Epiphany 4C January 30, 2022, St. John, New Orleans
A number of years ago a four year old in our congregation asked her mother after one of my sermons,
“does pastor really know what he's talking about, or does he just make that stuff up?”
her mother assured her that I was trained and prepared for what I was saying.
But little Clara just wasn't sure my words carried any weight.
There's an old expression, “actions speak louder than words.”
that's because it's very easy to make a promise of future behaviors.
But it is also very easy to break our promise and behave differently than what we promised.
Which gives rise to another popular saying, “do as I say, not as I do.”
it’s also the truth behind the phrase, “the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions”
If the words of our promises are so easily forgotten or broken, then why do we place so much importance on someone's word?
Based upon the fact that everyone is imperfect and will, eventually, do something contrary to their word,
one would think that no one would ever trust what anyone says
and would, instead, only rely on actual results and actions.
Whether it be marriage vows or an oath of office or even the promise to pay off a credit card or mortgage,
based upon humanity's track record of keeping our word or promise,
it's amazing that there is any trust at all in the world.
And yet, our culture has, instead, placed a premium upon word-based trustworthiness.
We continue to make promises, and back them up with papers which record our words of promise.
And, in fact, we have developed a system of laws which govern us
which are, essentially, more words, promising to protect us or our belongings.
The power of words is at the center of our readings for today. Specifically, the power of the words of God.
Whether in teaching, rebuking, or healing, God's word never fails to accomplish its intended goals.
And more than once we hear it is because of the authority behind them.
The one who created all things can heal his creation.
The one who gave us breath to live and words to communicate is also our teacher.
The one who cast Satan and his army from heaven can send him out of his beloved as well.
Any word ever spoken is only as powerful as the authority behind it
and today we hear that authoritative word in scripture
even as it compels us to repeat it generation after generation to the ends of the earth.
But don't just take my word for it, Let's see what Luke and Jeremiah have to say on the subject.
Our gospel today has four distinct points to it, and in each something occurs as a result of Jesus speaking.
In other words, the word of God, made flesh in Jesus, is coming to bear with all the authority of God in each of these four settings.
From the authoritative teaching in the synagogue,
to his commanding the demons to leave those in attendance while also rebuking their desire to reveal him as the son of God,
to his words of preaching the good news to all the towns in Judea,
everything Jesus did was conjoined with God's word.
Be it the actual words of scripture,
or the wisdom from on high as came from him being part of the Trinity.
And, almost in the background of our gospel text, we see how people responded to his words.
In the synagogues a demon hidden in one of the congregants
could not remain silent after hearing Jesus preach
and proclaimed him as the holy one of God.
Simon's mother in law, after she was healed, showed her thanks by serving those who were gathered.
As the Sabbath was ending, and its ban on work and travel,
people began flocking to Simons house to hear the words of Jesus
and to have him heal their sicknesses and disease.
And even as he was trying to find some peace and quiet to rest and pray,
the people saw him out and wanted to hear more.
But he urged them to depart so that he could share that word of teaching with other towns and in other synagogues.
You see, the word of God is always active and is never inert.
Unlike words spoken to be appreciated on their own, merely for the sake of the words, like in a novel or poetry,
God's word is intended for the purpose of changing its hearers.
Whether that change is from unbelief to faith,
complacency to advocacy,
or selfishness to service,
God's word moves, changes, propels, and protects those who receive it.
Moreover, that word is not just observed or consumed, but reflected and projected outward again via the change it works in those who hear it.
If it works faith in the hearer, then that faith is shared with those around them.
If that word spurs obedience to God's commandments,
then such behavior is noticeable by others
and is a blessing to all around them.
If that word convicts the heart,
then that heart seeks forgiveness, vows to change,
and works hard toward making amends to those they have wronged.
And if that word inspires, then loving generous acts of service are soon to follow.
Yet, though we know it's authority and truth, we shy away from extending that word to others.
Jeremiah was scared when told he would be a prophet of God.
Jonah would rather have drowned in the ocean than preach the word in Nineveh.
The disciples all abandoned Jesus on Good Friday for fear that Jesus words would implicate them in whatever it was he was being tried for.
And the main tool that Satan used in each of these circumstances was fear.
Specifically, fear of what others would think or say.
And the resulting negative temporal consequences to them and, possibly, their safety.
Yet, all of this fear can put aside with one sentence from God to Jeremiah in our Old Testament lesson today.
He says, “behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”
that's right, they aren't your words, they are God's words.
He is not sending you out to tell the world what you think, but what he has already said and told you.
And because they are his words you have every reason to say them in confidence
because they are true and by the authority of God the father himself.
The creator of the universe, has given them to you to speak.
You see, speaking God's word on his behalf is the most important thing you will ever do.
It's why he commanded us to do so in his Great Commission.
It's why he sends it with his Holy Spirit to bolster us and give us courage.
And it is one of the requirements of being his disciple.
That's why each of us need help and training in this aspect of following Jesus; being disciples who make disciples.
This week I began a discussion with our leadership about how we can do that together, outside the Sunday morning worship time.
We will need a few people to trust God like Jeremiah did.
That God would place his words on your lips,
so that you can help others you know hear about Jesus.
Jeremiah's speeches were against kings and nations who could put him to death,
but the words we will train you to speak
are the sweet words of his gospel of love and forgiveness
to the people you know and love.
So, the question we are forced with faced with is, “am I so afraid to lose a friend today that I will forfeit eternity with them in heaven?”
This training is called The Discipleship Journey.
And when the eight weeks are through, not only will you be better acquainted with other Christians,
but you will have learned an easy way to describe your own faith in 50 words or less,
and to share the gospel of Jesus in five minutes or less with the help of a simple drawing you can make on a cocktail napkin.
But, most importantly,
the people you are praying for, and whom God is placing in your path,
will by God's grace, be joining you for eternity in heaven.
The words have already been given us.
God's authority is behind them and comes with them.
Jesus has commanded we say them.
So, let us all pray that God would remove all barriers from our hearts and minds,
so that we can just come out and say those beautiful words,
“Jesus is the son of God and Savior of the world.”
May those words go from God’s mind to our lips.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.