Words Made Flesh

God’s Word and words made flesh in preaching and worship matter.

Communication and not the noise of slogans or the repetition of cliches is becoming more and more difficult. . . speech is in danger of perishing or being perverted in the amplified noise of beasts. . . .There is therefore it seems to me every reason why we should attempt to cry out to one another and comfort one another insofar as this may be possible, with the truth of Christ.

Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction (1964)

Donna Giver-Johnston frames many of the chapters of Writing for the Ear, Preaching from the Heart (Fortress Press, 2021) with quotes like this one from Thomas Merton. As I prepare to teach a worship and preaching course to divinity school students this fall, I am reflecting on the noisiness and wordiness of today’s world. What Merton observed in the 1960s rings true today. Life-giving communication does indeed seem to be “in danger of perishing or being perverted.”

How do we listen through and in the noise for God’s voice, the divine voice that in beginning spoke light into the night and whispered life into human souls? And how do we speak words of Gospel comfort and truth that stir people’s weary hearts and heal their sound-fatigued spirits?

While Merton’s insights about the looming danger of his time magnify the importance of clear and authentic preaching for ours, this is not my primary reason for teaching worship and preaching in 2022. I am energized about exploring preaching and worship with my students because I cherish the sacred opportunity to hear the tone and timbre of God’s voice in their voices as they preach for the first time or explore new aspects of their proclaiming vocalizations. I also delight in the persistent beauty and power of homiletical and liturgical embodiments of God’s Word to heal, inspire, and transform.

God’s Word and words made flesh in preaching and worship matter.

This is the mysterious wonder of worship as a ritual act of hearing and embodying God’s Word proclaimed. In worship, we hear God’s Word spoken. We also encounter God’s Word come to vivid life through color, texture, movement, sound, smell, and taste. God’s Word comes alive to worshipers in everyday-sacred actions bread-breaking, blessing, baptizing, and anointing. Through worship and preaching—as it happens in churches and on social media platforms and in hospices and at bedsides and gravesides and countless other unexpectedly sacred places—we “cry out to one another and comfort one another. . . with the truth of Christ.

And that truth—that Gospel speech–sings through the noise to change hearts and worlds.

Words Made Flesh

In us.

God’s love
made skin and bones
muscle and marrow
hands and hearts
God’s words.
In us.

No more speeches or spin doctors,
debates or diatribes—no–
God’s nouns and adjectives and verbs
made alive
incarnating belonging
in us.

Words made matter,
planted in salvaged soil
savored and saving
in us.



One thought on “Words Made Flesh

  1. As the liturgical word count has increased, with more readings, all prayers spoken out loud (even the ones which should be recited quietly) and obligatory homilies, so the actions (which should speak louder than words) have shrivelled.

    Bread making might well be described as a sacred action but nothing resembling bread is currently made for the Eucharist in the Latin Rite.

    I watched a baptism recently where a coffeespoonful of water was smeared on the baby’s head.

    All this reminded me of a line from the Orkney Poet Edwin Muir, describing a chapel:

    ‘The Word made Flesh is here made word again.’


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