Sunday, July 13, 2008

God's "Doing" Word

Bethany and Mt Carmel Lutheran Churches, Williams, MN
Isaiah 55:10-13
July 13, 2008

Three veteran baseball umpires were comparing notes on the fine art of calling balls and strikes.
One of the umpires declared: “It’s simple: I just calls ‘em as I sees ‘em!!”
The second umpire replied: “I do better than that: I calls ‘em as they are!”
The third umpire chimed in: “I’ve got you both beat! They ain’t nothing ‘til I calls ‘em!”
This may be a little story about baseball, but it also tells us something about words, particularly the difference between two kinds of words.
There are, you see, just two kinds of words in our world.
First, there are words that say things.
Most words are like that: “saying” words that convey information, words that fill up dead air space—words we tuck into dictionaries, encyclopedias, newspapers and all kinds of books.
“Saying” words are words about the weather, the price of gasoline, the local gossip, Twins or Vikings scores, scandals in Hollywood or Washington–you name it.
TV’s Jerry Seinfeld and friends called these “yaddah-yaddah-yaddah” words.
Not that these “saying” words are bad, mind you! It’s just that these words don’t take us anywhere. They say things–and that’s about it.
There’s a second type of words, though–and these are words that go beyond simply saying things. These are the words that actually do things. These words don’t just say what they say–these words do what they say. I call them “doing” words.
Our friend the third umpire in my opening story illustrates the power, the dynamic energy of “doing” words. “Those baseballs hurled from the pitcher’s mound past the batter to the catcher’s mitt: they ain’t nothing ‘til I calls ‘em.”
So, if the umpire says: STRIKE! It’s a strike–whether or not anyone else agrees. And if the umpire shouts: BALL. Well, it’s a ball–and there’s no use arguing!
If there are two kinds of words in the world–“saying” words and “doing” words–how can you tell them apart?
“Saying” words seldom change our lives.
“Doing” words ALWAYS change our lives.
Good “doing” words change our lives in at least three ways:
§ They free us from our past.
§ They transform our present.
§ They deliver to us a new future.
Some “doing” words free us from our past–they liberate us from whatever haunts us, whatever might be holding us back. For example:
“New evidence has emerged. The Army review board hereby upgrades you from ‘dishonorably discharged’ to ‘honorably discharged.’ Congratulations!”
Other doing words transform our present–they change our current circumstances in profound ways. For example:
“Yes, yes, yes–I do want to marry you!”
Still other doing words deliver to us a new future–they crack open fresh possibilities for the rest of our lives. For example:
“You and your spouse passed all the screening tests. The adoption can proceed. You’re going to become parents!”
How can you tell “saying” words from “doing” words? It might be as simple as strapping a blood pressure cuff on your arm.
“Saying” words rarely affect your blood pressure.
But “doing” words can make your blood pressure spike in an instant!--along with your pulse, respiration, and perspiration rates, too!
And what happens when the speaker of a doing word isn’t just another human being?
What happens when God speaks “doing” words to us? That brings us to our Old Testament Lesson for this morning, from Isaiah 55:10-13. [Let’s read it together...]
This gorgeous gem of Scripture paints for us a picture of melting snow and gentle spring rain. The first hearers of this prophecy were well acquainted with drought. They knew about parched soil, dry dirt, and stressed crops needing a drink.
The people to whom this prophecy first came knew that water made the difference between having a harvest or not, between life and death itself.
Isaiah likened the rain that falls from heaven to the Word of God that also falls from heaven. Both the rain and God’s Word make wonderful things happen. “...So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth,” says the LORD, “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.”
Do you see the “doing” words just bursting from this text?
God’s Word never returns empty.
God’s Word always accomplishes God’s purposes.
God’s Word forever succeeds in whatever God intends.
And why is that? It’s because God stands behind God’s Word. God pours everything that God has and is into God’s Word. In Jesus, God literally becomes God’s Word.
Even though you and I might speak “doing” words to one another, we can’t always guarantee the outcome of all those “doing” words.
We can say: “I forgive you for what you did...”
But later we may change our minds about such forgiveness…
We can say: “I promise to be faithful to you and stay married to you, until death parts us...”
But as we know, only about 50% of the time does that marriage promise “succeed” for life.
We can say: “I love you forever...”
And yet, even if we stay true to that promise for as long as we live, none of us lives “forever.” Death is a limitation built into every promise that we speak.
When God speaks “doing” words to us, however, God is limited, God is held back, God is conditioned by none of those things.
God forgives us–and God never crosses his fingers at the same time!
God commits himself to us–unreservedly, unconditionally.
God’s promises are never “bounded” by death.
In the risen Lord Jesus, we encounter a promise-speaker who has death behind him.
That gives “doing” words from God a totally different character.
God’s “doing” words truly do free us from our past, transform our present, and deliver to us a new future.
Think of all the times Jesus spoke liberating, transforming, future-delivering “doing words” to those he encountered.
To that Samaritan woman by the well who had had five husbands and was working on her sixth Jesus said:
“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.”
To stinking, dead Lazarus–already four days in the grave–Jesus shouted: “Lazarus, come out!....”
To that woman caught in adultery Jesus declared: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Jesus was forever speaking “doing” words to anyone who would hear him. In fact, it was this way of speaking–speaking for and in the name of almighty God–that got Jesus into trouble and eventually got him killed.
Remember the paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus? When his friends tore a hole in the roof above and lowered the man down to Jesus, he said to the man: “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

This upset the guardians of the Jewish laws so much that they asked each other: “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They were really asking: Who authorized Jesus to speak these “doing” words in God’s name?

You and I know the answer: God did! God authorized Jesus to speak for God! The God who finally raised Jesus from the dead granted Jesus permission to speak for him. Indeed, we say that God was alive in Jesus, speaking all these powerfully effective “doing” words.
And because Jesus is risen from the dead, because Jesus still lives among us, God continues to authorize this kind of wild, audacious speaking.
In fact, such words are regularly spoken right here in this very place. Such words define this place, this community of faith called Mt Carmel and Bethany Lutheran Parish.
We hear such “doing” words week in and week out.
These divine “doing” words free us from our past, transform our present, and deliver to us a new future.
They sound like this:
John or Mary, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I therefore declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.
The body of Christ, given FOR YOU. The blood of Christ, shed FOR YOU.
When these words (or words like them–words with a direct-address “you”!)...when these words are spoken, a fresh start is granted, faith is given, hope is restored.
And nothing about us is ever the same again.
For these “doing” words have God’s authority behind them. These “doing” words accomplish in us whatever God proposes, they succeed in the thing for which God sent them to us.
These “effective” words mean life to us, and a future without end in Jesus Christ, the promise-speaker par excellence.

That is why Jesus invites us to come here continually, again and again, knowing that right here is where we hear, taste, eat, and drink words that make us new.
In the name of Jesus.

No comments:

Post a Comment