Sticks & Stones and the Word of God

The Word of God
Isaiah 55:10-11
Sexagesima
January 31st/February 1st, 2016
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember saying those words as a kid. I remember hearing other kids say those words. I remember feeling like I should believe those words. If not those words, then others intended to convey the same idea: “I don’t care what people say about me.” “They’re just words.” But are they? Are they really just words? Are words really powerless? We like to pretend that they are, and yet when reality sets in, I don’t think we really believe that. We know somesticks-and-stones words to be incredibly powerful. “You have cancer.” “You got the job.” “You’re fired.” “You’re going to have a baby.” Just words, yet so much more. Words have the power to fill us with joy and grief, with hope and despair, with anger and relief. Words have the power to change your reality. A perfectly good day can be ruined by words of bad news, and a perfectly rotten day can turn around when you hear those words you’ve been longing to hear. Words change reality.

Even more so the Word of God. The Word of God is always changing realities. At the risk of sounding overly simple, that’s simply what it does. At least, that’s what God himself told the Prophet Isaiah in today’s reading. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The Word of God changes realities. It was even responsible for bringing reality into existence, for God spoke creation into being. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was. God said, “Let there be land, and trees, and fish, and birds,” and there was. God said, “Let us make man in our own image,” and he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

The Word of God not only spoke creation into existence, but the Word of God created the reality surrounding the trees in the Garden, most of which were given to Adam and Eve for food, one of which was given to Adam and Eve so that they could remember what God had said about that tree, that it was not theirs for food, but theirs to remind them that they did not create themselves, that they survived only by the grace of God, that they depended on him for their needs of body and soul. There was nothing inherently sinful or poisonous about the fruit of that tree that they needed to be protected from. It wasn’t a cursed tree. Rather, even the word God spoke concerning that tree was a good word for Adam and Eve, for it taught them to trust God’s Word over the appearances of this world, over their own estimation, over everything and anything else, whatever that may be. The Word of God created those realities. It gave Adam and Eve the gift of life, and then it taught them what it meant to be alive.

The Word of God does that, for the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from its sight. It exposes all to the eyes of God himself, to whom we must give account. The Word of God creates our reality. The Word of God teaches us what it means to be alive.

It teaches us the design of our Lord’s creation. It teaches us that he alone is the true God, and that anything else is simply an imposter. It teaches us that our Lord has revealed himself to us not so that we can try to manipulate him or call down his vengeance on our enemies, but so that we will call upon him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. It teaches us that our existence is incomplete if it is without time to Worship, to study our Lord’s Word, to be fed by him. The Word of God teaches us these things about reality. It teaches us how we are designed to live in faith toward him. It shows us the right relationship between God and man, the relationship first built into this creation before sin messed things up.

But beyond even that, the Word of God teaches us the right relationship with others, a relationship characterized by love and service rather than manipulation. It teaches us how to receive those in authority over us as a gift, not a curse, and how to treat others if we find ourselves in positions of authority. It teaches us to love and protect the physical wellbeing of other people rather than wallowing in hatred and bitterness or giving into the anger and desire to harm. It teaches us the joy of sexuality and the bond of marriage, rather than the self-indulgent, narcissistic, childish view of sexuality peddled by our world. It teaches us the peace that comes from knowing your property is not only safe, but that as a gift from God, it is to be used in service to others. Rather than being enslaved to the almighty dollar, we are created to provide for our families and those in need, not piling up money for money’s sake, but using the money we have to actually do something – for our families, for our church, and for the world. It teaches us the importance of reputation and the damage that lies and half-truths can do. And it shows us the disquiet and sadness that characterizes a covetous and dissatisfied life, a life characterized by missing the joy of what you do have because you are obsessed with looking at what everyone else does. It is the Word of God that reveals this reality to us.

