This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Jan. 5, 2020. The texts were:
Psalm 147: 12-20
Ephesian 1: 3-14
John 1: 1-18
Children’s sermon: Have a list of words that are actions: walk, sit, stand, hop, high five, etc. These are words that are also actions. Words that when we hear them or say them they can make us or someone else move. Sometimes for fun, or safety. Words are important because they are how we communicate all kinds of things. Well, God uses words too. In the creation story, God spoke words and things happened like light, the sun, moon, stars, plants and animals were created. And people! Words matter to God because God’s words are actions that bring life into the world. In our bible story this morning we heard how Jesus is God’s Word. The words that we hear for Jesus are light, truth, grace, life. These aren’t words that are easy to act out are they? But that’s the point! God came to earth as Jesus to show us how God would act out these words with us. How did Jesus act out the word grace? When he included people whom everyone else wouldn’t talk to. How did Jesus act out the word light? When he showed us God’s love! How did Jesus show us truth? When he told us that God wants to be with us always! How did Jesus act out the word life? Do you know the story of bringing Lazarus to life after he had been dead for four days? And of course, Jesus’ own resurrection with the empty tomb! God’s Word in action is always one of showing us love and life. Let’s pray:
We’ve all heard the phrase “actions are louder than words.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement as we’ve all experienced in some way. Maybe it’s someone who rarely says much at all, but you know a lot about them by their actions. Or people who say one thing but then their actions are the opposite of their words. And sometimes those people are us. Words are thrown around quite a bit in our modern society, especially with the rise of social media and all electronic communication where you can share your words but there’s no evident connection between your words and your actions on those platforms. Even the visually driven social media site Instagram isn’t always a reliable insight into how someone-any of us-really act. The pictures we see of people’s lives on social media are rarely the real story or the full story. This can be both a positive and a negative. How many of us have ever acted in a way that really isn’t us, but we felt some sort of pressure from within ourselves or from others to act in a way that isn’t consistent with who we are? Sometimes that can lead us to try something new and daring, which could be a positive, or sometimes it can betray our own integrity and ethics. People will forget our words of integrity, ethics and love if our actions are the opposite. The people whom we tend to admire the most are those whose words and actions are, for the most part, consistent and congruent.
Another phrase that many of us probably heard growing up was “do as I say and not as I do.” This phrase is often employed by adults to children. And often it’s adults not wanting children to imitate what they perceive as their own bad habits or an action not suitable for their child. As a child, I instinctively understood that what my mom meant by that phrase was to not follow her “bad habit” (mostly involved diet coke, a Reese’s peanut butter cup and other such minor infractions) and that she hoped that I could do better than she did. It was out of love that those words were spoken. But the challenge with that concept is that the words would seem hollow next to the action. What we take in as a lived experience has far more impact than mere words disconnected from what we see. Words and actions cannot be separated no matter how convenient that might be.
In our John text this morning, what scholars call the Prologue-the first 18 verses of the gospel, words and actions take center stage. The unofficial title of Prologue itself means, “before the word.” The opening verse of John bring us back to the creation story in Genesis 1, where God’s word was all that there was. God’s word rang out in the chaos and began to bring order and life where before, there was none. God’s word echoed and things happened, actions took place. It’s not by chance that the first thing that God’s word created was light. Light that reflected off the chaos to reveal it and to then bring life from it. God’s word was all that was needed for seas, fish, plants, animals and even yes, humans to be brought into existence. God’s word is powerful and with God’s powerful word, God’s powerful actions occur. And God’s words and actions are congruent. God said light and light happened, God said life and life happened. God’s word and action cannot be separated and are always about bringing light and life into the world and into our lives.
Jesus is God’s most powerful Word and action. Jesus, as God’s living Word, has been part of creation from the beginning, because God is one and also cannot be separated. Jesus as God’s Word, came to earth, to dwell with us, or the exact translation from the Greek is “to tent or tabernacle” with us. This recalls when God tabernacled with the Israelites in the desert for 40 years and God spoke God’s Word of the commandments, how we are to live together and bring life to one another. My favorite translation of verse 14 is from Eugene Peterson’s The Message where he writes “God moved into the neighborhood.” God’s Word and Action in Jesus is in the neighborhood! And not just in our neighborhood but every neighborhood!
Jesus as God’s Word and Action brings light, life, truth and grace to all people in the world. After John’s opening 18 verses, the word grace is never mentioned again in his gospel. Why? Because to see God’s word of grace, all you have to do is watch Jesus’ actions. Jesus who cleanses the temple of human preferences, greed and rules. Jesus who meets Nicodemus at night and tells him that God sent him out of love for the world and that Nicodemus is born of the Holy Spirit. Jesus who gives a no named woman at the well living water that will quench her thirsty soul. Jesus who heals a man born blind and returns him to community and relationship. Jesus who brings Lazarus four days dead back to life. Jesus who tells the disciples that people will know that they belong to Jesus by how they love. Jesus who stands face to face with Pilate and doesn’t back down to bullying and abusive power. Jesus who goes to the cross, not as a scapegoat or a substitution for us, but as God’s Word of reconciliation, redemption and truth in action. Jesus, as God’s Word, knows that suffering is real, death will come and God’s Word will speak into that chaos and bring us to life. This is what it means to live in the truth-truth is our unending and unconditional relationship with God-nothing separates us from God’s Word and Action in our lives.
We live in God’s Word and Actions through Jesus. As people who belong to and follow Jesus, we, like John the Baptist, witness to the light that God’s Word and Action bring to the world. We strive to have our words and actions congruent with God’s Word and Actions. Our words and actions must always bring light, life, love, truth and grace to people. Our prayers are hollow if our actions are disconnected. This is a challenge, dear siblings in Christ-for our prayers for creation, for peace, for unity are hollow if we continue to abuse God’s creation, wage war and divide ourselves. The actions of our planet, such as the massive fires in Australia, are telling us that our words are indeed disconnected. The actions in our world of killing, hate, wars, abuse, exclusion are disconnected from God’s Word as God’s Word only brings actions of life, abundant life to all people.
Jesus coming to our neighborhood means that God’s Word is for all, in all times and in all places. Jesus didn’t move into the neighborhood he liked, or that was safe, or where everything was comfortable and just the way he liked it, no, he moved in with the very people whom everyone else was trying to keep out, he moved into the neighborhood with those who didn’t understand him, like, or accept him. Jesus moved into a world that wanted to change him, make him more palatable, tame, safe, and socially acceptable. But God’s Word and actions are anything but those things in our world. God’s Word and Action loose in our world turns everything on its head. God’s Word and Actions illuminate the darkness so that injustices are brought to the light and can be transformed. God’s Word and Actions are not simplistic, they are not status quo, and they are not meant to be easy. Jesus never did what was easy, but what brought life-even to those who didn’t know him or like him.
In Jesus, God says, “do as a I say and as I do.” Love without boundaries, conditions or fear, live for the sake of others, be generous so that justice prevails, speak truth so that people are drawn into relationship with God, and exude grace so that in all things God’s glory is revealed for all to see. God’s Word and Actions are louder than hate, fear, lies, discomfort, and death. God’s Word and Actions promise to bring life out of chaos and light into darkness. God’s Word and Action through Jesus connect us to unending life, light, love, truth and grace forever. Amen.