The Accomplished Word

Subtitle: A personal reflection on last Sunday’s appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (or this is what happens when I wasn’t the preacher last Sunday, but my brain won’t turn off during the following week!).

Thus, saith the Lord, “My word shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isaiah 55.11)

Jesus told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow” (Matthew 13.3)

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God’s word, once spoken, accomplishes what is uttered. For God’s word is an expression of God’s person and, conversely, God’s personal actions are words. Thus, for God, word and deed, orality and activity are the same.

So, I understand more fully God’s earlier declaration: “My thoughts are not your thoughts nor your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55.8)

Simply stated, God’s ways are inhuman and my ways are ungodly. For when I say, “Trust my word,” I know that what I have said is only as true as my subsequent actions to fulfill it. And when I don’t act (because sometimes I don’t), I prove that my word was untrue.

More truth, because I’m always in the process of becoming, there’s always a difference between what I say and what I mean. Therefore, most truth, I never can know precisely what I mean when I utter a word in time, the fulfillment of which must be at some future time.

For this reason, I think, we humans need contracts and an entire legal industry to interpret and enforce them when (not if) we fail to understand and honor them. But not with God. With God, there is instantaneity; word and deed are one.

So, the Parable of the Sower. Jesus sowed the seed of God’s word of teaching, of healing, of loving that he proclaimed and performed. In him, as with God, was the same immediacy of word and deed, of utterance and fulfillment.

Yet, as I interpret the parable, I focus less on the sower, Jesus, and more on the soil, me. And, it doesn’t matter which kind of soil I am, but when I am one or the other.

“The path” isn’t those hard-beaten places in my life where my troubles have left me hard-bitten, bitter. Though, yes, I have and know such parts of myself. Rather, Jesus associates “the path” with a lack of understanding.

Anything beyond my experience and knowing, I don’t, I can’t understand…

And sometimes something I experience, too complex for me, defies my comprehension…

And sometimes something beyond the grasp of my intellect, I can embrace psychically, spiritually. So, at some future “Aha!” moment, a revelation dawns and instantly I realize that I already knew it, though I did not know that I knew…

And sometimes I may choose not to understand, for that would require a change that I do not desire to make.

So, being “the path” isn’t about bitterness, but denseness, obtuseness.

“Rocky ground”, Jesus says, isn’t cluttered, but shallow. How often this has been true of me. Given to serial pursuits, a kaleidoscopic array of ever-changing enthusiasms, all scintillating and, when the “trouble” of long-term commitment arose, all short-lived.

“Thorns”, Jesus equates with “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.” Not bad, but rather necessary things. My marriage and relationships and the joys and struggles that come with these commitments. My home and mortgage payments and the costs of upkeep. My financial security and insecurity.

These “cares of the world” can occupy, preoccupy me enough to become my valued goals and, thus, no longer the symbols or reflections of what and how I value.

Now, my focus shifts from the soil to the sower. More precisely, the seed. Most precisely, its fruit. For, again, the emphasis is on word and deed, utterance and fulfillment.

So, a question: Do I value, that is, understand God’s word so to become and to be soil that can receive the seed and bear the fruit of that word?

My answer to this question rests in my understanding of the one who speaks. Jesus. In knowing that, in knowing him, God’s word is any word that calls me to unconditional love and justice. Any word that calls me to self-sacrifice, to die to myself for the sake of others.

Whenever that word is spoken to me, I know that it is God’s word and that I am “good soil,” for immediately the fruit of the seed, which is action, is born in me and borne by me in the world.

© 2020 PRA

8 thoughts on “The Accomplished Word

  1. Paul,

    I think people are pretty happy that your brain doesn’t turn off during the weeks when you do g preach so thanks for sharing this!!

    Here’s my fav part…. So, a question: Do I value, that is, understand God’s word so to become and to be soil that can receive the seed and bear the fruit of that word?

    Some days I don’t want to be seed.. I want to just lay around and be left alone and to not grow… BUT thankfully those days don’t come often because then it would be all about me!

