(sermon note: 12-12 sermon note)
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered 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 succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a priest who died and was waiting in line at heaven’s gate. Ahead of him was a guy, fashionably dressed, in dark sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket & jeans. Eventually the guy was standing before God himself. God asked the guy, “Who are you?” The guy sheepishly responded, “I’m a cab driver in New York City…or at least I was.” “Very well,” said God, “you may take this gold robe and enter the kingdom of heaven.” The guy grabbed the robe and gleefully skipped off into heaven. The priest stepped before God. “And who are you?” The priest boldly responded, “I’m a priest and spent 40 years preaching your good news to your beloved people!” Not particularly impressed, God said, “You may take this cotton robe and enter the kingdom of heaven.” Frustrated, the priest complained, “But God, how come that foul-mouthed, short-tempered driver got a gold robe while I, who spent all my life preaching good and spreading your word, only get a pitiful cotton robe?!!!!!” God patiently explained, “Results, my son, results…when you preached, people slept; when he drove, people really prayed. It’s performance, not job title, that counts!!!”
Clearly that priest was in the wrong profession if all he could do was put people to sleep. Granted he was up against some pretty stiff competition with the New York City cabbie in keeping the customer alert and attentive. I hear the streets of New York City have calmed down a bit since the beginning of the pandemic but boy, pre-pandemic traffic was the stuff of nightmares! Almost comparable to the madness of big cities in Africa! I don’t know how cabbies do it but I’ve sure found myself praying while at the mercy of big city cab drivers. Of course, we’re in a new era of preaching that doesn’t rely so much on fear tactics to bring people to Christ through prayer. No, today’s priest (or pastor for that matter!) must take a more nuanced approach to getting people to pray more often. We get to convince people of prayer’s benefits rather than its escapes. But regardless of what drives us to prayer, fear or benefits, God’s word is a mighty word that puts actions into motion. God’s word, if allowed to stand on its own, pure and untouched, does create change for good and for bad. God’s word, if rightly heard, doesn’t put people to sleep. That priest failed to allow for God’s word to be rightly heard and for that reason alone he deserved his cotton robe.
We heard in our reading this morning how God’s “word goes out from [his] mouth” and “it shall not return to [him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [He] purposes, and succeed in the thing for which [He] sent it.” God’s word not only puts actions into motion and creates change for good and for bad but it does so at the behest of God. God’s word is not a weak word; God’s word has great power behind it. God’s word does what it sets out to do. God’s word is binding and true. We can find assurance and hope in God’s word. We live in a time when words have lost a lot of their value. People say things that they don’t mean, give promises that they don’t keep. People say things that they know are untrue simply to mislead and deceive others. People don’t believe their own words have value so they don’t put value in the words of others. Words have become ineffectual and unimportant in our modern times. And this is a great sadness because we need words to communicate our wants and needs, our hopes and fears. We need words to draw us closer together and guide us. We need words to encourage us and give us hope. Words can do all these things and much, much more. But unless we can trust them, they’re useless to us. God’s word is a trustworthy word. We can rely on God’s words because it does what it sets out to do. It does what it’s meant to do. If only all words did what they’re meant to do…
Of course, God’s word is truly unique to God alone. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” His word is undergirded by different thoughts and ways, different motives. The longer I am a parent, the more I realize just how different I am from my children. They are not me nor I them which is an ever-growing mystery to me. How can this be? They live in the same house with me, eat the same meals with me, do the same activities with me, and are primarily interacting with me or my wife or each other. In many ways they think and behave like me but not in all ways. No, slowly over time they’ve taken on identities of their own, habits of their own, lives of their own. They have forces working on them and forming them in ways I never did. Their thoughts and behaviors are influenced by different forces so naturally they have become different from mine. I get it…I get what God means by his thoughts and ways being different from ours, his beloved created beings!
God’s word is different from ours because He is different from us. God’s word does what it is meant to do. So what is it meant to do? Why, bring about life, of course! Ever since the beginning of time, God’s word has been spoken into the great nothingness and has created conditions for new life to be born. God’s words have purpose and direction. The book of Hebrews tells us, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (4:12) God’s word creates new life because it itself is a living word. It creates new life and sustains new life and is new life. Jesus says in the book of Matthew, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (4:4) God’s word provides new life, new hope, as we’ve heard spoken by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the last few weeks. We’re getting ever closer to God’s word finally becoming flesh in the birth of Jesus. Jesus IS the living word, the living hope, for our desolate, dreary world.
Over the next couple weeks we’ll really delve into this living word of Jesus as we reflect on chapter one of John’s gospel. For now, it’s enough to simply recognize just how amazing God’s word is. It does what it’s meant to do! How awesome and unusual is that in this day and age! God’s word is living and true. And, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “the word of God will stand forever.” (40:8) What great hope can be found in his most holy word! Let us give thanks for the gift of his word. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.