By Justin Rossow
Our youngest daughter started high school today. Oof. I remember my dad dropping me off for my first day of high school, so it was an honor to drop my daughter off at the literal crack of dawn this morning.
Of course, she was a little nervous (like I was); and of course, she will be fine. We talked and imagined and even prayed together as we tried to find the best route with the least traffic and discover where to turn and where to drop off.
I got back to my desk and started my busy day the way I now typically do; with 20 minutes of Scripture and prayer. Today I am in John 6, and I like the translation of verse 20 in the version I am using right now. The disciples are caught in a storm and Jesus shows up, trampling the waves, to say, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!”
Of course, you could take the original several different ways, including, “Don’t be afraid. It is I!” or even, “Stop being afraid! I AM!” But I like the simplicity and the promise of “Don’t be afraid. I am here!”
I wished I had read those words before our commute this morning, so I could have shared them with my daughter.
After my time in the Word, I turned to the task I have in front of me today. I’m working on a project about the adventure of “walking with,” what it means to say we follow Jesus better when we follow Him together. When I talk about relational discipleship, I like to paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer this way:
The Christ in the mouth of my brother or sister is stronger than the Christ in my own heart; my heart is uncertain, the Word is sure.
I love that sentiment, though I know it’s my own version of what Bonhoeffer said, so I always have to go back to the original to make sure I am getting it right. Here’s the context and how Bonhoeffer actually puts it in his book, Life Together:
God has put this Word into the mouth of others in order that it may be communicated to us. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find his living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.
He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ.
The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.
Of course, Bonhoeffer is writing to an all-male seminary community at the time, so it makes sense to update his language a little. But the idea, that God put the divine Word on the lips of ordinary people in my life so that I can actually receive God’s Word of divine promise in my ordinary life is a profound insight.
We know Jesus is the Word if God from eternity and to eternity. And we know the Scriptures are the Word of God, the faithful message recorded and received, that grounds our faith and proclamation. And the Word of God I hear most often and receive when I need it most comes in, with, and under the words of my friends and family, my wife and children, my pastor and my neighbor.
God puts the divine Word into the human mouths of the humans around me in my everyday life so I can hear and receive God’s divine Word in my all-too-human life every day.
But as the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God cuts both ways, as it were. If God puts the Word into the mouths of real people in my real life for my sake, God also puts the divine Word in my all-too-human mouth for the sake of the people I interact with every day.
My time of solitude with the Word isn’t an escape from the world; nor is that time of meditation only for my benefit. I don’t go to the Word just to see what Jesus has for me today; I go on behalf of my family and friends, my wife and children, my pastor and my neighbor.
That was the real insight of my time in Scripture this morning: I didn’t got there alone, and I didn’t receive just for me. I wished I had read those words of promise before I drove my daughter to her first day of high school…
But I have learned that, with Jesus, a “missed opportunity” is usually just a chance to be open to something you weren’t expecting.
Maybe Bonhoeffer needs even a little more updating… Maybe we could say, “God has put this Word onto the Instagram of others in order that it may be communicated to us …?” “Every follower of Jesus needs other followers who snapchats the Word of God to them?” “The Christ in the text of my brother or sister is stronger than the Christ in my own heart …?”
Whatever, the idea still stands: God’s Word is given to specific individuals in your life so that you can hear it from them; and God gives you the Word so that specific individuals in your life can hear it from you, whatever mode or media that takes.
So I took a picture of John 6:20 and texted it to my daughter during her first day of high school. (Yes, even freshmen are allowed phones at school. What is this world coming to??) Along with the picture I sent a brief note: “From my reading this morning. For you, from Jesus.”
That pretty much sums up what I learned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer again today. The Word was there for me; but it wasn’t just for me. The Word of promise was for my daughter, through me, so that her uncertain heart would receive a sure Word: “Don’t be afraid. I am here! Even on your first day of high school!”