General CBF

Palabras: Learning to Speak

By Matthew Greg

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;
teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;
and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
– Colossians 3:16 –

matthewgregAs the coming of Christ is remembered this Advent season, my heart honed in on the arrival of Emmanuel, “God with us.”

A pregnant Mary in expectation of a child who was already physically dwelling within her womb. A pacing Joseph anticipating the promises of God.

I have a name tag that was made for me. I wear it during weekly Sonshine Ministry meetings at the church I am a part of as people of varying abilities gather to eat, learn and fellowship together. A sticker affixed horizontally across the “M” of my name reads, “Be Ready For God!”

This simple Gospel message has been preaching to me since my first invitation to shepherd this community. It is an instruction I should have followed all along, but a reminder I desperately needed.

In recent days, I have learned to be expectant of our present and living Lord: to be ready for God.

And what a difference this expectation makes.

While it is essential to remember that the Lord is a promise keeper, our bold confidence in the Lord’s presence simultaneously expects something of us as well.  As Paul urged, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

But what does it look like to allow the Word that is Christ to abide fully in you?

If I have learned anything so far at Duke, it is that words matter.

This past summer I was living in El Salvador with the global Church, specifically with the Evangelical Methodist Church. Existing well in this place meant speaking and bettering my Spanish by oiling my rusty skills. I am a native English speaker (a White male). But, you see, the Body of Christ is incarnational. This means that to interact with the corporeal Christ at times involves speaking another language.

By applying the command of my name tag to my experience in Central America, I have come to view Christ more clearly.

I did a lot of dwelling: talking, listening, waiting and lingering.

Learning to speak another language has often reminded me of a foundational truth no one clearly articulated to me until my first semester of graduate school: “It should be difficult to talk about God!”

As I contemplate the Christ-child in the manger I hear his cries. As I envision the Jewish toddler I hear mumbles, babbles and murmurs. I see Mary and Joseph together with the entire community of faith teaching, reproofing, correcting, and training Jesus in all righteousness.

Imagine that: Jesus, the boy from Nazareth and eternal Lord, learning to speak.

I proclaim a God who came in the flesh and continues to dwell in God’s people.

As I continue to reflect on how the first time I ever preached was in Spanish, I consider how my multicultural formation will impact the ways I minister from this point forward.
I am willing to continually follow the guidance of that sticker which encourages me to be expecting to live life with a living Lord.

A Lord who is beyond my comprehension and ability to express.

I find comfort in these words: “You know how the God of Israel and the Church loves to summon the wrong people to do outrageous work for the kingdom” (Resident Aliens, Hauerwaus and Willimon).

Even if you at times classify yourself as a “wrong” type of person, be confident that God only uses those kinds of individuals. After all, that is the only sort there is!

As I continue to learn how to speak well and be prepared for Christ’s presence daily, I look forward to experiencing the indwelling of an amazing God who is full of surprises.

I encourage you as you verbalize your next description of the Holy Spirit with a co-worker, convey your next impression of Jesus to a stranger, or bicker over the nuances of the Lord with a close friend, to provide space for grace.

It is understandable that it is difficult for us to speak well about God, but that does not mean we stop talking.

Trust that the Logos is dwelling within you richly, Christian.

Be eager for the Lord to use you in ways you have never imagined before. Continue to preach Christ in your life no matter what language you find yourself using. Remember that even the God of all creation was taught to talk and still speaks.

Matthew Greg serves as a pastoral intern Yates Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. He is a CBF Leadership Scholar pursuing his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.

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