Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
July 13, 2014
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; 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. Isaiah 55:10-11
Words are powerful. A few words well chosen, carefully crafted, and deftly delivered can make all the difference in the world. Words can topple governments, win elections, woo lovers, and destroy careers. Our words have the capacity for great good or incredible violence. Yes, words do have power; never underestimate that fact.
And yet, knowing this we humans all too often tend to be careless with our words. We spew them like some biblical sower, letting them fall where they may. We fail to honor their potential or maximize their power. Worse yet, we often ignore not only words but Word–that capital lettered notion of God, present always, speaking creation into being, and incarnate in Jesus. Words matter. The Word matters most.
A question to ponder is how the Jesus, the Word of God, comes to us. In the Lutheran tradition, we believe the Word is heard in scripture and proclamation. We believe that Jesus is present when the sacraments are administered, and when the community gathers. Even as Mary is called by our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers the “Theotokos,” or God-bearer, we disciples bear the Word of God to a hungry and thirsty world, a world that longs to be fed with hope, a world that craves a word of mercy and listens for an echo of salvation.
The Word of God is indeed powerful, even when it is loosed from the lips of the likes of us, sinners/saints with simple gifts that so often seem inadequate to the task. Through the Word of God we are empowered to offer words of blessing. We are emboldened to speak words of justice on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. We are equipped by the power of the Holy Spirit to speak words of mercy, grace, and love–to be the visible presence of the Word in our world and to walk, breathe, and live in the Word of God.
This week, the preacher or teacher who treasures words and Word has the opportunity to paint a sermon or lesson with the vivid imagery of the Old Testament passage from Isaiah 55. God’s word is front and center in these short verses, imbued with creative and generative force and harnessed to accomplish God’s purpose. Rich are the images of rain, snow, water, sprouting seed, and nourishing bread. The word of God is strong in purpose and whole in its success; it gives life abundantly. The word that sustained a weary people in exile continues to sustain a world-weary people today.
In short, as you contemplate both words and Word, remember that God is in control–creator, sustainer, redeemer, divine wordsmith, eternal editor, and author of our salvation. We who are captive to sin, we who cannot save ourselves, we are the ones who will walk in joy and be led into peace. And it’s not just we human folks, either. In Isaiah’s vision of God’s word and its purpose, even the mountains sing and the trees clap. Goodness and beauty grow in the ground of thorns, and death does not prevail.
What then, are we to do in response to the creative word and redeeming purpose of God? The answer is a simple one. We, the created and beloved, are to praise God and offer our thanks. We are to use our humble gifts of human voice, word, and action in joyous and grateful response to God’s amazing “Word” of grace, love, and mercy. It’s not about us; it’s all about God. And that, dear friends, is very good news. Go on; tell everyone what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do. God’s word will not return empty. On that you can rely, so speak boldly.
Invite people to think intentionally about the words they use in the liturgy (the work of the people) this day. What words of praise, blessing, forgiveness, justice, mercy, and thanksgiving do they hear? How can they carry the Word (Jesus Christ) from the safety and security of worship into the world this week? Consider using the hymn “Listen God is Calling” in worship. Here’s a YouTube Concordia VBS version with motions and words.
This week’s epistle lesson from Romans 8 begins “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s unpacking of what it means to be set free from sin and death through Christ is summed up in this short verse. So just what does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus”? Do we wear Jesus like a favorite hoodie? Do we live in Jesus like we live in house? Or is it something more than that? We know the gift of the Spirit was given to us in baptism. We know we are nurtured and grow in faith as part of the Body of Christ in a particular community/congregation. So everything should be easy peasy, right? No. Paul makes it clear that even though we are made righteous and new in Christ, we still need to keep our focus on the things that matter and not the things of the world that would lure us away. The world offers plenty of negative messages and condemnation for all of us; Jesus offers a countercultural and new way to be, a way grounded in love.
If you have time for movie, introduce your youth to The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington (1999). This is a powerful film about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a champion boxer erroneously arrested, charged, and convicted of murder. It’s a story of redemption, of the power of love over the power of hate, and the possibilities that happen when we live in Christ rather than drift in the world.
Sowing Some Jesus Seeds!
(You will need several packets of vegetable and flower seeds some blank seed packets, some small hearts with the words “Jesus loves you!” written on them or John 3:16, colorful markers)
Place some of the hearts in blank seed packets. Write Jesus Seeds on the outside of those packets and decorate them nicely. Write these instructions on the back: “Sow these seeds everywhere (with love and prayer) and let God do the rest!”
Bring out the seed packets (flowers, veggies, and Jesus seeds) and let the children hold them. Talk about modern sowing practices–neatly spaced rows, square-foot gardening, and container gardening. Contrast these practices with the first century Palestine practice of taking a bag full of seed and casting it liberally across the ground. Seems wasteful, right? What about the seed that ends up immediately eaten by birds? It doesn’t stand a chance! What about the seed that ends up in a patch of weeds? It’s chances are pretty slim, too. What about the seed that ends up sprouting quickly in shallow, rocky soil? It may grow, but it can’t take root and will die. The weeds that are sown in good soil, however, will flourish. So what does this have to do with Jesus seeds? Jesus seeds are different. We don’t have to worry about fertilizing, watering, and yield. God takes care of that. All we have to do is share the “Word of God” through our own words and actions. God does the work of growing the disciples–including us! End with a short prayer.