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Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

“Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” This oft-repeated quote, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, has been a call to action by the Church for centuries. The point has been taken, and it still needs to be recognized, and yet, the words remain necessary.

The Bible emphasizes, many times over, that talk is anything but cheap. Words have power. Words made the world. God hurled speech against the chaos to create life. The temptation of Adam and Eve stemmed around a challenge to God’s words. When Jesus announced his mission in Luke 4, He said He came to proclaim. He went on to assault the disorder of the world with peculiar speech forms like parables and beatitudes.

Words are not inferior to action, they themselves have power. Words create and curse. Words bless and blaspheme. Words build up and break down. Words from God such as “let there be,” “rise and be healed,” “forgive them,” and “come forth” evoke new realities. Throughout the Bible, God has something to say, and His speaking is indistinguishable from His doing.

Words are not inferior to action, they themselves have power.

But God does not keep the power of words to himself. He gifts them to people. The prophet Ezekiel was instructed to “preach” a pile of dry bones into a living army. Ezekiel was one of many Old Testament prophets tasked to raise God’s voice to the people. In the New Testament, the apostles boldly proclaimed the reality of resurrection. These early leaders of the church did not have buildings or budgets or programs. Their tools were words. And their words worked to shepherd God’s Kingdom. To be called by God is to be outfitted with His words.

Walter Brueggemann said, “You preachers are world-makers. And if you won’t let God use you to render a new world, then all you can do is to service the old one, and that’s no fun.” He seems to suggest that the temptation is for us to dispense tips and tricks for managing life as it is. But God is not interested in maintaining the status quo. He wants to make all things new. God wants us to be less concerned about management and more concerned about transformation.

Such words may be gentle or jarring. They announce the presence and activity of God. They dismantle worldviews as they call into question practices of the world. They speak against powers and principalities. They deconstruct and reconstruct. They grab hold of and get into people. They serve as a means of God’s grace. They should never be described as just words.

We do not need more words. The endless piling of words on one another dilutes the news God intends to communicate through us. What we need is fewer, better, more precise words. After spending a week with my congregation, a seasoned preacher once advised me, “Let them hear you less. Then they will hear you more.”

John reminds us, “The Word became flesh.” But incarnation is an ongoing process. It happens every time the people of God gather as the preacher hurls God’s words into the community of faith to challenge and empower His people. Words like “He is Risen indeed” and “May the peace of Christ be with you” and “Go and do likewise” sustain and strengthen the hearers. From there, God’s people are sent out to be the Body of Christ—to act on those words in the world that surrounds them, and in this way, the “Word” becomes flesh again and again.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

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