis 2 is "It is not good for man to be alone." God created, first, Adam, and then had all these animals around him like pets, I assume. And pets can give us unconditional love. But yet it was not good for man to be alone from a talking creation, a person. So that was why God gave Adam Eve and why they had each other. So we need, by His direction, human relationships. And we even see that in the Trinity, the most mysterious of relationships, three Persons, one God in essence, all three loving each other and us. And we are creations of that mysterious love. And I liked how in the sermon you pointed out that our Lord Jesus became flesh who then turned toward us in a way that we can sense and that we can know that God cares for us because He turned to us incarnationally through Jesus in flesh.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, and He does this completely out of His nature. It's not a foreign thing for Him to turn toward another in language and speaking. Because, as you mentioned, this is God's nature as the Triune God. There is never a time when the Father was without the Son and without the Holy Spirit, that the three are eternally turned toward each other. And this is something unique about the Christian view of God, that God is by nature relational. I mentioned this book, and I know you've heard of it, by John Gottman, The Relationship Cure. This is a book you use in your class on pastoral counseling.

Rick Marrs: Right.

Mike Zeigler: And I was fascinated when I took the class with you. You talked about the three ways that you can respond to a bid for a connection. Tell us a little bit more about those and how you use that to teach pastoral counseling.

Rick Marrs: Yeah, it's one of those cases where, again, I think when many young men come to seminary, they're looking for the right answers. And so, part of my class, I'm trying to convince them that, "Well, theology is not all about the right answers. It's also about how people are relating to one another." And Gottman again, he's not a Christian himself, but he's a wonderful researcher. So he gives us this wonderful insight through his research that what we thought was, I liked your metaphor, the "gold nugget" is what we're kind of looking for, but in reality we're looking for all these little, tiny gold specks of emotional bids that other people are giving to us and that we're giving out to them. And when we respond more positively to them, then that increases more emotional bidding. When we respond by turning away, ignoring them or just, yeah, ignoring what they're focusing on or turning against them by getting belligerent or angry, then we mute that emotional bidding process between human beings.

Mike Zeigler: I found Gottman's book very helpful in thinking in an analogous way to our relationship with God. It helps me remember that when we talk about faith in God, we are talking about a relationship that's based on trust, connection through the Word. And I think it's a very helpful metaphor to understand what John is up to in the Gospel of John. He says he's written these things so that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, that we would trust Him, that we become His children.

Mark Eischer: I liked when you talked about the accumulation of gold flecks and how that second ring-maker ended up with much more gold. To me, that sounded like the benefits of weekly exposure to God's Word through worship--that over a lifetime of exposure to the Word you end up with many more benefits that if you were just trying to cram for the final exam, as it were.

Mike Zeigler: Exactly. And that's why I think people tend to see relationship--just like we see a romantic getaway or a trip to Disney World--as a fix for our relationship problems. It really doesn't work like that in human relations. And of course, it's not going to work like that with our relationship with God. He wants to have a father relationship with us where we have those little interactions. Like Paul says in Thessalonians, "Pray without ceasing." This is constant chit-chat with God throughout the day, and having weekly experience of hearing His Word, and mid-week experience of talking with other Christians are all part of that: God nurturing that relationship of trust with us.

Rick Marrs: And being reminded weekly that He baptized us into this faith, that the water, there was something objective there that happened. So it's not just our own subjective faith, but He did something. And we receive bread and wine, body and blood, then on a weekly basis as well from those church services. And all those little things, like you said. That gold fleck metaphor works very, very well. And, unfortunately, we in America don't value that as much as we used to, in general. People are going to church less often and not realizing that they need to hear that Word on a daily, weekly basis.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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