The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I think we’ve all heard this before. It’s a very popular mantra, used especially to comfort kids as they learn to navigate and make their way through life. We try and teach our kids to be strong, especially in the face of adversity. It’s only words. Words can’t hurt you. Brush it off. Ignore it. Rise above it. Be better than those name callers. Don’t sink to their level. It’s only words. Of course…this fails to take into account the astronomical number of adults who suffer with addictions or disorders or are in therapy today because—surprise, surprise—words do hurt. What people say does matter. And it’s not just the spoken word that has this power. As every journalism major will tell you: “the pen is mightier than the sword.” The written word can be extremely powerful, perhaps even more powerful than the spoken word, especially in our day and age. After all, everyone can read something I put on the Internet. One post, one blog, one e-mail can bring about revolution. Lives can be saved. Lives can be ruined…all because of something said in less than 140 characters on Twitter. Just ask any high school guidance counselor. There is no denying it: Words, whether written or spoken, are extremely powerful, for better and for worse.
As we turn our attention to the Scripture lessons appointed for today [Gen 1:1- 2:3; Eph 6:10-17; John 4:46-54], we hear very plainly that God’s Word is extremely powerful and efficacious. His Word does exactly what it says. God says, “Let there be…,” and there is! Out of nothingness God creates and gives life to very real and tangible creation…all by means of His spoken Word. It’s also interesting (and necessary) to note that the devil brought all of this to ruin and plunged all of creation into sin and death by means of the word. “Did God really say…?” Understand: The devil didn’t come with something new or different. He couldn’t! He can’t create anything. Only God can create. But…the devil can corrupt. He can twist and pervert, which is exactly what he did with God’s Word. “Did God really say…?” Powerful words indeed. Corrupt, vile, twisted, and deadly…but powerful nonetheless.
Getting back to God’s powerful Word, we hear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians how we are to take up and put on the full armor of God’s Word while we reside on this side of eternity. The belt of Truth, the breastplate of righteousness (justification), the shoes of readiness that is given by the Gospel peace of Christ Himself. Think about that for a moment. We are cinched up and bound up, our loins girded with God’s Truth. We have nothing to fear. His righteousness; His declaration that we are completely innocent and forgiven in Him because of Christ alone, covers over our vitals. Because of this joy and peace, we are shod with the shoes of readiness so that we may always be ready and prepared to share the reason for the hope and joy that is within us. We are always shod and made ready by God Himself to be going wherever and whenever He has need, pointing to Him and proclaiming Him all along the way. “My feet to run His errands, my mouth to sing His praises.” “In your going be making disciples by baptizing and teaching all that I have commanded you(aka ‘My Word’), and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” That’s powerful!
Paul also talks about taking up the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Word of God. Just think how God protects you, arms you, and equips you in the fullness of His Word. In and of ourselves, we’re naked. We’ve got nothing to even cover over ourselves, let alone put up any kind of a fight against the deadly foes of sin, death, and the devil. Sewing together a couple of fig leaves is the best idea we’ve had, and that was woefully inadequate. But…clad in His blood-bought peace and grace, we have nothing to fear, in spite of the fact that we daily live, work, and play in a spiritual, hellish no-man’s land; a place just crawling with the sinful enemies of the devil, the fallen world, and our own fallen flesh. Clad in Christ, we have a peace that surpasses all understanding; a peace in Christ that confidently trusts in the almighty and effective Word of God; Word that protects us, guides us, and leads us; Word that confronts and puts to death all wickedness and evil that stands in opposition to Him and His Gospel; Word that nourishes us, gives us life, and gives us a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Of course…there is a bit of a caveat, and it is very important to remember in light of our baptismal calling to always be doing Christ’s mission and evangelism; that is, to always be sharing the Word of God—the reason for the hope and joy within us—in our daily vocations. Your sword is only effective if you’re willing to unsheathe it and actually use it. Your sword won’t do you any good if it stays sheathed and strapped to your belt. Your helmet won’t do you any good if you don’t actually put it on. You can walk around holding your helmet under your arm or put it up safe-and-sound so it doesn’t get dirty or dinged up; so it stays all shiny and pretty like the day you first received it. If it’s not on your head, it can’t and won’t protect you. The same goes for the breastplate of justification, the shoes of readiness because of God’s peace, the belt of Truth, and the shield of faith. God gives you the full armor and arsenal of His Word. Use it! Unsheathe it! Wield it! Be protected and confident and at peace within it!
