Musing 9.3.20


Several weeks ago, I preached on God’s speaking to Moses out of the burning bush. Moses asks for God’s name, and God responds with the four-letter word, YHWH (Exodus 3:13-15). My understanding of the word used is that it is a verb form. Those four letters are translated a variety of ways, “I am,” “I am who I am,” “I will be who I will be.” There are numerous instances in John’s Gospel in which Jesus refers to himself as “I am.” I am the Light of the World; I am the Bread of Life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus identifies with and is God – God is the verb form.

Verbs are different from nouns. Nouns are solid, substantial, fixed. Often nouns are things we can control, manipulate, and use. I can pick up a stone, put it in my pocket, and carry it around. I take it out when I need it and put it away when I don’t. I am in charge. Verbs are a bit different. Verbs are hard to control. They are action; they are being. I can sometimes control life, but can I control “live?” Verbs are alive, dynamic, free. They are hard to predict; they grow; they change. Nouns are things; verbs are events. Typical English sentences begin with nouns; things are what is important. Typical Hebrew sentences begin with verbs; the action is what is important.

What if we understood God as a verb? It is a new perspective and hard to express without continuing to use “God” as a noun. God, not as a stationary thing in a location; but God as a living, energetic force moving in the world. God, not as somebody in a box, but God as free to move in the world without boundaries. If we understood God as a verb, we would know God is bigger than we are. God would not be limited by our doctrines and dogmas. We would live in the expectation of what God will do next. God would be free to challenge and confront, comfort and nourish, forgive and love, include and mercy. We would be more inclined to listen to God than to speak for God

To change a verb to a noun is to fix it and control it. To make it a noun is like putting it in a box. There is a difference between “I mercy you,” and “I show you mercy.” The former is commitment, risk, and involvement. It is hands on. There is a difference between faith as a noun and faith as a verb. Faith as a noun is an intellectual affair which we agree to. It is something I attain. Faith as a verb is trusting, following, engaging. It is alive and active. I know that faith is not used as a verb. But I wonder how different Christianity would be if words like faith and mercy were verbs.

I am interested in this because this week I read a prayer by Walter Brueggemann that used Easter as a verb.

“Easter us,

     Salve wounds,

          Break injustice,

               Bring peace,

          Guarantee neighbor,

     Easter us in joy and strength.”

Easter not as date, but Easter as event in our lives. Easter us, resurrect us.

I think it makes God alive and real and present in our lives. What if we began to think in terms of “Christmas us. Lent us. Pentecost us, God us, Jesus us”? Could we compassion and spirit our world? What would it be like to God our neighbor?

Hope you are safe and well and active.