Part 3 in Summer Worship Series: The Word
Pentecost 11 – Word at Work in the World
August 7/8, 2010
Today we continue our summer worship series,
and focus on this pulpit and the Word of God.
We are bombarded by words everyday.
As I was sitting on my porch this morning,
I looked around and counted the words I saw…
From my vantage point, I could see words used mostly for advertising –
– on signs for the insurance agency
and the real estate agency across the street
and for a lawn care company on a truck passing by.
The words I saw were also informational –
I could see street signs
and the sign for the post office
and its handicapped parking and speed limit sign.
There were eye-catching words, interesting words,
but none of them were words I wanted to memorize,
or underline, or keep close to my bedside.
None of them were words I would turn to
if I were struck by tragedy, or dealing with serious illness,
or trying to make a difficult decision.
When I visit a hospital room,
I don’t carry with me the latest New York Times bestseller,
or a work of Shakespeare,
or Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Great writing for sure!
Good advice perhaps.
But they just don’t do it
for the most intense moments of life.
They’re not the Word of God.
The Word of God is very different
from the countless other words
which have been spoken, heard, and written.
What makes it different?
In Isaiah we hear that God’s word is different
because God’s word contains promise.
It never returns empty.
God’s word does something –
it works according to God’s plan –
it accomplishes a purpose.
“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,
(literally – it shall accomplish that which I delight in!)
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
The Word of God is what belongs in the hospital room.
God’s Word is the living word we need to hear and to know
and to take comfort in in those deep experiences of life and death.
The NY Times bestseller and Shakespeare and Poor Richard’s Almanac
can entertain us or distract us from the moment at hand;
the Word of God brings promise and hope and meaning
to the moment at hand.
When I was in 9th grade, Americans were being held hostage in Iran.
I had heard news reports that what kept them going
throughout their ordeal was that they
recited to each other passages from the Bible that they had memorized.
That year I challenged myself to memorize the book of Psalms.
I didn’t get very far – I suppose soccer and band and boys got in the way.
But every once in awhile, I think about it still…
and wonder, in this age in which so few people know the Bible,
what words will bring hope to our children at the time of tragedy?
The words of Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac,
“Early to bed; early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,”
may be wise words of advice –
but I doubt those are words which comfort troops
who are living in the midst of war.
“To be or not to be; that is the question!”
may be good poetry,
but when a man has lost his job and family’s health insurance,
I don’t think Hamlet is the first place to turn for encouragement.
It’s the Word of God
which brings us the hope and encouragement we need.
Last year at a preaching conference,[i]
I heard a story about a folk practice which takes place
in the northwest African nations of Niger and Cote d’Ivoire.
It’s a practice of really taking in the Word of God –
in fact, it’s actually drinking the Word of God.
Words of sacred scripture are written with chalk on slate tablets.
The faithful sweep the chalk dust into a bowl of water,
mix it up,
and then pour it into empty aspirin or caffeine pill bottles.
The milky fluid is used for all sorts of things:
to prevent accidents, aid memory,
get a husband, lose weight, or stop smoking.
The speaker noted that people of faith
have long considered the idea that
taking the Word of God inside of us is good for us somehow.
“Maybe it’s because the way to our hearts
is through our stomachs.”
That notion isn’t lost in the western hemisphere.
In Vacation Bible School this year as in most years,
our snacks relate to the lessons.
We made Peter’s boat out of tortilla chips
and lepers out of pretzel sticks and squares of cheese.
Somehow we know, the Word of God needs to get inside us.
It needs to become part of us – and it does something to us.
As rain and snow bring wheat and bread;
the Word of God proclaimed
doesn’t just bounce off these walls and back to God.
It doesn’t return to God empty.
When the Word is proclaimed,
it falls upon our ears and our hearts and our minds
and our feet and our hands and our mouths.
It becomes part of us, takes root in us,
and creates a response from us –
a response which is part of God’s plan.
And so each weekend,
we hear the Word of God proclaimed
through the reading of Scripture, through preaching,
through our song and through our prayers.
And each weekend,
we ask the Spirit to open our hearts
to allow the Word to become part of us,
and to respond in a way which is part of God’s plan.
The Word of God does not return empty.
It accomplishes that what God delights in.
Thanks be to God.
[i] Barbara Brown Taylor at Festival of Homiletics, Atlanta, GA, 2009.