A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Word in Action Sermon for Christmas 2 On John 1:1-18 January 9, 2020

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.

 

 

Words Matter Sermon on John 1: 1-14 Christmas Day December 31, 2017

This sermon was preached on Dec. 25, 2017 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, CO.

John 1:1-14New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Word Became Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth.

We’ve all heard the phrase “words matter.” As a trained educator, I learned early on to never underestimate the power of words. When I was a student teacher 25 years ago, I remember my mentoring teacher telling me that for each one negative word a child heard about themselves, it takes 10 positive words to counteract the one negative word. That is a very daunting reminder for all of us who work with children and youth or speak to others for a living. Words matter. Even as adults, in important conversations we search for just the correct word to say, or avoid using certain words for fear of being misunderstood. We tend to think of words as lifeless, inanimate objects just sitting on a page waiting to be read, or things to be glibly offered and then discarded. How often have we heard the words of a poem or a book read out loud and we synthesized it differently, had the words hit us more emotionally in our hearts and in our souls than just reading them silently by ourselves? Words do matter, words are powerful, and words given life by human utterance matter.

Words matter. We wait to hear words of reassurance from a loved one when we are worried about them, or we listen for words of reconciliation after a fight, or words of hope in a dire situation, or words of love from someone whom we love. Words matter because they fill in gaps of who we are and who others are to us. Words matter because they intertwine to tell a story about our lives together. Words matter because one simple word has the power to uplift us or crush our spirits. Words spoken to us offer us an experiential encounter with another person. Words connect us.

God created us people of words, people of stories, and people of The Story, the story of God’s love. In the passage from John this morning, we hear the importance of this truth. The Word was present from the beginning with God because words and The Word matters. The Word that speaks life and light into chaos and darkness matters and this word speaks to us over and over again connecting us to this truth in every time and place. The Word from God that tells us the story that we belong to God and are deeply loved by God. The Word from God that offers us life altering encounter and deep connection with God.

God speaks this word in a myriad of ways because the world speaks words of fear, scarcity, and unimportance to us all day long. God sent Jesus to us to be the alive, fleshy, embodied word of God’s love and abundance to us, in order to counteract whatever else we might hear from the world. Jesus as God’s very Word with us, not just in the past as the human Jesus, but right here, right now, fills us with this story of truth of who we are and who’s we are.

This Living Word that promises to be with us always even to the end of the age and to be living water, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the true vine, comes to us as every word of love, mercy and hope. This Living Word goes beyond mere words to be a living encounter in the waters of baptism. We will speak these words of God’s promises today on Brynn, Emma and Deacon and they will live in the words of God’s Story that began at creation and continues through time. This Living Word comes to us in bread and wine and has the power to gather us as one people, in abundance, inclusivity and joy; as Jesus’ very body and blood reminds us that bodies do indeed matter as each one of us are bodies who contain the Living Word of God.

Jesus as God’s Word of love, joy, mercy, forgiveness and hope to the world matters more than ever. Jesus as God’s Living Word matters to those who only hear negative things about themselves because the world tells them that they aren’t good enough, aren’t important and have nothing to offer. Jesus as God’s Word matters for us, so that like John, we testify to people who need to hear they are part of God’s story, the truth of the Word that is for all people in all times and in all places. Jesus as the Living Word matters to illuminate the darkness of our world, to cast out the words of fear and death that try and negate the life that God freely gives us. Jesus as the Living Word matters as this is a Word that lives in us for the sake of our neighbors encountering Jesus through us.

Words matter. Jesus as God’s Word of love, grace and truth to the world, matters. There is power in this Living Word, power to heal, power to love, power to speak truth, power to cast out all darkness, power to turn despair into joy and power to turn death into life. God displays this power by speaking transformational words of mercy, hope and love into unexpected people and places: an unwed teenage girl, lowly shepherds outside an unimportant town, an outcast prophet in the wilderness, and a tiny vulnerable baby born in a smelly, dirty stable.  Words matter. Words have power.  Jesus Christ as God’s living Word with us and in us, is all that matters. Amen.