Sermon: July 23, 2023 – Psalm 119:12-15 and 105; John 1: 1-5 and 14

Three times this morning I will make the same declarative statement, but each time that which is being described will be different.  The statement is “this is the Word of God.”

Download PDF: Sermon_23July2023


When we refer to the Bible as “the Word of God”, what do we mean by that?  Some will be right at home with that language, with the Word of God singular, as synonymous with the words of the Holy Bible, plural, inspired/dictated by God. Some will find “Word of God” language on the very edge their spiritual journey, the Bible being one of many inspired or inspirational pieces of writing, alongside other sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the expressive works of poets, lyricists and novelists.  Others will be somewhere in between or in a position even more strongly stated. That’s part of the beauty and challenge of being in a United Church gathering where uniformity or unanimity are not expected – there’s no one required answer to this, no single understanding in this room.

In addition to that overall belief about the Bible, the Bible is “a book of books” – sixty six books, 39 Hebrew Scripture, 27 New Testament, plus whatever you do with the additional books of the Apocrypha.  Recorded over many centuries, these books contain many genres of writing.  A parable told by Jesus is very different from an account of his healing ministry; a Psalm, sung by a cantor in public worship, is quite different from the stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs found in the book of Genesis; a letter written by the apostle Paul to a young Church dealing with specific issues is very different from the laws written down in books like Leviticus.  Depending on its setting and its intent, some parts of the Bible likely speak to you more than others, and knowing that intent shapes how you read it.

Questions about the Bible have been wrestled with by The United Church of Canada for decades.  In the first half of the 1960s, the New Curriculum attempted to bring the Biblical scholarship taught in the seminaries into the pews, encouraging all Church folks, including young children, to engage the words of faith in ways beyond memorization and obedience.  In some congregations the New Curriculum was eagerly received, while in others it was hugely divisive.  Later, around 1985, there was a push to revisit our understandings of scripture, but that just kind of simmered for awhile until the need became more urgent.

As United Church congregations, Presbyteries and Conferences were having a difficult, awkward, sometimes heated dialogue in 1987 and 1988 around the question of gay ordination, voices of Biblical literalism were popping up unexpectedly and we realized that in a national denomination of over a million members and adherents there was a huge range of beliefs, and we needed to talk about this rather than just using scripture to clobber one another.  So, was the Bible divinely dictated and inerrant?  Was it entirely a human construct?  Somewhere in between?  A widespread study at the congregational level from 1989 to 1991, entitled The Authority and Interpretation of Scripture concluded with a fifty-page report which tackled these and many other issues, including important questions about power and voice.  The report included six assertions (pp.16-19) which I’ve rearranged to help the flow, but these are direct quotes from the report:

  • God calls us to live in love and justice.
  • We turn to the Bible in our struggle to understand God’s convicting, liberating, and transforming Word for us today and to pass the story to subsequent generations.
  • As we engage scripture, The Spirit can bring us life-giving understanding. If we are to hear God’s call and experience God’s liberation and transformation, then we must engage the scripture on a regular basis.
  • We believe that in every engagement with scripture we expect to hear the message of God’s liberating and transforming activity.
  • Our understanding of scripture is filtered through our assumptions [which] is simply a function of being human…. Having our assumptions identified, challenged, and perhaps changed enriches us.
  • God calls us to engage the Bible with a sense of sacred mystery. The Word of God, in every case, is larger than the text of the Bible.  Scripture itself refers to many of its teachings as divine secrets, the meanings of which are not entirely revealed to us.  When engaging scripture, we walk on holy ground.  We must [also] be aware of whose experience, whose understanding, and whose heritage we are employing [as we seek insight] and as we engage the Bible in this way, we believe that God’s revelation of the sacred mystery will continue.

