Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 21

Image of John 1 ("In the beginning was the Word...") in Greek as posted here.

12 October 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 4:46-54 (Gen 1:1-2:3, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

On first glance, today’s readings from the Word of God have nothing in common with one another. It’s like the fathers of the Church just pulled out a few things at random: the creation account according to Moses, St. Paul’s poetic description of putting on the armor of God, and a healing miracle of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded by the Apostle John.

But, dear brothers and sisters, these readings have everything in common. Though separated by centuries, Moses, Paul, and John have one thing in common in these passages of the Word of God, and that is: the Word of God itself.

Notice what the Word of God is teaching us about the Word of God!

In the Genesis account, we are told that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” His creation was not just a crafting of pre-existent matter, but a true creation, a making of something out of nothing in the way that only God could do. And this very same Creator God revealed to His servant Moses that this creation was through His Word: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The words “God said” appear ten times in the first chapter of Genesis. For God creates through His spoken Word.

God’s Word is not like our words – words which are only vibrating air that may or may not reflect truth. Our words, at best can only describe reality. But the Word of God has creative power. “God said… and there was…”

All creation exists through God’s Word. And this has been revealed to us through that same powerful Word.

The Word of God is not just information. God’s Word isn’t there just to answer our scientific curiosity. For as God’s Word, as recorded in St. Paul’ letter to the Ephesians proclaims: the Word of God is “the sword of the Spirit” – the very same Spirit that hovered over the waters in the beginning as the Word of God was calling all things into being. The Word of God is not only the agent of creation, it is our defense against our enemies.

This sword of the Spirit, which has come to be the symbol of St. Paul in Christian art, often called by its ancient name, the Gladius Spiritus, is the only weapon we have been given to wield against the devil. Indeed, even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Word made flesh, parried the blows of the devil with the Word of God of Scripture, thrusting and stabbing with it, ultimately slaying the devil with the Sword of His Word, uttering the powerful words: “It is finished” from the cross as he delivered the mortal blow upon the serpent.

Even as we pray “deliver us from evil,” it is the Lord Himself who delivers us through His Word, the Word that is to be on our minds, hearts, and lips, the mighty Word that creates us and defends us, the Word of the Spirit, the Word made flesh.

As John the Apostle proclaims: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

But the Word of God is not finished with us yet! The Word doesn’t merely create us out of nothing and provide us with a weapon to wield against the devil, there is much more indeed.

The Word made flesh Himself, the Word who used His Word as a sword against the devil, uses His Word to heal, to beat back death, and to fulfill the promise to make all things new.

While our Lord is scolding the people of Galilee for their lack of faith, for their desire to see signs and wonders, He encounters a nobleman whose son was ill. He pleads with Jesus, which is to say, he prays: “Sir, come down before my child dies!” This nobleman was not there for a show. He wasn’t looking for signs and wonders. Rather he was a concerned father, whose love for his son impelled him to find help where it may be found. He was not driven by curiosity and the desire to be entertained – but rather by paternal love. It was this man’s desire to see his son overcome death. And this is something our loving Father in heaven certainly understands.

Death is knocking at the nobleman’s door, seeking to take away his son.

But if you recall from our Genesis account, there is no mention of death. Death was not part of the original plan of creation. Death is the result of what our ancestors did, and what we continually do. And that is sin. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. And like the nobleman, all we can do is pray to Jesus for healing, that we may be spared the “temporal and eternal punishment” we have “justly deserved.” Like the nobleman, we ask for the Lord’s grace and mercy: “Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord!”

In the case of the nobleman, the Lord granted his prayer, and then some, as our Lord Jesus Christ pronounces: “Go your way; your son lives.” And St. John continues his account:

So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household.

Behold the miracle through the Word of Jesus – not only the physical healing of his son, but the miraculous conversion through faith in that Word of “his whole household.”

The Word of God not only heals, not only beats back death and conquers the grave, the Word of God creates faith, and as the sword of the Spirit, the Word defeats the lies of the devil and wins people to the truth of the Gospel.

And so here we are, dear friends, praying to the Word made flesh whose sacrifice in the flesh takes away our sins, strikes a mortal blow against Satan, and reverses the ravages of death itself. Like the nobleman, we aren’t here for signs and wonders, but rather because we have a need, and we know that the Word of God delivers. Like the nobleman, we stand before our Master and plead: “be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.”

And like the nobleman, we hear a word of promise from the Word Himself – this time pronounced by a “called and ordained servant of the Word,” announcing the grace of God to us all, and by the Lord’s command, saying: “I forgive you all your sins.”

And that Word is the same Word that healed the nobleman’s son and brought salvation to that entire family. The Word of God is mighty. It creates all things. It defends us against every evil. It brings the sick to health, the dead to life, and the sinful to pardon. The Word of God brings us into Holy Communion with the very Creator and Father of the Word Himself, who through the Sword of the Spirit gives us everlasting life.

Dear brothers and sisters, the nobleman did not come to Jesus looking for a sign, but he got one anyway. He received the miraculous sign confirming the work and Word of God.

He was given what he asked for – and more.

We too are given much more than signs, much more than simply the things for which we ask. We are given healing – just as the nobleman’s son was. We are given victory over “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness.” We are given faith in the Word of God that He keeps His promises. We are given forgiveness and life and salvation. And all of this is given to us by the Word – the Word made flesh, the Word through which all things were made, the Word of God that is the sword of the Spirit.

Once again, hear the Word of the Lord. “I forgive you all your sins…”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Beane,

I enjoyed your sermon very much.

Your statement that the word of man, unlike the Word of God, cannot "create" reminded me of something Francis Schaeffer wrote in Art and the Bible. He said that he used to struggle with whether people can create art since only God can create, but that he eventually came to see that re-ordering creation in order to bring forth something new, like a work of art, could be rightfully called creating even if it was different in some important ways from God's work of creating things ex nihilo.

Similarly, we create things in this analogical sense through the our words. With our words, we make new families (marriage vows, adoption papers), rulers (inauguration, coronation), buy and sell (checks, receipts), etc. Of course, this analogical kind of creation is different from God's work of creating ex nihilo. In fact, unless it conforms to God's word, we only create illusions. A "marriage," for example, that is against God's law is no marriage at all -- kind of like a "sculpture" that collapses under its own weight because it was not brought forth in conformity with the physical laws of nature.

I think this creating (with a small "c") bears witness to the truth that we are created in his image. It also reveals our fundamental dependence on his Word, not only that original dependence by which we were created and are sustained but also our great need for the redemption he declares to us in the gospel. Finally, it is amazing to think about how the redemptive Word of God comes to us through people who with physical voice, tangible pen (or keyboard!), and at times joined with washing with water or eating bread and drinking wine, minister to us the very grace of God.

"Veni, Domine Iesu."