Luke 8:4-15; 2 Corinthians 11:19 – 12:9; Isaiah 55:10-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The pen is mightier than the sword. This English idiom has become a modern proverb connoting that the power of words is even greater than that of brute force and the threat of violence. Throughout the modern era, tyranny has been quelled, bondage broken, oppression dissuaded, not with force and violence, but with words and ideas. Indeed, our own nation’s revolution was fought primarily with words and ideas until force and violence necessitated that common citizens, farmers and laborers, rise, take up arms, and fight. Even then, it was the might of words and ideas that motivated and impassioned them to self-sacrifice for a cause they deemed more important and precious than their own lives and livelihoods.
Why are words so powerful? Because, words mean things, or at least they used to, or did they? Again, throughout the modern era, it was nearly universally believed that words had referents, or objects, that were true. Yet still, at the time of this nation’s birth, Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” And, you can be certain that Pilate was not the first to ask, “What is truth?” Thus, we can conclude that the power of words does not necessarily come from their truth, for a falsehood and a lie can be every bit as powerful, and often more so, than the truth.
Last week I spoke to you about the narratives, the stories that sinful men construct to cover their sin and to justify the dark thoughts of their hearts and the wicked deeds that they do. Today I will speak to you about the nuts and bolts of these false narratives, words, of their power and influence, and of where truth can be found. For, there is something fundamentally different between the words of men and the Word of God. The words of men sometimes refer to truth, and often they do not, while the Word of God is Truth, and more than that, it is a promise and obligation that must, and will, be fulfilled, so that the Word of God is both performative and creative, bringing into being what it says.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, we often focus primarily upon the four different kinds of soils which represent the conditions of men’s hearts in receiving the Word of God and then bearing fruit. Our Lord describes men’s hearts as being hard and impervious to God’s Word, rocky and prohibitive to the Word’s being deeply rooted, thorny, so that the fruit of the Word, faith, is strangled and choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life, and good soil, fertile and receptive to the Word and bearing the fruit of faith and good works in abundance. We often spend a great amount of time discussing the need for our hard hearts to broken by God’s Law, for the rocks and stones of sin to be removed in repentance and absolution, for the thorns and weeds to be identified for the idols they are and be plucked out and removed, but seldom do we focus upon that which is constant and unchanging in Jesus’ parable – The seed, which is the Word of God.
Though the seed bears fruit only in one-fourth of the soil upon which it lands, that is by no fault of the seed. For, the seed, which is the Word of God, has the power to bear fruit wherever it is received. Isaiah compares the Word of the Lord to the rain and the snow which come down from heaven, watering the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, saying, “so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but is shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the things for which I sent it.”
You see, the Word of God is quite different than the words of men; it is not powerful because of the truth of its referent, but the Word of God is powerful in itself, because it is the Word of God and it is true. As Bo Giertz has put it, the Word of God “has not only a message to proclaim, but it has a responsibility to fulfill. […] God acts through His Word.”
“The same is true,” Giertz continues, “about the words of the Bible. It is not simply a collection of teachings or a fund of stories. It is God who speaks to us. Even with regard to things that happened and were spoken centuries ago it is written for our sake. It has been written for our instruction.” Thus, you must not receive the Bible as merely a collection of old stories, or a history of ancient peoples, or even as a guide for how to live your life, but you must receive the Bible as the living, performative, and creative Word of God. Do not think that by reading the Bible you are performing a work pleasing to God or meriting His favor, and do not think that reading the Bible makes you a Christian, or a better Christian, but you must read, hear, and inwardly digest the Word of God as bread for your life, “for man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Therefore, the question a Christian must ask is much less “What does God want me to do?” than it is “What has God done?” and “What is God doing?” and “What does God say in His Word?” For example, what God has or has not said about homosexuality is frankly of little importance compared to that performative and creative Word that God has spoken about our sexuality and about marriage, “that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’.” This is not a word of man, rooted in man’s opinions, philosophy, politics, or persuasion, but this is the living, performative, and creative Word of God – the Truth – in opposition to which everything else is but a human construct, narrative, story, and a lie.
But, you do not want to hear this Word. You want to relax God’s Word and make it not so absolute and difficult, and you feign even to believe that because Jesus came in mercy, love, and compassion that He somehow soft-peddled God’s Word, but that is the false-narrative of men, a lie. In truth, Jesus unpacked the full meaning of God’s Word teaching, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” I ask you, where in Jesus’ teaching about God’s command to not murder do you get the ridiculous idea that it is somehow okay to kill unborn children through the atrocity called abortion and euphemize it as choice?
Likewise, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I ask you, where in Jesus’ teaching about God’s command to not commit adultery do you get the ridiculous idea that it is somehow okay to view pornography or any other kind of smut, to have sexual relations outside of marriage, or to even live together outside the covenant of holy matrimony as God has spoken it into being? Here then these words of your Lord: “But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God’.”
Are these hard words? Do they offend? Good! Do you worship God, or the god of your own making? He keeps sowing His Seed, His performative and creative Word, regardless of your receptivity, “Oh, what of that, and what of that?” His seed, His Word will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent – thanks be to God. His Word is powerful and creative. It is at once a proclamation and a promise, whose fulfillment is guaranteed.
And, it is this Word of God, this Truth, in contrast to which everything else is a lie, even His only-begotten Son, that became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. He is the same Word of Truth in whose Name we are gathered this day, who has absolved you of your sins and has strengthened you in faith this day. He is the same Word of Truth who comes to you now with His flesh and blood to commune with you, His Bride, that you may be one flesh with Him, and live and be fruitful, and multiply in love, and life, in service to all men in all the places He sends you, bearing His life-giving Word in your hearts, and upon your lips, and in your deeds to the glory of the Father, in His Son, the Word made flesh, by the power and grace of His most Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.