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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Bishop Barron - When God Speaks

Bishop Barron - When God Speaks

Bishop Barron - When God Speaks

Peace be with you Friends, the church proposes for us this week a marvelous little passage from the 55th chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Here's one of the greatest of Israel's prophets. And the theme of this little passage is the Word of God. So, here you've got one of the great speakers of the Word of God discussing precisely the topic of the Word of God. So, even though it's a short passage, it's one that packs, I think, quite a punch. Keep in mind that Israel knew itself to be, in this very privileged way, the people to whom God had spoken his Word. I mean, they knew that truth had been communicated, of course, to many other cultures, but somehow to Israel uniquely was spoken God's Word. And so, we listen with great attention to this little passage. Let me read just a section of it.

"Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth". Extraordinary, beautiful. The relevant Hebrew term here, by the way, is "dabar", echoes up and down the Old Testament, the Word. Echoed, of course, in the Greek of the New Testament as Logos, the Word of God. One thing I love about that little image of the rain and snow coming down: for desert people, for Middle Eastern people, how powerful that was. Now, I sense it out here in California a bit. We go through periods of tremendous drought, and then we savor when the rain comes. And we're very attentive to the snowpack up in the mountains because that keeps us fertile during the summertime. Well, even more so for a desert people: as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it fruitful. It meant the world to them.

So the divine Word, Isaiah is saying, has that same power in the spiritual order: that it comes down to a desert place and makes it fruitful. It gives life. It produces something. It's very interesting there, isn't it? We think of language in the usual sense as something derivative and descriptive. What do I mean? Well, it's derived from experience and it describes experience. So, if I were to describe to someone what's happening this morning, I'd say, Well, here I am in this studio space and a camera in front of me and lights. And I'm describing what I'm taking in. Okay, language does have that function. But other times, even in our speech, language has a much more creative and productive role. Now, what am I talking about? Suppose someone, even a parent, said something to you when you were a kid that was very cutting and critical. Did that affect you? You bet. That produced something in you, something terrible, at a very deep level.

Might last your whole life long. Or stated more positively, a parent or a friend or a teacher or someone says something that is very affirming and optimistic and confident to you. That could set a child on a path that will change her whole life. What she said to me when I was a little kid, it's because of that, that I'm still doing what I'm doing. Sometimes, our words effect reality. They do just what's being described here. They give life; they make a desert place bloom. Right? Or think maybe of a somewhat less dramatic example: you're at a baseball game, and the fans are cheering, and maybe they're all commenting the way we do at a game, we're describing and we're commenting. But then there's the umpire on the field, and he calls the play. "You're out". Well, his language is not just describing. He's not just sharing his point of view. His words change the game! That player has got to go sit down; it's three outs and the innings over. The umpire's words are not just descriptive and derivative; they are creative.

That's what God's Word is like... that's what Isaiah is saying. But now, a fortiori, even in the strongest sense: God's Word effects what it says. Go right back to the beginning of the Bible. "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth..." Let there be light, and there was light. God's not saying, "Oh, by the way, look, there's light. I'm describing for you what's out there". No, no. God speaks, and it is. Let the dry land appear. And so it happened. Let vegetation cover the earth. And so it was. Let animals teem, let things that crawl upon the earth come forth. And so it happened. Don't literalize that language, but it's trying to communicate this very powerful truth that God speaks the world into being. His Word makes it what it is. Our words shape reality to a degree, they can.

Think of the umpire. God's Word constitutes reality at its deepest possible level. I always think of a great sprawling novel, like by Dickens or Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, one of these great nineteenth-century novelists, big, thousand pages, plot and all kinds of subplots, and a thousand characters. One of those novels, takes you months to read. But isn't it amazing that there's one author, like Dickens, who is utterly the master of every little detail of that story? I mean, every character. I mean, the plot. I mean, every subplot. I mean, every sentence, every word, every comma, every semicolon was thought into being by that author. Or think of the Sistine Chapel ceiling with all of its complexity of design and the number of characters and figures. But yet, there's this one mind, Michelangelo, he might've had a few assistants to mix his colors and that sort of thing, but Michelangelo's mind brought into being that work of art in every nook and cranny. So God continually brings into being, by his great act of speech, the universe in its totality.

See, friends, we do not inhabit a chaos. We inhabit a cosmos. And the only way to make sense of that is to posit the existence of this great intelligent creator who is continually speaking the world into being. Extraordinary. Whenever you feel tempted to say, "Oh, it's just a tale told by an idiot," in Shakespeare's language. No, that's what the world is not! It's not a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. No, no; the world in every nook and cranny is like a great novel being written by God, who is speaking it into being. A further implication, I've spoken of this before, the sciences depend upon this idea. What's the condition for the possibility of the sciences? Well, the world is intelligible, right?

Any scientist has to go out with great confidence to meet a world that's endowed with intelligibility, a pattern, a meaning. If the world's just chaotic, no science would get off the ground. How interesting that every single scientist, no matter what his or her discipline is, must make this mystical assumption that the world is full of pattern, meaning, and intelligibility. Where's that come from? It comes from this ancient idea that God speaks the world into being. "As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, so my word goes forth from me and does not return without accomplishing its purpose". So, there's God's creative Word. But now think of Isaiah himself and his colleagues Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, all the others. God's prophetic Word. Descriptive? Yeah, sometimes it is. They might be describing what's going on in the Israel of their time. But much more importantly, the prophetic Word is creative. It's productive. It makes things happen. It did in their own time, and how wonderful, how wonderful that up and down the ages, that Word continues to have a transformative power.

Think here even of Martin Luther King in our country. Calling, as he often did, on Amos the prophet, speaking of God's justice coming down like a great waterfall. I mean, centuries and centuries later, King calls upon the prophetic words of the Bible to effect, indeed, great social change in our country. The prophetic Word accomplishes its purpose, not just describing; making things happen. I remember years ago when I was a professor at Mundelein, I would speak to the students about preaching a lot. And I would say, "If you're just sharing your own opinions, the people will sense that, and your words won't have a lot of power. But the minute you allow the divine Word to speak through you, and you'll know when that's happening, and the people will know when it's happening, because it'll cut them to the heart, that's the way it goes with the divine Word that accomplishes its purpose".

Okay. Let me close with this. But with all that in mind, let's take a look at this figure who is not just one more prophet among many, but is the very "dabar," the very Word, the very Logos of the Lord God made flesh. St. John, in his prologue, consciously calling upon the beginning of Genesis: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And that Word became flesh, and dwelt among us". What do we know, therefore? We know that Jesus will not simply describe the way things are; Jesus will change the way things are. Watch him now in his ministry. As he preaches, lives change. My son, your sins are forgiven. And by God, they're forgiven. Take up your mat and walk. And he takes up his mat and walks. Little girl, get up. And the dead girl gets up. Lazarus, come out. And the dead man comes out.

What Jesus says is because he's the Incarnation of the Word that Isaiah is talking about. The night before he died, Jesus took bread and wine from the Passover supper. Over them, he said the word, "This is my body. This is my blood". Describing a state of affairs? Producing a state of affairs. Because what Jesus says is, and that's the ground, everybody, of a Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It comes from Isaiah 55. It comes from this keen sense that the Word of God never goes forth from him in vain, but rather, accomplishes its purpose. Okay? What's the upshot of all this? Let that divine Word, in all of its manifestations, through creation, yes, through the prophets of Israel, in Jesus in his Eucharist, let that prophetic Word invade you. Trust me: it will change you. And God bless you!
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