Speak the word

This past weekend I preached at my internship site on Luke 7:1-10. Here’s what I said:

Grace and peace to you from our savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

It’s a weird time to be a pastoral intern. I mean that in my calendar here – we’re less than three month away until my internship is complete. I wrote in my personal calendar a couple weeks ago all the preaching and worship assisting weekends I have left and got to see what Sunday will be my last one where I preach (I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to wait and see).

The thought crossed my mind, “Wow, that’ll be fun, I’ll preach what’s on my heart and what I feel God really wants me to say, and I’ll put it all out there.”

But that’s not really a way to preach on a last Sunday. That’s how you preach every time.

So here we go:

Today’s Gospel story is all about speaking the word.

Because that’s what this centurion, a Roman officer, asks Jesus to do so his servant can be healed. He says speak the word and heal my servant.

Like Ezekiel speaks and dry bones get up and walk like we read in the Old Testament.

Jesus here speaks and heals a man, and he’s not even near him.

Speaking changes things. Speaking changes people.

Speak the word.

Like the apostles dared to speak as they felt a spark of fire on top of their heads after Jesus ascended into heaven.

Pentecost

Speak the word – not knowing what exactly you’ll say, but trusting beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will speak through you – Christ will bring new life through you – and the Holy Spirit will unite people through you, speak the word.

And yes, I am playing with words here. We use words to write and speak, and Jesus is also the word in the beginning with God (John 1). Jesus found a home here in our skin to know our ups and downs, our emotions and experiences all the way to death on a cross; so that he might give us abundant life…so that we might rise in a resurrection and new life with him. We have the privilege of speaking words and the word.

Now, you might be thinking, that since I’m a pastoral intern and Kathy and Peter are your pastors, that we speak the word, that’s our job, but I have bad news for you: you are called to as well. In Acts 2 it says, “for the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”– a promise that holds you and calls you to speak.

“Speak the word and let my servant be healed”—for Jesus speaks through you for the sake of someone’s life.

This looks like Moses when God spoke to him and called him through the burning bush.

This looks like the women at the tomb who first witnessed the resurrection.

This looks like the Samariatan woman at the at the well in the gospel of John, who for all intensive purposes should not have been talking to Jesus, a single man, in broad day light, but nonetheless went back to her town praising God and calling her people to join in this movement of Jesus.

This year Pastor Peter and I taught “A Year of Living Luke” and together we dove into the book of Luke and had some fun and good questions along the way. During the Spring at the end of every class I asked two questions: now that we’ve read this Bible story, what have we learned about who Jesus is, and who we are? Who is Jesus? Who are we?

I took notes, and over the weeks this is who we discovered Jesus is to us:

Slide A

Caretaker, healer, truth-teller, and yes, at times you can see “frustrated” on the right side.

This is who we are:

Slide B

Seeker, blessed, learners, afraid, filled, wanting, self-centered.

Today we hear this Roman officer strongly encouraging Jesus – speak the word, and let my servant be healed. Let one of my people be healed.

Jesus, let us be healed.

Because at the root of this, and I think you know this, Jesus speaks through you. The Spirit of Jesus continues to soar in our lives, calling us to moments where we can lend a hand, help a stranger, and serve those who are struggling. I think you know this, but Jesus continues to redeem this world, to heal this world, and to bring love to this world, still today, through you. Jesus speaks through you.

You might be wondering though, like I do: What if we don’t speak the word? Sometimes I think speaking the word or a word of love, peace, or hope can be left to the experts; I’d rather not get into that business. Maybe you’re thinking that too.

So what if we don’t speak?

I’m willing to bet that God will find a way to bring about hope and love in this world. It’s not up to us to save the world or heal the world. We just trust God is working through us in some capacity – but what if we don’t. What if we don’t speak the word?

My question back to you: Why does that matter?

Are you asking because you don’t have enough time—time that God gave you?

You don’t have enough money/resources—money/resources that God gave you?

You don’t have enough brain-space—a beautiful intelligent brain that God gave you?

I don’t mean to guilt-trip anyone here. But we’re sounding an awful lot like Moses.

Because Moses was also:

Slide B

Confused. Grateful. Wanting. Filled. Blessed. Afraid.

Wherever Moses was, and wherever you are, the words you speak–of love, forgiveness or healing–matter. Speak the word.

I wonder, do you know why we say the words of institution every week, the words before communion, “In the night in which he was betrayed…this cup…shed for all people… do this in remembrance of me?”

Because you heard these words last week. You heard those words 5 weeks ago. Maybe you heard those words last week on this same fourth weekend in May. Maybe your parents heard those words the weekend they knew they were driving the family to their new home, or the weekend after one of their parents’ passed away. Your pastors heard those words when they were kids. The people who built this sanctuary, this church, heard those words. The people gathered to ordain the first woman in our Lutheran church in 1971 heard those words. This church’s grandparents and great-grandparents. A skeptical yet faithful Catholic priest in 1517 said these words. At the risk of death by their colonizers, the first followers of Jesus said these words behind closed doors. Jesus said these words to help his closest friends know that they are and will not be alone, because his story of abundant love and everlasting salvation holds them.

Because words make dry bones walk.

They help us understand that my story is your story, and your story is our story.

And like the women at the tomb, they remind us with new eyes and new ears that Christ has risen from the dead.

That is not something that you keep in! Speak the word!

I’ll end with two stories.

