I started wrestling with a call to ministry during my freshman year of college. It was not what I had been planning, or even considering, before the nudges of the Spirit captured my attention.
During those years, I attended Whitworth Presbyterian Church, where Jim Singleton was the head pastor. Every Sunday, I heard something new in the text that I had never noticed before. Every Sunday, I was surprised and challenged. When I finally said yes to God's call in my life, part of what I knew was that I wanted to be able to preach like that. I wanted the Word to be new each time I read it, and each time I stood in the pulpit.
After all, God is still speaking. That's not just a great slogan for the United Church of Christ. If we truly believe that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and if we believe that Jesus was raised from the grave on Easter, then that Word is living. Though the words on the page were recorded hundreds and thousands of years ago, through the Living Word, they take on new resonance, new meaning, new depth, new possibilities.
I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, "Let anyone with ears listen!" (Matthew 13:9). In order to hear the Living Word speaking to us today, we have to practice listening.
What does that mean? How do we listen in a new way to a story that is so familiar and well-known that the edges have been worn away?
One of the ways I try to hear the Word in a new way is by asking questions. The stories we read came to us today through a whole series of events, and describe situations that were experienced by many different people in many different ways. Asking the "what if" questions and the "why not" questions helps me get beyond the familiar cadence.
Holy Week is a great time for asking questions and trying to hear the stories in a new way. Why doesn't the Gospel of John mention anything about the bread and wine being Jesus' body and blood? Why don't the other Gospels tell the story of the foot washing? Who was included in those activities? Which was the worst betrayal, the one that opened the way of the cross for Jesus or the one that seemed to serve no purpose at all? The "disciple Jesus loved" is the only one described as being at the cross; where were the other disciples? What does it mean that the women who followed Jesus were the first witnesses of both his death and his resurrection?
Some of the questions I love asking on Easter have to do with the ending of the Gospel of Mark. The earliest ending that we know of has the women leaving Jesus' empty tomb in fear and "not telling anyone." The earliest known ending in the earliest canonical Gospel ends in fear and silence. So what happened next? Clearly someone talked, because we have all these other Gospel versions. What was Mark wanting us to discover with such a jarring ending? How is the Living Word speaking in and through frightened speechlessness?
Let anyone with ears listen. Listen in the silence, not rushing in to end the familiar story, not skipping over the uncomfortable parts. Listen, as if the Living Word has something new to say, even if the words seem so very familiar. Listen, and hear the old, old story as if you were hearing it for the first time.