‘The Word of God for the People of God’
‘Thanks be to God.’
That’s the usual response after the reading of scripture in my church’s worship as it is most congregations.
And whenever I read scripture during the liturgy, I preface the reading with the invitation ‘Listen for the Word of the Lord’ rather than the imperative, common in many churches: ‘Hear the Word of the Lord.’
I prefer the invitation over the imperative because, as we all know, not everyone within hearing of the scripture reading has actually heard the Word of God.
To hear the Bible read is not to have heard the Living God speak.
It’s not so simple or so easy. I like to invite people to listen for God’s Word in much the same manner as I’ll shush my boys while we’re hiking in the mountains. Be quiet, still yourselves, the scripture reader is telling the congregation. Listen for God’s Word because it might just pass you by.
When it comes to God’s Word, active discernment not passive reception is required.
One of the old confessions of the Church acknowledges as much by professing:
‘The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.’
That is, the word of God (scripture) is not a living, active witness to the one Word of God (Christ) until it’s been faithfully read, faithfully proclaimed and faithfully received by its hearers.
(That’s how you can disqualify preachers who use the Bible for other ends, i.e. Joel Osteen)
The scripture reading then is as mysterious as any other part of the liturgy, eucharist included, because to hear the Word of God is not merely to hear God’s previous revelation read it’s to participate in God’s ongoing revelation in the present.
This the mystery Barth tackles in §16.1 of the Church Dogmatics.
Barth’s already wrapped together as diverse topics as Christology, Pneumatology and the Trinity under his Volume 1 heading ‘The Word of God.’ Now Barth applies the doctrine of revelation to God’s revealing of himself to humanity.
As Barth points out relentlessly, Jesus, the God-Man, is the singular revelation around which all Christian speech of God must cohere. Nevertheless God’s revelation also comes to people who receive and respond to it.
Just how is it that people hear the Word of God (Christ) in the word of God (scripture)?
How is it that some hear God speak?
Which begs another question: Why is it that others do not?
To answer the former question, Barth turns to the Holy Spirit. Barth is often accused of being so radically Christo-centric that he has no place for the Holy Spirit in his theology, but here in §16.1 Barth points to the Holy Spirit as the agent through whom God reveals today.
Not only is it a deep mystery that God speaks; it’s as deep a mystery that we hear.
For Barth the human response ignited by the Holy Spirit is part of the same “revelation” as Christ himself. Every worship service in a sense is still a part of the very first Christmas Eve. It’s part of the same unfolding of God’s Word taking flesh.
This is not unlike what Paul tells the Corinthians: that God was in Christ reconciling the world and now this ministry of reconciliation has been given to us. We’re the extension of Christ, God’s revelation, to the world.
Anyone who accepts the invitation to listen for the Word of God is accepting a summons.