In New Jersey, a Jewish rabbi heard a window crack and fire filled his room. Someone threw something like a firebomb into their home, which is the second floor of their synagogue. He was targeted in a hate crime because he was Jewish. Days later he was talking with other religious leaders in the area, and the mail started pouring in. Letters of love and support came to their synagogue from all over the country, from leaders of Jewish, Christian, and Lutheran faith communities, colleges and organizations. Those written words were spoken so that this faith community heard loud and clear: fear and death do not have the final word.

At the Spring commencement this year for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, graduate Donovan Livingston shared the wisdom and observation of his 7th grade teacher: “let’s put all your energy to good use.”

In Donovan’s speech and spoken word poem, he then shares what she once spoke to him: “Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice.”

Let me introduce you to the sound of your own voice–a voice that, in all your imperfections and “not good enoughs,” can speak a word of love and new life.

Speak the word.

A new word is here. What is it saying to you?

A Third-Day-of-Christmas Sermon

I preached at my internship congregation this past weekend. So did Timothy, both based on Luke 2:41-52:

Now every year his [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Here we are! The Sunday after Christmas! Did you all have a good Christmas? [most said yes]

If you did – you’re in luck because the days of Christmas continue – as today is the 3rd day of Christmas! I can just hear Kermit now: “On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me – 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree…”

“On the FOURTH–” No, we’ll stop there.

Today’s gospel reading comes from the second chapter of Luke. Today we fast-forward from Jesus’ birth to a few years down the road and we get a glimpse, just a glimpse, into what Jesus was like as a kid. And I call it a glimpse because this is the one shot we get at seeing Jesus between Jesus the baby and Jesus the 30-something in the New Testament.

This begs the question: Why is this only story of Jesus’ growing up? I was also curious why he was specifically 12 years old. Well it might seem young, but at age 12, boys were preparing in the year ahead to become religiously mature and observe the duties of the Torah. The Torah the first five books of our Old Testament – and also considered a holy text for Jews and Muslims too.

Jesus gets so swept up in his conversation and preparation that he gets separated from Mary and Joseph. Three long days later, they find Jesus in the temple who says, “didn’t you know I would be in my father’s house?” You could either say [begrudgingly] “wise guy” or [impressed] “Wise guy”

Either way, Jesus is growing in his maturity and faith, and like the text says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

So if you’ve had these questions about this story, know you’re not alone.

It makes me wonder though: Why are we so bummed out that we’re not given access to the majority of Jesus’s life?

I think it’s because we so badly want to know that Jesus was human, too.

This story of when Jesus was 12 can draw out the best question in us – not just “What happened?” but “What got Jesus out of bed in the morning?” “When he looked up at the stars, what did he think about?” “What was his favorite food?” “What was he like?” “If he truly did go through adolescence like the rest of us, did he ever have a sour attitude, or say mean things, or have to get grounded by his parents?” “Who was Jesus?”

“Who is Jesus?”

We have this insatiable need to know that God truly came to be among us – our Emmanuel, God incarnate. We want reassurance that he was also 12 and 6… and 17 and 25.

We want to know Jesus was human too.

And at the same time, I don’t want Jesus to be God incarnate, living among us. I need God to be big. I need God to be so big that he can save the whole world. I need God to be so big that he can save some pretty messed up people- people who get tempted by power, who get frustrated, who misdirect their anger and shame, who get scared of the dark. People who I sometimes look like.

I need God to be so big that he can turn water into wine. That he can heal a blind man just by touching him. That God can make sure I meet up with my grandpa and family in heaven – so I can hear what it was like to be in Japan during the war, and what my my great-grandma’s festive parties were like on the farm, and my family’s old, old jokes about Ole and Lena.

I think that’s the beautiful tension that this text presents before us today: the God of the the whole world, of the universe, holds the ability to save us all through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and yet small enough that God meets us in our humanity and our questions and our wilderness here in our bodies and in this world.

And I’m not saying that we have to ditch our understandings of God as big and mighty, because it’s in that cosmic space that God can and does move—moves us from darkness to light, sinner to saint, lost to saved.

I can’t help but think of a song I learned in Sunday school – “My God is so BIG! SO strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”

But sometimes we need to be reminded that God lives and dwells among us. That through Jesus Christ, we are people who believe in an embodied God. The work of God is inherently delivered through the stuff and bodies and creation that God so loves.

We read in second Corinthians that we share the message and gift of Jesus as if we are an aroma of Christ – people can just smell it on us—which is weird, I know, but stick with me: Through our bodies and senses we proclaim the grace and truth of God given to us through person of Christ. God enters into our humanity, through Christ, like water fills up a clay jar. Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, we are “always carrying… the body of the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

…in bodies that get lost in temples.

In bodies that get tired and worn.

In bodies that are taken advantage of.

In bodies that are loved.

In bodies that show our mortality over and over again.

God is present in and has always worked with our humanity to bring a message of truth and grace for all people.

A cosmic message, delivered in a frail, vulnerable body.

God didn’t appear to the Jews as a tall king, rivaling the social and physical power of the kings and governments of the Romans.

No, God appeared in a particular body – in the smallest and most vulnerable of bodies – a baby, born in Bethlehem. This gives us hope that God still shows up in our humanity, as we carry the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our bodies as filled clay jars.

Today, with this one story of Jesus’ childhood in the Bible, we ask, “Who is Jesus?”

On Christmas Eve, candlelight flooded this sanctuary. We sang Silent Night, ending with these words:

Radiant beam from your holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at your birth;

Jesus, Lord at your birth.

The saving work of God comes to us through this little human, to meet us, to save us, and to know us, in our humanity. This is good news, that doesn’t need to be wrapped in shiny paper and curly bows. All it needs is some hay, a stubborn innkeeper, a pair of courageous parents, some confused animals, and a manger. Amen.

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