    There are days that that I wish the seed would take earlier and grow faster, but I’m grateful that God has made me patient! I keep praying that this world will turn around but it’s going to take lots of good soil from good souls!

    Much love!

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  2. Thanks, Loretta. Your comment about being patient brings immediately to my mind that word spoken of our human restfulness in waiting for God’s work in and on our lives: All in God’s time. Doubtless, I think, I believe, this can and this does apply to that evolution of God’s word being scattered as seed on our human soil (of whatever composition) and, via the watering of the Holy Spirit, germinating and flowering. Thus, our need for patientia…

    Love and peace, dear sister,
    Paul

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  3. Paul,

    Thank you for your meditation on this parable. I had never spent time thinking about the natures of the path, the rocky soil, the thorns, and the good soil. Your thinking on those metaphors is helpful to me. My favorite truth in this is “God’s word is any word that calls me to unconditional love and justice. Any word that calls me to self-sacrifice, to die to myself for the sake of others.”

    I continue to wrestle with the nature of God and how God’s nature manifests itself as love. As I grow older, I have the growing sense of God as the “glue” between and among all things and all people and that sin is that part of human nature that reflects our inability or refusal to acknowledge God in the sense that I have suggested above – that we reject the notion that we humans – each and all – are inextricably bound up in God’s good Creation of all things, indeed in God’s inevitable and unending creativity as it is unfolding in the cosmos and on our earth.

    I’m trying to plug those thoughts into the statements above about God’s word – that it is any word that calls me to unconditional love and justice and that calls me to self-sacrifice and to die to myself for others’ sake. I am wondering what you think of the idea that self-sacrifice and dying to oneself occurs when the individual human ego loses itself in the Unity of all things, all people, and in God’s whole Creation itself. In other words, when I die to myself for others’ sake, may I in that moment realize that I cannot separate myself from others, indeed from all of Creation, and that my dying to myself serves not only others but my own true self, which is unquestionably and inextricably an essential part bound up in the Unity that is God/Love/Creation?

    I am feeling so strongly these days that the drawing of lines, separation, and the creation of boundaries and walls are the human actions that seem to damn us from so many perspectives, and the above is my effort to find a structure for that conviction. Your meditation prompted me to dig deeper this morning, and I would value your thoughts about where I seem to be headed.

    Much love,

    Karen

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  4. My Dearest Karen,

    Always, I thank you for reading, reflecting, and responding, for always, you, in your ruminating, dig deeper. The metaphor that arises in my consciousness at this moment is the discovery of a rich vein of precious ore. You, I, we dig, for we believe it to be there (much the way we pray, believing God exists or, at the least, perhaps, especially in our direst moments of human existence, we want to believe God exists!) and, when we find it – as in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure in the Field or the Parable of Great Price – we rejoice.

    To wit…

    “…self-sacrifice and dying to oneself occurs when the individual human ego loses itself in the Unity of all things, all people, and in God’s whole Creation itself.” Amen, I say. Moreover, I add that self-sacrifice, on its face, appears oxymoronic, for, in some sense, a case can be made that to sacrifice self is to not exist. (And of all the things we humans can conceive, I suspect, surely, at least for me, non-existence is beyond our capacity to imagine, much less, enter in.) However, I have come to believe, aye, at those signal moments of my living experience, to know that I only can relinquish what I possess. Thus, the more I know myself, verily, my self, the more I am able to give it/self away, to sacrifice it/self for a greater good.

    And, “(i)n other words, when I die to myself for others’ sake, may I in that moment realize that I cannot separate myself from others, indeed from all of Creation, and that my dying to myself serves not only others but my own true self, which is unquestionably and inextricably an essential part bound up in the Unity that is God/Love/Creation?” In this, for me, you have said/written what I think and believe far better, far more clearly than I have or did. Thank you.

