God's Best Seller,     Hebrews 4: 12-16,    October 11, 2009
 
In this age of e-mail, text messaging and instant communication, how exciting is it to get a handwritten letter from someone? They personally committed time and attention to the task and thought the words out carefully.
 
Handwritten words mark a particular time and place, which is why they are saved in keepsake drawers and scrapbooks. Computer files stay hidden on a hard drive inside a machine. Somewhere in one of the many attics of the world is a perfumed envelope written to a young man. Or, one might find an old leather-bound journal whose faded pages give us a glimpse into a loved ones' life story.

E-mail may be great for quick messages, but if you’re going to write a love letter or keep a journal of your adventures in life, only the portable and personal pen and paper will do.

---When we pick up our printed, bound and cross-referenced Bibles, we have to remember that the words and the Word inside were first carefully put to papyrus or parchment by human hands; not a printing press. Each phrase was crafted, and each letter turned, by someone wanting to convey the personal story of God’s creative love for humanity.

Karl Barth had a phrase about the Word of God in the Scriptures.

He said the Word of God is not “one thing in the midst of other things.” It’s not just one more word that stands shoulder to shoulder with the Book of Common Prayer, Kahlil Gibran, John Stott, William Shakespeare, your mother or whatever other word you give ear to. The Word of God comes from completely outside of us. It comes from outside of all of us, and has the power to pierce . . . and to judge.(Andrew S. Rollins, “The wounding word,” October 21, 2003. trinityc.net/october_19_03.htm. Retrieved April 20, 2006.)
 
“Word of God” is sometimes used in the church as a synonym for the Bible, but here in Hebrews, it means not only the Scriptures but the living voice of God — all that comes from God to communicate to us.
 
From the epic stories of Genesis and Exodus to the run-on sentences and passionate arguments of Paul, each biblical book, letter and poem carries the personal stamp of a writer. Their own experiences, interpretations and questions are laid out for others to see and experience for themselves.
 
Given their personal nature, it’s hard to imagine the gospels, for example, being written as a blog. Neither would Paul’s letters to Corinth arriving as a series of e-mails have any personal effect on its readers.

Imagine the people's response who received these first scrolls. Perhaps they were brought to them by someone who endured a perilous journey to make the delivery. Think of the anticipation the readers felt in unrolling them. Like a soldier in a distant land, who eagerly tears open a long-awaited letter from a loved one, savors every word on the page over and over again. He or she recognizes the pen strokes and gleans new meaning from each word with each reading.

Gutenberg may have done us a favor by inventing the printing press in the 1450s by getting the Bible into more hands. The flipside is that from that time on Scripture has been almost too readily available. In Western culture, it is taken for granted and easily deposited on the shelf. It is the best-selling and, perhaps, least-read book in modern history!
 
The writer of Hebrews, penning a letter to a distant community, reminds his readers that the word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (4:12). Like a love letter it can open our hearts with words of blessing; or, like a letter of reprimand, it can penetrate the darker parts of our souls and convict us.
 
In many ways, Scripture is an honest human journal that exposes the secrets of human sin (v. 13) and the wonder of divine grace. It's a story that doesn’t end with the last chapter. It continues to be “living and active” in the lives of all / who read and meditate on its pages again and again.

 
Verse 12: 12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
 
The word of God is:
Living. The Greek word here is zoe, not bios. It suggests a higher form or principle of life. The writer’s suggestion is clear: God’s word is not the dead word of a document written 2,000 years ago. It continues to have meaning for us in a changing world. It’s still possible for us to read the Bible and ask ourselves, “How does God’s word inform the decisions and actions of our every day lives?”

Active. That the word of God is active logically follows from it being living (or alive). You expect something that is alive to be active, to have movement. The Word of God actively transforms our lives. Just as the word is alive, not dead, it is also active, not passive. The word has energy; it has the power to transform us as we incorporate it's promises and principles into our lives..

Sharper. In this case, it is compared to a two-edged sword, a lethal instrument sharper than one of those double-bladed Roman sword. The root word is tomos, to cut, as with a surgeon’s tool —from which comes our word anatomy. The word of God, as a living and active instrument, is so sharp, it gets to the heart of the matter. It will cut to the chase--cut through the crap--cut out the nonsense.

The text says it’s able to filet the soul from spirit, the joint from marrow, the thought from intention. The word of God is nuanced. It’s sharp. It’s able to cut to the issues that concern us with laserlike precision — no matter how tough our hide might be.
 
The Word is Living, Active, Sharp and
Piercing. The word here is the only occurrence in the New Testament. It comes from two words meaning “to go through.” The writer here is suggesting that the word of God not only scratches the surface, but penetrates, runs us completely through.

Dividing. The word of God is able “to part” or “to separate” soul from spirit. God is able to see through us, to see us as we really are whether in soul or in spirit. The word of God exposes us to the judgment of God.
 
Judging. The Greek word kritikos suggests “critical;” meaning “to discern,” “to make an assessment.” Here we see God as a Critic who is able to discern our “thoughts and intentions.” God, through God’s word, is able to unravel all of our justifications (for ethical suspicious behavior), or our rationalizations (for the bad choices we make).

Now, this is God’s word to us. It comes to us through human instrumentalities, but it is powerful, active, and transformative nonetheless. It’s time to revisit the idea that the people of God are a people of the Book.

How might we get back to the Book?
One approach to see the Bible as a handwritten word / is the practice of LectioDivina —, which is Latin for "Devotional Reading". One reads a passage aloud several times, meditating on the words and phrases that lift off the page and touch the heart, and writing down insights in a notebook. It’s a way of reading not only the words but the spaces and meanings behind and between them. It's a way of making a passage spiritually meaningful on a personal level.

A similar approach is "Devotional Journaling, " which is as simple as copying down a daily Scripture text and then responding to it in letter form, writing a reply to God’s word for you that day, a new insight, or even a question to follow up on.
 
“Search me, O God”
The word of God “is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” To say it yet another way, the writer adds, “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

 
That cuts, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s even why Hebrews calls the word of God a two-edged sword. While we are thinking about how it applies to so-and-so, it’s filleting us at the same time.

The point is this: The word of God is the word of truth. Growing closer to God, who is truth, starts with being honest with ourselves.

We can ask God for help in this endeavor. And if we need a model prayer, we can read Psalm 139. Here are its closing verses: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
 
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable and pleasing to you, our God. Amen.
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 

From the “I didn’t know that” department:
 
The Center of the Bible

Did you know that:

• Psalm 118 is the middle chapter of the entire Bible?
• Psalm 117, before Psalm 118 is the shortest chapter in the Bible?
• Psalm 119, after Psalm 118 is the longest chapter in the Bible?

 
• The Bible has 594 chapters before Psalm 118 and 594 chapters after Psalm 118?

• If you add up all the chapters except Psalm 118, you get a total of 1,188 chapters.

• Psalm 118 verse 8 is the middle verse of the entire Bible? Should the central verse not have a fairly important message?: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”
 
 
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