“When she says something, you can be sure…it’s as good as done.”
“His word is his bond.”
We say someone has integrity when there is no gap between what they say they will do and what they actually do. They are integrated—which is to say they are “put together.” They are able to integrate intention with action. It is beautiful and good when this happens.
But sometimes life feels like a process of fighting against disintegration, doesn’t it? “Things Fall Apart,” writes the Nobel prize-winning author Chinua Achebe. Every fiber of our being works to counteract disintegration, body and soul. When something falls apart, it deteriorates; when it deteriorates, it dies.
And we are not meant for death. Every instinct we possess tends otherwise.
To match word and deed is to live and create life. We have a wonderful picture of this in the creation account found in the first chapter of the Bible.
Yesterday, the pastor of our church commented on this text in the course of her sermon. God speaks, “Let there be light”…and there is light. In her preaching, she drew from Psalm 29 as a complementary text. There the psalmist writes about “the voice of the Lord.” The phrase is repeated 7 times in as many verses; it is akin to the phrase “And God said” that is repeated again and again in Genesis 1.
We see that when God speaks, it is so. That much doesn’t really surprise us.
Being made in the image of God, that is what God intends for humans, too. But there is one key difference. On our best days, even when we do what we say we will do, there is still a gap (however small) between the saying and the doing. With God, these are one and the same.
When saying and doing are one and the same, theologians call it “kerygma.” It is the idea that the proclamation itself makes it so.
Biblical scholars ascribe the quality of kerygma to Jesus’ statement “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” His proclamation made it so. The closest we can come to describing kerygma is with the word “announcement”, but that still doesn’t quite capture it. It is, in fact, more than mere announcement. It is creation-by-word.
Practical theologians say that this is what preaching should be: kerygmatic. That’s a tall order for some of us who are filled with nothing but a lot of hot air, to be sure! I can’t say that I’ve ever actually seen it.
Nevertheless, it gives us all a pattern to follow, doesn’t it?
It is said that Native Americans understand the nature of kerygma better than most. I heard a story once about a white person speaking with a group of Native Americans: the white person said something careless and was rebuffed.
“You shouldn’t say that. We believe that the words we speak change the spirit world and the spirit world changes ours.”
I suppose most of us can learn a thing or two from this. I suppose poets come closest to this. Poetry has a kerygmatic quality to it.
Creation can be a kerygmatic act. It was “in the beginning.” It can be again. The new creation (“the kingdom of heaven”) that Jesus announced is an invitation for us to participate with God in “making all things new.”
If each day is a new beginning, what would happen if we treated our words as kerygma? Even if that is impossible, we could at least pretend like children that it is so. How would that change my words, my actions?
Maybe, just maybe, the pretending would effect a new birth in the one pretending. Maybe we’d discover first-hand the saving grace of faith.