    Now, I bounce back/up to your prior thought. “I continue to wrestle with the nature of God and how God’s nature manifests itself as love…I have the growing sense of God as the ‘glue’ between and among all things and all people and that sin is that part of human nature that reflects our inability or refusal to acknowledge God in the sense that…we reject the notion that we humans – each and all – are inextricably bound up in God’s good Creation of all things…” Here, you lead me to ponder more, I pray, deeply. For these words of yours stir up in me a counter-thought to the issue/question of theodicy over which I have ruminated many times, though unsatisfactorily in reaching no resolution or clarity. That is, theodicy addresses the question of how can evil exist in a world created by an omnipotent and benevolent God. The counter-thought, as I term it, is how can humankind, in sinful selfish self-interest, continue to resist what you so wondrously articulate as “God’s inevitable and unending creativity as it is unfolding in the cosmos and on our earth”? The nature of human sin, I believe I understand. Its power, which, so far, in human history, as I read it, rivals that of the Divine, I don’t understand. I must think on this more. Thank you for stirring the embers of my reflection.

    Love you,
    Paul

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    1. Dear Paul,

      Thank you for so deeply engaging with my questions, for your affirmations, and for your further deep questions in response. With regard to theodicy, I share your puzzlement at the power of evil and sin in the face of the goodness of God, whose Love is endlessly generative and healing. The only direction I can suggest for the quest for an answer is the pondering of the fallibility of human understanding. Isaiah 55:8, which you reflected upon early in your original post, is where I find myself ultimately having to turn to deal with the issue of the power of evil and sin. I have often thought that perhaps God, being God, is incapable of comprehending evil in the same way that humans do, and vice versa.

      God can never be separate from God’s self, while humans, gifted with free will, are fully capable of separating themselves from God (in my conception, failing to grasp and claim the Unity of all Creation in God), which makes evil visible and active in human lives. While God experiences the pain and the loss that result from evil and sin, having become human, what we perceive as evil is for God only a necessary part of everything that is, not half of the duality of good and evil, as we perceive it.

      In some mystical way, I believe evil may be a necessary part of the whole of Creation, and Creation as a whole is good. Years ago, I began to reject the concept of perfection in favor of the concept of wholeness. Perfection does not allow for evil; perhaps wholeness does allow for it, but also allows for human choice to emphasize and move toward the good rather than the evil in the whole of things. Without the ability to choose evil, we humans would not be whole. We would be mere puppets in God’s theater. I think God loves us more than to allow that. We must come to goodness, i.e., the truth of the Unity of all things, including ourselves, in God and Love, on our own, not because God has dictated that we must.

      In part, this thinking has come about because of my own experience of having gained the greatest good – growth, development, enlightenment, forgiveness, reconciliation, relationship, etc – I have ever experienced in my life directly because of having suffered from events that arose out of what I perceived as evil and human sin, my own and others’, and in part it has come about because of my wrestling with Jungian ideas and thought for many years. Also in part, it has come about because I realize I make up such an infinitesimally tiny part of the grand unfolding of humanity in the Cosmos and in God’s Creation, but that somehow what I experience during this brief sojourn here matters deeply to that unfolding. I believe the same is true of every creature, every aspect of Creation. And perhaps that is the greatest manifestation of Unity and of God’s love.

      Now I think I’ll go and read Job again! : ) I recently decided that I think I could maybe give up the rest of scripture, but I could never give up Job.

      With much love,

      Karen

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  5. Ah, my beloved Karen, I love, simply, profoundly love how your mind and heart, soul and spirit work.

    Now, after reading this post of yours – and reflecting on many you have shared with me o’er time – it occurs to me to ask you (if you’ve not already done so or if you’ve already begun having done so) to write out your theology. For, for me, your ruminations on that essential relationship as testified in the word theology – that is, theos + logos = God words or words about God – are wondrously illuminating and commending, commanding of my pursuit!

    Now, before commenting further, between our last exchange, another thought occurred. An olden thought, yet, in its arising afresh, through the lens of your witness, I understood it more deeply. That is, Jesus’ word: “Those who seek to save their lives will lose them and those who seek to sacrifice/lose their lives will save them.” All that we have been talking/writing about, for me, is summarized in Jesus’ declaration, and, put another way, what Jesus said hath been expanded in our discourse.