Even more, the Word of God reveals the myriad of ways we have failed to live according to God’s design. In the words of Hebrews, it lays us naked, free of excuses. It calls us out from hiding behind the bushes. It exposes our greed for what it is. Our lies and self-justifications. Our lust. Our bitterness. The Word of God shows us reality: the reality of our sin; the reality of our Salvation. That’s what God sent it to do, and the Word of God mirrorwill accomplish the purpose for which he sent it. It will show us our sin. It will show us our Savior. It will tell us the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that because we could not save ourselves God sent one to live, suffer, and die in our place. That even to this day, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy One. It tells us of the forgiveness and new life we have through the water of baptism. It tells us that it is by the grace of God we have been saved. Without the Word of God we would know none of this. The Word of God cries out in the street, in the markets, at the head of a noisy street and at the entrance of the city gates.  The Word of God guards the paths to justice.

Yet we live in a world that continues to reject that Word. We live in a world that would rather stay in the bitterness and frustration and anger that characterizes so much of our daily experience. We live in a world that calls good evil and evil good, that calls a man woman and a woman man. We live in a world wise in its own eyes, a world that discredits any claim to the truth by shrugging it off as “just your perspective.” We live in a world that refuses to take a stand on anything solid, but prefers to be left adrift on a sea of changing opinions. We live in a world that encourages us to embrace our sinful desires, claiming that the church exists solely to make people feel guilty for being who they are. We live in a world that hates the Word of God and seeks to silence it.

But that shouldn’t surprise us. For Satan knows what’s in there. He knows the Word of God is ultimately a word of forgiveness, a word of Christ. He knows that the Law serves its purpose only when it prepares us for the Gospel. He knows that the Word of God will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent, and he knows that purpose is to create faith and bestow salvation, for he knows that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. So Satan seeks to silence the Word. He tempts us to listen to the voices of the political analysts and celebrity activists before listenting to the voice of the Lord. He tempts us to listen to our hearts and let our conscience be our guide, rather than listening to the Word of the Lord. He tempts us to listen to anything and everything that he can use to take our eyes and ears off the Word of the Lord.

Which is why we cling to it ever more firmly in these confusing times.  Which is why we need it now as much as any people ever have.  Even though we live in an age of relative comfort and convenience, even though the distractions pile up higher and higher, when social media and online magazines and extracurricular activities and binge sessions on Netflix all want our attention, we make time for God’s Word. Even as the rules of the game continue to change, as it becomes more and more culturally inconvenient to be a Christian, as the price of operating a church and school continues to rise due to changes in health care laws or potential taxation of religious property, it remains incredibly important to stay the course. The sower simply sows the seed. The Word of God will accomplish its purpose. The seed sown will grow into the fruit of faith.

As we conclude another Lutheran School’s Week, we are reminded why our school is so important. It’s not the test scores in math or reading or writing, although our students score well in those areas. It’s not the athletic opportunities available to students who might be passed over in a larger school. It’s not the music or art or anything else that our students get, although those things are indeed noble pursuits. What matters most is the Word of God. What makes our school important is that each day children of God are taught to see reality as God created it rather than as our world seeks to redefine it. What matters is that children of God are taught the reality of their sin and the joy of their salvation. What matters is the Word that goes forth in this place.

St John Logo - 150th & BEYOND - transparentThe same is true of our church. What matters most is not the food bank or music program or anything else, even though those things are good and necessary. What matters most is the Word of God. It is God’s Word that makes us who we are. It is God’s Word that will guide us through this life and into the life to come. It is the Word of God that gives us Jesus, that gives us his love, that gives us his forgiveness.  The Word of God creates these realities. It changes our relationships. It changes our outlook. It changes our lives.

Sticks and stones may indeed break your bones, but words are never just words. They are powerful. They are important. The world has its words, and our Lord has His. Thanks be to God for the Words he has spoken to us. Words of forgiveness. Words of reconciliation. May he continue to speak such words to us, and through us to the students in our school and the people in our pews, until the day of his return.

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