The Value of a Word

given Sunday, April 19, 2009

Working through this week has been a challenge.  The calendar was booked.  The students decided to work.  The weather was still dreary.  Events led to new learning, and all the while I had this phrase playing over and over—the value of a word.
I could not get rid of the phrase.  I kept trying it out in different ways—I know you have done that at times.  You know, where you change the emphasis of each word:
∑ The value of a word
∑ The value of a word
∑ The value of a word
∑ The value of a word
∑ The value of a word
I even tried replacing a word and the meaning of word itself:
∑ The value of the word
∑ The value of the Word
Each time I found myself bouncing back to the original phrase with the emphasis on value.
Last week I had placed on the back of the bulletin a few statements about the vision, the plan and the mission.  The value of a word is important when developing ideas.  The value of a word is essential when sharing ideas.  The value of a word also is critical in relationships:  consider the positive results of a compliment or word of encouragement; or consider the destructive power of a word screamed at a child whether in anger, ridicule, or frustration.  Words create understanding, but so often words also lead to misunderstanding.
As Christians, we recognize the value of The Word when it represents the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, the Old and the New Testament, the Psalms, or the Gospels and the Letters.  We talk about these words as though everybody should be familiar with them.  We talk about these words as though each one of us knows them intimately.  Yet there are thousands, millions around the world who do not know them.
The Gideons share in the love of The Word and are making it their mission to see that a Bible is placed in each person’s hand.  We see their work each time we look around the hotel rooms we stay in.  We find their Bibles in the doctors’ offices we find ourselves waiting in.  They are driven by a common dream of seeing that every single person knows that The Word is accessible around the world because they value The Word.
I question, though, how many of us really value The Word.  Maybe the problem is that we do not always understand what we read.  Maybe we get confused when we hear a verse out of context or in a different translation than the one with which we are familiar.  The value of A word is determined by the reader or the listener.  We are responsible for our own understanding and we need to find a method for learning the value of The Word.
Today’s scriptures may be confusing, especially when they are listed together as though they are one reading, but the scriptures are chosen to illustrate how important studying the word really is for us on a daily basis.  I know I have shared with you how I typically read scriptures.  I pick up the Life Application Bible to begin my reading.  I read the verses through once, then I read the application notes, and then I go back and read the verses once again.
The plan for reading the scriptures includes another vital step for me, and that is reading other translations.  I think about with whom I might be sharing the knowledge and try to look for more complete understanding.  Is there a cultural reference or a geographical setting which makes the understanding clearer?  Is there a word, one tiny little word, that completely throws me off from my understanding?  Is there a bigger picture of the words that I am reading that I need to know better?  The value of a word can make a tremendous difference in my understanding of the scriptures in my life here in 2009 compared to what life was in that first century after Christ’s life on earth, much less the thousands of years prior to his birth.
One practice of reading is lectio divina which is Latin for divine reading.  According to the website I have found, http://www.gotguestions.org, the words lectio divina also are translated as spiritual reading or holy reading.  It is a method of reading the scriptures which I first learned in my “Companions in Life” study I completed several years ago.  The method begins with reading The Word, meditating on the words, reading the words repeatedly, and then praying about the words.
This process, as designed, takes time.  It takes commitment and it takes quiet.  These are commodities which we seldom have in our lives today, but the value we place on the words of the Bible can indicate our personal priorities.  Do we value The Word?  Do we value the meaning of a specific word or phrase?  Do we value the words in the verses we read and hear day after day?
In order for us to fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church “to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world,” we must begin with a plan.  Lectio Divina is one plan we can implement to improve our personal faith.  The key is to read The Word and to study The Word.  We must work to learn the Bible ourselves in order to share the words with others.
Each one of us must develop a personal plan to find the value of the words in the scriptures.  We must create a personal understanding of the verses, even the confusing ones, which we read.  The verses from Ephesians 4 can be extremely confusing especially this first Sunday after Easter.  We have spent the entire season of Lent contemplating the resurrection of Chirst.  We celebrate his ascension into heaven on Easter knowing that he arose and was given new life, eternal life.  He ascended into heaven and into the right hand of God Almighty—we repeat this over and over throughout the year, so why did Paul include these verses with these words in his letter to the Ephesians?
7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men.”
9(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
These verses are from the New International Version.  But listen to the words from another version:  Do you recognize them?  Do you recognize the translation?
7But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

8Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

10He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

This translation is from the King James Version.  The value of the words from centuries ago is still preserved in this version.  But for many the understanding is difficult so further study is important.  This leads us to look at even a third translation, one designed for the current society:
7Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. 8As the Scriptures say,

“When he went up
to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
and gave gifts to people.”

9When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. 10This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so that he would fill the whole universe.
Each version is different.  Each version changes the words just a bit more.  Still the words of Ephesians can be confusing and it calls us to study it more deeply.  This is when the study helps us to find the value of each different word.  When we can read the Bible with an understanding of the culture in which it was written, of the allusions referred to in the words, and of the different meanings of the words, then we can apply the words in our own lives.
The Life Application Bible’s study notes shares that this set of verses is very confusing.  It literally states that the understanding of verse 9 may be one of three different possibilities:
The “lower, earthly regions” may be (1) the earth itself (lowly by comparison to heaven), (2) the grave, or (3) Hades (many believe Hades is the resting place of souls between death and resurrection).  However we understand it, Christ is Lord of the whole universe, past, present, and future.  Nothing or no one is hidden from him.   The Lord of all came to earth and faced death to rescue all people.  No one is beyond his reach.
In reaching our personal understanding, we must pray.  We must meditate.  We must study until we hear God speak to us and the meaning becomes clear.  This is the process for placing our value on even A word, for placing our value on God’s word.
The value of I John 1:1 now becomes connected to Paul’s letter in Ephesians:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
But be cautious as you read and study.  Prayer is so important because we need to discuss the words with God.  We must pray to ask him questions for understanding, but then we must listen, listen for his explanation.  Listen to what John goes on to explain in I John 1:2-4:
The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclai to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete.
John, the apostle, wrote this letter and was there walking side by side with Jesus.  In reading the study notes, it connects these verses with Ephesians in yet another way:
This letter was written between A.D. 85-90 from Ephesus, before John’s exile to the island of Patmos.  Jerusalem had been destroyed in A.D. 70, and Christians were scattered throughout the empire.  By the time John wrote this letter, Christianity had been around for more than a generation.  It had faced and survived severe persecution.  The main problem confronting the church at this time was declining commitment:  many believers were conforming to the world’s standards, failing to stand up for Christ, and compromising their faith.  False teachers were plentiful, and they were accelerating the church’s downward slide away from the Christian faith…
Oh my, the words fit today!
Each one of us must find the value of a word or of The Word in order to see how the holy scriptures still apply to our lives as much now as they did at the time Jesus was learning them and then teaching us how to transform the world by loving one another.
Dear Heavenly Father, Our Teacher,
We let the business of our lives cover up your words.  Help us to join with others to carry your word to the many who have never heard them before.  Help us to read and to study The Word so we may apply them to our own lives.  Let us find the value of a word which can lead us to live the life of faithful Christians even in times when it seems everything is wearing us down.  Thank you, Teacher, for leading us to understanding.    –Amen

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