    Now, I like very much your pairing (comparing) the idea of perfection with that of wholeness. Let me try to add another dimension. I think of Jesus’ commendation that we “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5.48). Over time, I have come to see, to believe that Jesus wasn’t/isn’t talking about some abstract form or sort of purity that abides no sin or evil. Indeed, I perceive “perfect” not as a noun, as in some imagined (but unattainable) state of being, but rather, as a verb (as in “to perfect”), signaling our ongoing, continual (even more, necessary) movement toward the restoration of our wholeness in and with God, our pilgrimage toward our reconciliation with God in Whose Image we were/are created. In a word, our becoming perfect is as inevitable as the sin that we embody, which, in our selfish self-interest, calls us to turn away from God and God’s Image within us…

    I know I’m rambling here, but what if (a la Jung and the school of depth psychology) our wholeness must entail the communion of our light and darkness, for only with both (and our recognizing and honoring each and both) can (that is, we are able to) be our human selves?

    Finally, for now, your vulnerable sharing of your “own experience of having gained the greatest good…” is as poignantly and passionately powerful a witness to personal integrity as I have read (or written!)! Thank you! Bless you! Love you!

    Paul

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    1. Dear Paul,

      Once again I thank you for your reading, careful attention to, and affirmation of my struggles to come to grips with ultimate questions. It means so much to me to be able to share this dialogue with you, whose honesty, integrity, and strivings I respect more than I can say. I have indeed written a good deal about my theological musings, most recently in a couple of classes – one related to spirituality and the other a memoir class. I am going to revisit the products of those classes and try to synthesize them with these latest thoughts that I shared with you yesterday. Once I do that I will share the product with you. One thing about theology – it isn’t in any way a fixed science, is it? Ideas about God and human nature and the relationship between the two never stop evolving, which makes sense, I guess, since our lives are always teaching us new things. Our beliefs must inevitably change and grow in response to new experiences and learnings.

      I LOVE this: “… what if (a la Jung and the school of depth psychology) our wholeness must entail the communion of our light and darkness, for only with both (and our recognizing and honoring each and both) can (that is, we are able to) be our human selves?” I agree with this idea so much. It moves us into the realm of the mystery that defines the chasm between the human intellect and the mind of God. And yet, it grants us freedom and permission to be the fully human, but perhaps longing-toward-the-divinity-of-God, creatures that we are.

      Thank you again, Paul, for your friendship and your encouragement. I hold them as treasures in my life.

      Much love,

      Karen

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  6. My dearest Karen, somehow, I had little (no?) doubt that you had written your philosophical-theological-ethical ruminations. In this, please, know that I, happily, will receive and read and relish and reflect and respond to your offerings. ‘Tis a banquet feast — for your writing, rich in the prime ingredient of content and flavored with the spice of eloquence — I long to partake!

    As I continue to think about your word — “One thing about theology – it isn’t in any way a fixed science, is it? Ideas about God and human nature and the relationship between the two never stop evolving…” — something occurs. That is, process theology or process thought, which, for quite the while has been an element (farther back in the day, lurking at the edges of my understanding and, since then and now, having a primary, near center stage role) in my comprehension…

    In a word, I no longer hold that God — even as eternal (and in this aspect of never-dying eternality, therefore, immutable or, perhaps, better said, it is God’s eternality that is a changeless quality of God’s Being [another changeless quality being God’s Goodness]) — is wholly impassable, that is, unaffected by the world, the creation and the creatures that God hath made. Rather, I have come to believe (though honesty compels the confession that I cannot “know” it, so to assert it as a universal truth fit to be held universally by all people at all times!) that God and the creation together are in the process of becoming. To the point, as God affects us, so we affect God. Or as eternality affects temporality, so, in dynamic relationship, temporality affects (must affect?) eternality. (Though in our impress upon God, it does not alter God’s essential impassability, for God does not relinquish or lose the essential character of eternality.)

    In this way, indeed, per your salient point, “…theology…isn’t in any way a fixed science.”

    A conversa continua!

    Love,
    Paul

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