12 September 2009

The Word of Christ Matters: in Your Ears and on Your Tongue

Words matter. In fact, everything depends upon words, because God does everything by His Word.

What you say, and how you say it, and what you don’t say, matters. And all your speaking, whether it is good or bad, depends on your hearing. Garbage in, garbage out.

You cannot believe in the one true God with all your heart, nor confess Him rightly with your lips, except by the hearing of the Word of Christ. You cannot pray, praise or give thanks, and you cannot call upon the Name of the Lord, except by the Word and Spirit of Christ. You cannot bless God or your neighbor, but only curse, swear, lie and deceive, foam at the mouth and grind your teeth, apart from the Word of Christ.

That is why it is fundamental to the faith and life of the Church, and necessary to your own Christian faith and life, that there be preachers and teachers of the Word of Christ. That is why preachers must be sent to preach in Jesus’ Name, and teachers must teach as the oracles of God; and disciples must listen and learn, and hear and heed, in order to follow and believe and live.

To be a Christian is first of all to hear the Word of Christ Jesus with the ear of His disciples. And to be a Christian is then also to confess with the mouth the Word that has been heard, from a heart of faith: to speak the same thing that God has spoken, the same Word of Christ Jesus, and by that Word also to pray, praise and give thanks.

To speak with the tongue and lips of a disciple is to glorify the Name of the Lord by confessing who He is and what He has done; and thereby to sustain the weary one with the Word of Christ.

That is what pastors are to do, as preachers and teachers of the Word of Christ; and they are held to a strict accountability for that work, because so much depends upon that preaching & teaching.

But so, in turn, are husbands and wives to speak that Word of Christ to each other.

And parents, with and above all of their other responsibilities, are to catechize their children with that Word of Christ. Not only by careful and consistent instruction, which is of course basic, but so also by their own practice and example.

What you say, and how you speak it, matters.

Consider the consequences, good or bad, for those entrusted to your care. If you speak the Word of Christ to your children, for example, so will they learn to speak it. But if you curse, swear, lie and deceive, what will your children believe, teach and confess?

Consider the father at the foot of the mountain in the Holy Gospel this morning, especially by comparison and contrast to the faithful Syrophoenician woman last Sunday.

The father must himself be catechized, first, in order to pray and confess rightly from a heart of faith when he would bring his son to Jesus. He must first be catechized by the Word of Christ, in order to have a Word of Christ for his son, in order to strengthen and sustain that weary child.

He must hear and believe the Gospel, in order to speak it.

He must be forgiven, in order to forgive.

And so also you.

But the Word of God is not a magical formula, nor a mantra to be invoked like some manmade machine. It is a not a tool in your hand to be mastered and manipulated at your personal whim.

You cannot open even your own ears to hear it, nor can you open your own mind and heart to comprehend it and believe it. Neither can you convert your neighbor’s heart and life; although you can and should confess the Word of Christ, by which alone heart and life may be converted.

On the surface of it, sure, it is fundamental that you must keep on listening and learning, hearing and heeding the Word of Christ. Even if you’ve heard it all before and remember every syllable; you surely must keep listening and learning. Minus that . . . nothing.

But even with that effort and discipline to avail yourself of the Word and listen to it, it is not by your own reason or strength, not by your own intelligence or wisdom, that you believe the Word and trust in it. No, that is by the power of the Word itself, by the working of the Holy Spirit through that Word of Christ, where and when it pleases Him, in those who hear the Gospel.

So, too, for your neighbor as for yourself; for your parents, spouse and children. You speak the Word of Christ to them in faith, but you cannot force or constrain any of them to believe it.

Instead, as often as you listen and as often as you speak, pray: that Christ by His Spirit opens the ears to hear, and the heart to believe, and the lips to confess His Name and show forth His praise.

That is the point and purpose of the Collect in the Liturgy: The Church does not presume even to hear the Word of God relying on herself, but beseeches and depends upon His gracious Spirit.

Listen, then, with confidence but not presumptuously. And as you have heard, so also speak.

And pray that you and your neighbor would hear and believe; for it is only by God’s grace that anyone does. Blessed are you, and Christ be praised, if you hear and believe His Word.

Not that it’s easy. Heavens, no.

You are caught, for now, like that poor father at the bottom of the mountain: down in the valley between faith and unbelief, between life and death, between God and the devil.

Scary stuff, and left to yourself you can’t win.

Not only that, but when the Church’s prayer is answered, and the Word of Christ strikes home in your heart and life, then there is a strange and dreadful confrontation, and a war in your members.

You are thrown into the fire and into the water, as though you were to be utterly destroyed.

And, in truth, you are put to death by the Word, as the Sword of the Spirit slices between bone and marrow and cuts you even to the quick of your unclean spirit.

But this is the fire of the Holy Spirit, and the water of the new birth and regeneration; and this is the death of Christ having its way with you, even the death of His Cross.

By these ways and means of His Word, you are brought to repentance and faith through the free and full forgiveness of all your sins. So that death and the devil do not get to have the last word.

See, here, there is the hand of One who has come down from heaven to help you and save you.

Here there is the hand of One who has gone through the fire and the water, through death and the grave, ahead of you and for you, in order to deliver you and make the way of life for you.

Here there is the hand of the Crucified and Risen One, whose tongue and lips speak Peace and Life to you; who prays for you at the Right Hand of God, and whose Spirit intercedes for you at all times, even when that deaf and mute spirit has gripped your ears and your tongue and lips.

Here there is the hand of One who lays hold of you in love, who raises you up with Himself, from death to life; who has opened your ears to hear and your heart to believe; who opens your mouth and lips, and places on your tongue His own Word-made-Flesh.

So that, as you have heard, and as you believe, so may you speak, and so may you live, by His grace everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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