Monday, January 24, 2022

Fulfilled in your ears. . .

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, preached on Sunday, 23 January 2022.

The reading from Nehemiah seems almost medieval or theatrical to us.  The people gathered as one man and begged Ezra to bring the Word of God to them.  Ezra did.  Reading to them from early morning to mid-day.  And the ears of the people were attentive to the Word of the Lord.  When he opened the Word, the people stood and then they bent their faces to the ground, adoring the Lord with “amens” and hands raised in prayer.  And after reading the Word of the Lord, Ezra preached that Word to apply it to the lives of the people.  The people wept when they heard the Word of the Lord, some in sorrow over their sins and some in ecstasy at hearing the Word of God.  

The Word of the Lord is serious business.  It does none of us any good to treat the Word casually or presume that our encounter with that Word is meant to entertain us.  Worship is serious business.  We stand and sit and kneel not because we like it but because the posture of our bodies reflects the attitude of our hearts.  And hearing the Word of God, we know that we have been in the presence of the Lord today.  That presence is not an occasion for sadness but for joy.  We are not grieved by the voice of God addressing us but rejoice on the holy day of worship to meet the Lord where He has promised to be.  Here, in this Word read, our sins are forgiven, our spirits revived, our hopes restored, and our joy completed.  It is how it was in the days of the prophets.

It was also that way in the days of Jesus.  As was His habit, we have know His habit since our Lord was a boy of twelve, He was in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day.  As was His habit or custom, wherever He was, He was in the Temple or synagogue and so it was when He came to the synagogue in Nazareth that they recognized Him as rabbi or teacher and handed Him to the scroll to speak the appointed reading of the day.  Unrolling the scroll of Isaiah, our Lord read from the 61st chapter:
    The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...
And the people waited as they did in the days of Ezra to have this Word preached and applied to them.  Their eyes were fixed on Jesus as He rolled the scroll, gave it back to the scribe, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  And true to form, some marveled and some grumbled.  It is still no different.
It is still as it was in the days of Ezra and in the day of that synagogue in Nazareth.  The Word of God is not a word on a page but the living voice of the Good Shepherd.  It is fulfilled in our ears every time we hear it.  It never fails to accomplish the purpose for which God speaks it – no matter whose lips He uses to speak it.  The poor are given good news, the captives hear freedom, the blind see, the oppressed are loosed, and the Lord’s favor lays upon us all – good, bad, young, old, male, female, and sinners all.

The business of the Church has come to include many things – not bad things but so many other things that the Word among us has become merely one of those things.  It has become a casual thing as if it were simply entertainment or curiosity or amusement.  There are cues from the liturgy and the ceremony that accompanies that liturgy to remind us that the Word is not one thing among many but the one thing needful.  We are prompted to respond to the reading: The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God!  We stand for the Gospel and sing as it begins “Glory to You, O Lord” and when it ends “Praise to You, O Christ.”  The lectionary book has a cover plated in silver and embossed with symbols to remind us that this is not just any book.  After the Gospel, the pastor kisses the book on behalf of us all – a symbol of affection and fealty.  But do we hear and realize what is going on?

God is speaking.  He is speaking not some incidental word but the life-giving Word into the hearts of a people marked by sin for death.  In baptism the Lord placed His Spirit in you so that He could work in you faith to recognize, rejoice, and reflect this life-giving Word.  That Word was fulfilled in your hearing as God claimed Titus for Himself and God is bringing to completion all that He began ini us by baptism.  The problem is that we want to speak, we want to do the talking, and we want God to know what is on our minds and hearts.  He does.  He hear our prayers.  Though our words communicate only ideas, His Word actually does what it says.  That is why we listen and welcome His voice among us.  His Word delivers upon its promise and speaks His kingdom into our ears, our minds, and our hearts.  And this is the source of our everlasting joy.

Somehow or another, we learned the lie that what we say is more important than what God says.  So we listen to God’s Word as if it were about ideas instead of the living voice.  We made interpretation bigger than hearing until doctrine has become about what we think instead of what God says.
Worship has become the platform for us to speak instead of for us to hear the Word of God.  Prayer has become a one way conversation in which we tell the Lord what He already knows.  The end result of all our talking is complaint, frustration, and competition to be heard.  The end result of God’s speaking is joy, thanksgiving, and transformation.  Prayer flows out of the Word and not into it and when we pray God’s Word we pray the words that matter most, that do what we ask, and that glorify God for our good.

How foolish we are to think God’s Word depends upon us to decide what it says!  The Word is not some deep dark secret that must be brought to light but Christ, the Word made flesh who speaks clearly and powerfully forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Through that Word the Spirit works to bring us to faith and keep us in faith so we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom now and forever.  By that Word we are made new, our hearts filled with joy, and we are sanctified and grow in holiness and righteousness.  The Word is not what God says but God speaking, the Word made flesh to tabernacle among us and show forth His glory, and the Word through which we are stilled being called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified as the body of Christ, the people of God.

When we say back to God what God has said to us, we repeat that which is most certain and sure.  When we speak that Word back to God trusting in that Word, we confess this faith within the household of God’s people and before the world.  When we cling to that Word in time of trial, trouble, and temptation, we are made strong by this Word to resist sin and despair and rescued by that Word when we fall.  My friends, this Word is the most important thing of all because it alone has the power to do that of which it speaks and to do it to us, for us, and in us that we might belong to our heavenly Father in life and in death.  God is so gracious that He has given us this Word and its fruits of forgiveness and righteousness also in the visible Word of baptismal water, the personal Word of absolution, and the Word that we eat and drink in the Holy Eucharist.

It is no wonder the people of Ezra’s day were moved to awe and joy as the Word was read and preached to them.  It is no wonder that the people left in amazement and wonder as Jesus preached to the people of Nazareth.  It is no wonder that when you leave today, the Lord bring you to reverence this word, to rejoice in its message of hope, and to cling to this Word in life and in death.  And this Word delivers us peace that passes all understanding.  Amen.

1 comment:

Rev. Alan J. Wollenburg said...

Clearly said. Absolutely spot on. Thank you, brother!