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rewai te kahu: word becoming flesh in 2010

I love the opening chapter of the Gospel of John; it lays the foundation for the rest of the Gospel. But the theme that really gets me today is the image of ‘the Word became flesh’.

Let me explain.

I have been actively involved with the Christian Church for twenty two years. It has been in this context that I have enjoyed preaching from texts like this. The relative safety of Christian fellowship and church tradition has acted like a hedge around sermon development and delivery. But now, I find myself outside of formal church ministry (as a chaplain in the NZ Army) where I can’t rely on any shared presupposition about the text or about Jesus, let alone ideas of God.

So what does the ‘Word became flesh’ mean in the 21st century?

I like bridges. I like to look at how they are made and what they are made with. I remember hearing someone once say that preaching is like building a bridge. First you start with the text and its context and you start building from there, that’s’ one end. While all that is going on, one finds themselves building the bridge from another end, my end, that is, the context of the world I find myself, an urban Maori with a young family living in the 21st century.

In the past these two ends have been firmly planted in worlds that are familiar to me, the scriptures and the Church. My part in the development of this bridge has to do with making the two ends link, with the help of the Holy Spirit. My context today gives me the opportunity to preach, to build this bridge to people of different faiths, church traditions, generations and demographics. I now find, that one end of the bridge is not all that familiar to me any more. And as I think that I understand something of that world, it goes and changes on me.

So what does the ‘Word became flesh’ mean today? I raise this question not because I want to understand the text better but because I want to know how to understand my world better. How do I communicate the text into my context? How do I bring flesh to the word? I offer the follow three as things that I now find myself doing as a bridge builder, a communicator of a text of scripture.

Prayer. I must admit that this is something that I am no expert in. Praying is not natural to me. I like to get out and be active. But I have found that prayer has become an increasing need and desire in my reflective life. And maybe that’s what prayer does, it gives us time to stop, look and listen to God. Time to understand the text and what is going on in the world around us.

Images. The use of visual images, or word pictures are a helpful mode of communication. These have helped in fleshing out an idea or a number of concepts. Thereby making connections with people to either the text or the text to the world we live in. Like a window, to use an image, ‘a window lets the light in’, the use of images acts like a window letting the light in and thereby understanding.

Stories. Like images, stories are good to illustrate a point. Like someone once said ‘facts tell, but stories sell’. When I develop a message the stories I use act like a pillar or pillars on the bridge. They make connections between the points I’m trying to get across, or connect people to the text. Stories are like adding flesh to the skeleton and can make my points more personal.

Well this is what I have been thinking about over the last little while as I try to communicate to the world that I find myself serving. So may I ask you the question, what does the ‘Word became flesh’ mean in the 21st Century to you?

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Rewai is a Baptist minister serving with the New Zealand Army as a Chaplain. He has just completed three years of ministry in Waiouru and is now posted to Linton with his whanau Josie, and their three sons.

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