3rd Sunday after Epiphany—Year C—January 27, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
Words have power!
Our words have the power to build up—
“you are an awesome friend”
“you are so talented”
—and the power to break down—
“I hate you”
“you are worthless”
Similarly, God’s Word works on us in two ways.
God’s Word works as Law—as condemnation, as bad news. Think of all of God’s commandments that we break every day. Think of all the ways we fall short of a holy and righteous life. Think of all those times that you used your words in a powerful way that did harm to another. God’s Word instructs us to love God with all of our heart, and all of our soul, and all of our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And I guess I cannot be totally sure about you, but I know that I am nowhere near doing all of that all of the time.
When God’s Word works on me as Law, I am reminded that I am a sinful being, that I am broken, that I have fallen short. I have not done all I can to “bring good news to the poor” or “release to the captives” or “sight to the blind” or free “the oppressed” or “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” I have not done my full part as a child of God, a member of the body of Christ, gifted as I am, to live a righteous life and do God’s work in the world.
The Law in God’s Word proclaims to me that God is all powerful and is the one and only judge that ultimately matters. That is a scary fact to hear…but it is not all of the story.
Because God’s Word is also always good news. When God’s Word works on us as good news, we remember that God loves all of humanity, each of us, and has gifted us and puts us together with one another to work together, to do God’s good work in the world. God’s Word proclaims to me that God is all powerful and is the one who forgives my sins and cleanses me from all unrighteousness. God is judge, but God is a merciful judge, and takes Jesus’ death and resurrection into account when judging me…thank God!
And this is why we need both; why we need to hear the good news and the bad news. For we would not be able to hear the good news as good news if it were not for the Law pointing out the fact that we were broken, lacking something…that we are poor, captive, blind, and oppressed.
Without the Law, we might fall into the trap of Sin, thinking that we do not need God, thinking that we can be righteous on our own. So the Law first drives us to our knees, shows us our helplessness, puts us close to hopelessness, so that we are able to see and appreciate the hope that comes only from God. It is only when we are on our knees—realizing that we are poor in spirit, captive to sin, blind to God’s glory all around us, and oppressed by all the things we put before God—like money, food, and sex—it is only then that we can hear the good news as applying to us.
You can see many places in scripture how different people react when they do not hear God’s Word in this way—hearing the Law & the Gospel, the bad news and the good news, the truth of sin and the truth of Jesus Christ. When you only hear one or the other, then there is reason to mourn.
Like the Israelites, who time and time again disobeyed God’s Word, and made false idols or worshipped other gods. They thought they knew better, that they did not need God—they only heard the good news, but did not even understand that.
Or like King Josiah, who tore his clothes when God’s Word was read because he could not imagine how he and the rest of the nation of Israel could ever follow every bit of the law—he only heard the bad news.
Or like the exiles who heard Ezra read God’s Word. They heard the good news, and they cried out “’Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands,” but then they quickly moved on to weeping. They heard and understood the Word of God to some extent, but they did not fully realize that it was good news for them personally—they did not hear the bad news as applying to them, so they could not hear the good news as applying to them. Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites had to assure them that they were sinful, poor, captive, blind, and oppressed, and so then they too had reason to rejoice, because then they knew that God’s good Word applied to them too.
How do we react?
Do you sometimes hear God’s Word as only condemnation? As a list of things that you have to do better?
Do you sometimes think that you can do it on your own? …without God’s help? …that you do not need any improving?
Or do you sometimes hear the Law and the Gospel as applying to you. Does the Holy Spirit help you to understand that you are sinful, but that God still loves you anyways, forgives your sins, and promises you eternal life?
And when you do hear the good with the bad—as God’s Word was intended—how do you respond?
How do you go about praising God for all of God’s Word?
We all react differently because of the variety of gifts.
Those of you who are feet might respond by walking to raise money to help free those held captive by breast cancer, or aids, or other illnesses.
Those of you who are eyes can bring the good news to poor humanity through their art and creativity—like in our Stations of the Cross project.
Those of you who are ears can enact God’s loving word by being a listening presence for someone going through a rough time…or make God’s word musical and have it work on all of us in another way.
Those of you who are lips can pray for and with those who are captive, and help free them from their loneliness, isolation, and despair.
Those of you who are arms can bring relief to those who are hungry and poor with bags full of groceries…or by making God’s love tangible for someone with a simple hug.
Those of you who are clown noses, and mustaches, eyeglasses, and bolo hats have your own creative ways to serve when the Spirit of the Lord is upon you, when the Word of God works on, in, and through you…because in case you have not heard. Words, especially God’s Word, has power!
 Luke 4:18