The Word of God is powerful and effective. It does what He says. Just look at our Gospel lesson. This Word of God, spoken from the Word Himself in the flesh, was immediate in its efficacy. This Jewish official of King Herod comes to Jesus, probably at the end of his rope and all out of options, asking that Jesus come to his house and heal his dying boy. Jesus speaks with the man, calling him out of a faith that merely looked to Jesus for a really big favor, leading him by means of the harsh and confronting Word of Law, leading him to trust in Christ as the Lord and Giver of Life. Through the working of the Holy Spirit in that Word, this man is brought to that faith. The original Greek makes it abundantly clear. “Lord,” (not “sir”), “Lord, come to my house before my child dies.” This guy knew that his son would die. It was imminent. No one can say Jesus is “Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. “Come, Lord Jesus, come…before it’s too late.”
And our Lord Christ responds to such powerful words of faith. “Go. Your son lives.” You may not pick up on it, but all this language of fever and death and speaking the Word that gives life and drives away the fiery death of fever, is all very exorcistic. Christ speaks, and even the fires of death obeys Him. “Go, for at this very moment (snapping of the fingers) your son lives.” The English translation is so poor here. We translate this as “your son will live.” That’s a future-tense thing. That may mean tomorrow. It may mean next week. It may mean eight years later, after he’s been a vegetable in a coma. Someday, at some time in the future, he will live.
NO! Christ speaks His powerful Word, and creation immediately obeys…even that corrupted creation which stands against Him and fights against Him. He speaks, and it is. “Your son lives. Let there be…” and there is. It’s as simple and powerful as that. So powerful, in fact, that this Word wrought life-saving, life-giving salvation not only in this one dad, but in his entire household. They all bore witness to the powerful efficacy of Christ’s Word. They all saw the result. It changed them. It resurrected, not just the dying boy, but all of them from unbelief to saving faith; from death to life. Truly a powerful, miraculous, life-giving Word indeed!
No one here disagrees, do they? God’s Word is all-powerful and efficacious. God’s Word works! The big question, then, is do the fruits of your faith match the words coming out of your mouth? It’s easy to say the right words. It’s easy to speak the language of “Christian.” Anyone can sprinkle the right words into the conversation or slap ‘em on a business card or a sign. Anyone can put on a good show. You can fool everyone in the room…including the person in the mirror. But…you can’t fool God.
Do you trust in the all-powerful, efficacious Word of God? The lessons for today give a very clear picture of the power and efficacy of God’s Word. This Word creates from nothingness. This Word gives life to death. And in the midst of these two bookends is the Word that equips, protects, guides, and nourishes us through every moment of daily life. This same Word calmed terrifying storms. It healed lepers. It fed thousands of people. This same Word led Gentile wise men into the presence of their infant Lord and Savior. This same Word converted thousands of people in a single day we now call “Pentecost.” This same Word kept men confident and at peace as their lives were brutally snuffed out. Just think of the stoning of Stephen. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That’s the Word of Jesus, pouring forth from St. Stephen in his final moments in this veil of tears. That’s powerful!
Do you trust in this all-powerful, all-efficacious Word of God? “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him!” And what does this Son declare, not just in the pages of Scripture and the annals of history, but in our very hearing today; in our very presence? “It is finished, once and for all. Take and eat. Take and drink. Be baptized, all for the forgiveness of all your sin. Depart in peace, and in your goings be making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.”
Folks: Hear the Word of your Lord! Here is the Word of your Lord, present and still speaking to you! God so loved you and the entire world that He gave His only-begotten Son to die and rise again; to victoriously declare the deadly war against sin, death, and the devil finished and over. Because of Him, you are completely forgiven and redeemed in Him. He has declared it. He has spoken it. He has sealed you with this very Word and promise in Holy Baptism, His Word of life washing you and covering you in His blood-bought gift of redemption, declaring you to be His blessed child and heir. He feeds you and nourishes you with this very same Word and promise, in, with, and under the elements of ordinary bread and wine. “Take and eat; take and drink; this is My body and My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin. As often as you do this, remember My Word; remember what I have said this is and does.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: God’s Word does exactly what He says. This has ALWAYS been the case. This same Word that spoke into existence out of nothing; that calmed storms and cured sicknesses and resurrected people from the dead, speaks to you today into your heart, mind, and soul. He speaks His Law in order to put to death the sin that clings to you and kills you. He also speaks His Gospel to you, resurrecting you in His life-giving, peace-giving absolution. It is finished, once and for all. You are redeemed in Christ. You now bear His name; the name of the triune God that was written in the blood and water that flowed forth from His riven side, scribed upon your head and your heart, marking you as one who has been ransomed from sin, death, and the devil. There is nothing mightier than that blessed baptismal ink; not height, not depth, not powers or principalities, not angels or demons! You belong to Christ!
May this Good News be your strength, your confidence, your joy, and your reason for all hope and peace, no matter what it is your doing or wherever you may find yourself in life. May the Word of God have free reign and rule in your life and through your life to others, now and into all eternity. AMEN
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