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Houston Mennonite Church in Houston, Texas.

12-27 Message Transcript

Dec 28, 2020

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Everything came into being through the word.

Perhaps that's why nature is such a spiritual experience for us because everything, all nature, all people, everything came into being through the word.

My family and I love Colorado, we've been there the last couple of summers. And for us, it's about nature, getting out of the city and being into God's huge nature where you can see the sky and the horizon for 10s of miles around. We love Colorado because we can hike through ancient Fossil Beds and climb to the highest peaks in the continental United States. We love it because we've been underground and gold mines and we've gone up to vistas where we could see in all directions.

While I was there, a couple of summers ago, I found a book by Billy Collins of poetry.

Billy Collins is now one of my favorite poets. In one of his poems called The Trouble With Poetry he has this to say about words, and imagery and poetry.

Billy Collins says, "Poetry fills me with the urge to write poetry, to sit in dark, and wait for a little flame to appear at the tip of my pencil. And along with that, the longing to steal to break into the poems of others with a flashlight and a ski mask."

I love that imagery to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame to appear at the tip of my pencil.

That captures what journaling is for me better than anything I've ever read or said to sit in the dark and wait for the little flame to appear at the end of my pencil. Collins in that same poem goes on to say, and how will poetry ever end unless the day finally arrives when we have compared everything in the world to everything else in the world. And there is nothing left to do but to quietly close our notebooks, and sit with our hands folded in our laps.

I think that that's what John does. In John chapter one. He gives us this imaginary, this imaginative poetry, the soaring language about the word and light and life. And he mixes all of these different images together into a poem, which doesn't just cause us to think it also stirs our emotions and our hearts. The best poetry causes us to feel something and to think something and john enables us to do both of those In the beginning was the Word, this expansive, eternal language. And everything that's ever been created came into being through this Word.

Brian Stoffregen in his exegetical notes about this text says it's hard to express love in mere words.

So poems and works of art are created to try and capture the emotion of love. Christianity is filled with art and songs because it is a religion based on God's love for us on earth here.

One of the things that John does in John chapter one is he does exactly what Billy Collins says, he breaks into other poems and other poets. And he looks to beg, borrow and steal what it is that they have to offer.

First, he borrows this imagery of In The Beginning.

In The Beginning is the three words that start the entire scriptures. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." It's the first sentence from Genesis chapter one. And john takes that same sentence and tweaks it just a little bit, teaching us that he is starting a new creation story. Just like in Genesis one In the beginning God created. Now john is saying that in the beginning, there is a new creation and this one comes through the word, the spoken word of God, and the living word of Christ.

But there are also other images, other poems or other people that john pulls together to weave this amazing chapter one of. Another text that he pulls from is the idea of

The Word in both Hebrew and in Greek, the concept of The Word was really the creative force in the universe. It's what brought things like light and life into being. And Hebrew The Word is Dabar. And in Hebrew when God speaks Darbar it's an action. It's something that will happen, what God says will happen.

In Greek, which is the language of the New Testament, the word for Word is Logos. In the beginning was the Logos. And the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. And so you know John grabs these other images along with creation. Now we have this imagery of the word and begins to blend it together.

This is a third imagery, a third poem that John pulls from as well.

In that Hebrew Book of Proverbs, where we meet woman wisdom, a female representation of God in the book of Proverbs, and this Lady Wisdom, this image of wisdom is what creates the world as we know it. God creates through wisdom. God is a female, who creates as if a mother giving birth to a child.

These images and there are others, John takes it, he blends them together into this amazing poem.

Like Billy Collins, the longing to steal to break into the poems of others with a flashlight and a ski mask.

John does that for us.

In the beginning was The Word.

Today we're talking about journaling as a spiritual discipline or as an act of prayer.

And what I've experienced in my own life, as I have journaled for many decades, is that when I use my words, it connects me to The Word. When I write words, it connects me to The Living Word of God.

Over the years, I have filled literally dozens of journals just like this, my favorite are Moleskin. But I've used others. Dozens of journals where I have sat down and with the tip of my pen, thought, and prayed, and wrestled with my own life, wrestled with God. I have brought scripture onto the page and asked it hard questions. I have brought my worries onto the page and interrogated them. I've listed my feelings and recognize the naming them that my feelings aren't facts.

Journaling is a classic spiritual discipline. People have been writing their thoughts about God and themselves down for literally millennia.

We can think of journaling or as writing as a place where we put our feelings and our relationships and our thoughts safely down. So that maybe we can later on share them with others or with God.