That relationship between the Bible and sacred mystery certainly informs my practice in getting ready for Sundays.  Opening myself to the words of a particular scripture invites God to point me toward something that (if all goes well) you need to hear and that I need to hear.  To regard the Bible as The Word of God is, for me, not so much a doctrinal statement about the authorship of scripture, as a statement of relationship: I trust the Bible as a portal to consider how my spiritual forebears have understood God’s will, God’s grace, God’s call to action, God’s call to repentance, in the lived circumstances of their lives, so that I can do so, too.  I believe that there is a sacred realm, a level of existence and experience far deeper than what we see on the surface, and opening myself to be spoken to by God, by scripture, by prayer, by gifts of insight, I attempt to reach through and touch that holiness.  In this, the Bible is for us what the Psalmist called “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

And with that, we switch gears, and say once again, THIS IS THE WORD OF GOD {Christ}

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” states the gospel of John, “full of grace and truth.”// Each of the four gospels had its own starting point for telling the story of Jesus.  Matthew and Luke fairly quickly move into the birth narrative, Mark launches straight into the start of Jesus’ ministry, but the gospel of John has these mystical, mysterious notions of Jesus, the Christ, as “The Word Made Flesh.”  In technical terms, this is known as “Logos” theology – using the Greek word translated “The Word” – and it’s both fascinating and a bit out of reach.

Admittedly, this far-reaching mystical concept will resist explanation in a few minutes of a Sunday sermon, especially since I admittedly drift back and forth between kind of understanding it and not understanding it at all.  Eventually I found some helpful words at the sometimes-helpful, audaciously named website entitled which writes,

“Logos is broadly defined as the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order, identified in the Gospel of John with the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ….

“John argues that Jesus, the Word or Logos, is eternal and is God. Further, all creation came about by and through Jesus, who is presented as the source of life. Amazingly, this Logos came and lived among us: [by incarnation,] the cosmic Christ enters our humanity.

“Though clothed in flesh, the Logos continues to be the self-manifesting God, and retains, even in human form, the character of the Eternal One”.

What does it mean for us, then, to identify Jesus Christ as “The Word Made Flesh?”  In my mind, this helps to bridge the gap between God’s intention and our wonderings about how we mere mortals might express those high concepts in our time and place.  We wonder, “what would this Word of God look like in a human’s life” and boom, there is Jesus, speaking truth to power, balancing compassion and challenge, putting reconciling grace into action, embodying love.  Jesus Christ helps us to see the human-sacred connections. And within this Logos theology, it is so helpful not only to visualize Christ as the human form of Holy Intention, but to recall, as Richard Rohr does so eloquently, that Christ’s life, death and resurrection express pre-existing truth that has been in the heart of God, at the beginning of time and even before. In Jesus, the Word made Flesh, we see what it is when God’s Word takes human form and that is a very, very good thing indeed.  And… it leads us to our third and final point:

THIS IS THE WORD OF GOD {ongoing action}

If my tech skills were a bit stronger, at this point I would take a picture of the group gathered at Ralph Connor this morning and toss it up on screen, for our actions as a group represent a third expression of the Word of God.  The Word of God is the Bible, the Word of God is Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, but the Word of God is not limited to some prior point of history; it unfolds even now.  As our friends south of the border in the United Church of Christ say, “God is still speaking – never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

The Song of Faith, released by The United Church of Canada in 2006, said this:

“The wholeness of scripture testifies to the oneness and faithfulness of God.

The Spirit breathes revelatory power into scripture [and] judges us critically when we abuse scripture by interpreting it narrow-mindedly, using it as a tool of oppression, exclusion, or hatred.

“Scripture is our song for the journey, the living word

passed on from generation to generation to guide and inspire,

that we might wrestle a holy revelation for our time and place

from the human experiences and cultural assumptions of another era.

God calls us to be doers of the word and not hearers only.”


The Word: expressed through sacred writings, lived by Christ Jesus, must be embodied and brought to life by you and me and all who seek to be Christ’s disciples in the world.  The openness, the kindness, the belief in a kin-dom that has already been initiated by Jesus, a place of peace and justice and liberating love, mean nothing unless they transform us and the way we address the challenges presented by daily living.  In the unfolding of our lives, in our households and as Church, the Word is embraced, and loved, and brought to life.  The Word of God lives! – here, and now, in the way we live it out.

In written form, in human form, in relational, active, ongoing form, THIS is the Word of God.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

References cited: “What is the Logos in the Bible? Meaning and Significance”.

The United Church of Canada.

United Church of Christ.

© 2023 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church.