The Weakness and Power of the Word

February 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

“The Weakness and Power of the Word”

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

United Lutheran Church and St Paul Lutheran Church

Epiphany 6B (biblical texts from Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

February 12, 2012

 

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

 

Each week, many Christians gather to hear a sermon.

The word sermon comes from the Latin ‘sermo,’ which means ‘a talk or discussion.’

All of us come to hear, and some people come to preach,

a Word that God wants to speak.

Now we can get in the way of that Word.

The pastor might not do a very good job of listening for God’s Word

so that he or she can communicate it.

Or those gathered to hear might not be listening very well for God’s Word

within the Scriptures and sermon.

We all make many errors, but God nevertheless uses

both our fallible speaking and hearing

to bring the good news of Jesus Christ’s kingdom among us.

 

But the act of speaking has come into disrepute these days.

We have been inundated with so many words, so many false words,

so many deceptive words, so many words meant to manipulate us

that we have become suspicious and cynical about the spoken word.

It used to be said of people ‘Their word is their bond.’

Words have become so cheap – you better have a signed document.

 

I was at a bank the other day

and at every teller station was a sign saying something like this.

“Such-and-such bank. We do what we do for you.”

Now I don’t have any reason to believe

that people at such-and-such bank are liars,

or even that they are not nice people,

but really?

Isn’t such-and-such bank in existence because it’s profitable?

Banks don’t give charity to customers: they have a mutually profitable relationship;

Generally more profitable not to the customers, nor to tellers, nor to the managers,

but to the directors!

I’m not suggesting that we withdraw our money and hide it under our beds,

but when slogans constantly appeal to us,

telling us things that we know to be not really true,

then it makes it harder to take any words seriously.

 

Consider these commonplace sayings:

“Talk is cheap.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

“Don’t tell me; show me.”

But Christian faith is based upon the Word of God in Jesus Christ.

We are called to trust in that Word,

in a world where we feel as if words mean less than they used to.

 

The book of 2nd Kings relates the story of Naaman,

a commander in Syria’s army,

who comes to Elisha the prophet in Israel to be healed of his leprosy,

on the word of a slave girl from Israel.

But Naaman really doesn’t trust the word of the slave girl;

Instead he gets the king to send presents to the king of Israel,

Presents that show he is worthy of such a mighty act of healing.

The king of Israel does not trust the word of Naaman, his nation’s enemy.

These presents are false words – lies to start a war.

Elisha sends a message, ‘Let him come to me,

that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’

 

When Naaman the general arrives with his gifts,

Elisha does not even come out of the house,

but sends a messenger with the simple instruction,

‘Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River,

and be cleansed from your disease.’

Naaman takes a triple insult:

Firstly, that the prophet doesn’t show himself but sends only a messenger,

Secondly, that the healing does not come instantly by a magical act,

but by a repeated ordinary act,

and thirdly that the waters of Israel are implied to be greater

than the waters of his own home country.

Frankly, it seems too easy, too everyday:

Not at all the act of power he is expecting from a mighty prophet

of a supposedly mighty God.

Fortunately, he has servants who are far less full of themselves.

They bring him back to himself and he washes himself seven times in the Jordan:

“according to the Word of the Man of God.”

It is the Word of the Man of God with the water

that cleanses, heals, and saves him.

 

The Word of the Lord is power clothed in weakness.

It is weak because it must be embraced in faith to work within our lives.

It is powerful because when it is embraced in faith, it does what it says.

Naaman was cleansed not only from his leprosy,

but from his pride, when he listened to the Word of the Man of God in faith,

and he knew that there was a prophet in Israel who spoke for the living God.

 

The story of 2nd Kings goes on to tell that Naaman returns to Elisha

and acknowledges the power of the one God,

asking forgiveness for when he has to return home

and assist his elderly king when the king bows to the idol in his temple.

Elisha grants this forgiveness.

 

The weakness and the power of the Word is on display

when Jesus cleanses the leper of his disease in today’s Gospel lesson.

With a word, ‘Be clean,’ he immediately heals the disease

which kept the man separate from the community of believers,

separate from God’s people.

And yet, Jesus sternly charges the man not to tell anyone who healed him,

but to present himself to the priests, as was customary,

as a testimony that God has healed him of his disease.

Who knows why this man does not trust and obey the Word of Jesus?

He wanted and got healing from him,

Why does he not obey his instruction?

Is he evil or merely overzealous?

 

I must confess that I do not know for sure.

But what is striking about this is that the same Jesus who with a word of command

cleanses disease and refuses to allow the demons to speak about him,

speaks a simple Word of warning to a man.

And that Word can either be accepted or rejected

and it has implications for the future – our future, other’s future.

The powerful Word comes to us clothed in weakness.

Naaman listens to the remonstrations of his servants

and obeys the Word of the Man of God

and his life is changed.

The cleansed leper forgets or ignores or doesn’t hear or disobeys Jesus’ word

And Jesus’ life is changed.

He can no longer go into a town to minister,

but must stay out in the country and people come to him.

 

What kind of a weak God would not command the man to obey

So that the man would have to obey?

The kind of God that wants and would die for

a relationship of love with human beings.

Love involves trust and an appeal based on trust,

The making and keeping of promises.

It cannot be based upon mere brute force.

The demons are subject to brute force because they have already rejected God.

For a human being, there is never a moment, at least on earth,

when God will not appeal to them in the weakness of the Word.

 

And so we end where we began, speaking words and listening to words.

Those words that seem so familiar to us,

and yet we can hear them in trust,

or let them pass:

“Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

“The entire forgiveness of all your sins.”

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

“This is my body. This is my blood.”

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.”

These words come to us in weakness,

and yet for us who hear them in faith,

by these words Jesus Christ is among us,

who is the power of God to cleanse, heal, and save us.

Amen

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