When we take our pen and hands or our keyboard with our fingertips in hand, we can use our words to connect us to The Living Word. It's our chance to let God teach us about ourselves. It's our chance to allow our own feelings and our thoughts to be the curriculum that helps us to grow in Christ.

There's no wrong way to journal.

We can do a diary version. We can, like Kate said, write down our hopes or dreams or worries. We can write those hopes, dreams and worries on small bits of paper and fold them up, put them in a jar.

When I was a youth pastor, we used to write those hopes, dreams and worries on pieces of paper and then light them on fire on fire as acts of prayer, lifting those prayers up to God.

During second hour, today, I'm going to introduce you to a form of journaling that is a very simplistic and yet effective form of journaling called SALT. SALT is an acronym that stands for Situation, Attitude, Learning, and Thanks. We'll practice that later together today. But journaling and poetry writing even theology is a spiritual discipline that is an invitation to loving union with God and to embrace ourselves as much as God does. Journaling is an opportunity to slow down, to allow God to have complete access to us, to open the door of our heart continually to God.

Through journaling, poetry, writing and theology, we can abide in Jesus. We can allow God's message to penetrate us at the deepest parts of our lives.

Through journaling, we can become in sync with God and the light of Christ in us.

It can become for us a place to rest of rest and centeredness.

More than anything, how we pray, whether we pray through songs, whether we pray through meditation, whether we pray through journaling, or any of the other dozen or more ways of praying, more important than how we pray, is that we choose to be present with God.

For me, I can hardly even pray without a pen and a journal in my hand.

For other people, journaling and writing doesn't work at all. And that's okay. All of our personalities are different. For me, it works so well because an Enneagram 4 loves poetry and creativity, and I love just to pour out my thoughts and my feelings and then sort them out later.

But I do believe that when we use our words, we can connect to The Living Word. And that's my hope for us this Christmas.

Back to John chapter one for a couple more thoughts.

John 1 talks about the darkness.

Darkness is something I've experienced in my life so often. Darkness is oftentimes the place where I grow. It may feel like the place where I want to give up on life or on faith, but it often becomes that place where that small flicker that small flame can light us up and give us even the smallest flicker of hope. But I know that darkness is all around us. This Christmas, we feel like the lights have been turned off.

The pandemic has left us all feeling worried and afraid and anxious. Some of us are overstressed because our calendars are still too full. Still too many lists of things to do. Cards to write, thank yous to write, presents to buy, and that overwhelms us.

Others this Christmas season are overwhelmed or anxious and worried. We're sad, because there's not enough for us to do.

Not enough people were sending us gifts or thank you cards. Not enough people were calling us not enough people were in our contact list for us to call. So we feel the stress and the pain of the season.

Still, others are frustrated because we can't go and visit family. Others are sad because families not coming to visit us. Some of us are feeling the pain of loss this year as we have lost loved ones or reminded of loved ones who have been lost in the past. We feel the blue, the dark, the pain of Christmas.

And some of us are feeling the pain that our children don't want us to see their kids our own grandchildren, or don't want us to be part of their lives anymore.

And Christmas can be painful time for us. John 1 reminds us that darkness is part of life part of creation and part of what it means to be human. And yet the light that is the life of all humans comes into our world.

Words point us to the living word, whether it's the words of John that we can read and repeat In the beginning was The Word and The Word was with God and The Word was God and all things came into being through The Word or whether it's our own words as we pick up a pen and write our own thoughts, worries, dreams and hopes. Whether it's the words of songs or someone else, we can encounter the true and the living God in our hearts and in our homes.

So while this Christmas may have been married, perhaps it's not been married. My hope is that you would encounter the living Christ in your midst.

In Colorado [I ran across] a poem called A Texas Incarnation and I want to close with that as we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus today.

A Texas Incarnation

The table is filled with steaming bowls of buttered peas and sweet corn on the cob. a plate of barbecue chicken sausage and smoky brisket is ready to be passed through eager hands. The beer is cold. The wine is ready to pour in the lime aid is freshly squeezed. So come up to the house; Jesus wants to eat with us. Jesus, he wandered around Galilee like an ancient bourdain eating his way across the tables of friend and sinner alike. And here at our house he piles his plate and he dives right in barely stopping to say grace. He eats and he talks with his hands savoring every bite, chewing on every shared story. Drinking in every mood until intoxicated with delight and drink.

You want some salt for the peas but you hesitate to ask the Lord of the world to pass it. By the end of the meal, you've no reservations and feel perfectly at home for the first time, but Jesus is still picking corn out of his teeth.

And so you hand him a toothpick, and laugh.

Amen. May you experience the Incarnation in your heart and in your home.