Words matter. They really do.
In fact, everything depends upon words, because the Lord our God does everything by His Word.
What you say and how you say it matters. What you don’t say matters, too. But all your speaking — be it is good or bad, positive or negative — it all depends upon the words that you hear and receive. “Garbage in, garbage out.” Or, much to be preferred, “Good stuff in, good stuff out.”
So it is that you cannot believe in the one true God with all your heart, nor are you able to 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 Jesus. You cannot bless God or your neighbor, but you are only able to curse, swear, lie, and deceive, foam at the mouth, and grind your teeth, without the Word of Christ in your ears.
That is why it is so fundamental to the faith and life of the Church, and so necessary to your own Christian faith and life, that there be preachers and teachers of Christ Jesus. That is why preachers must be sent to preach the Gospel in His Name; why teachers must teach as the oracles of God; and why disciples must listen and learn, and hear and heed His Word, if they are to be His disciples.
To be a Christian, therefore, first and foremost, is to hear the Word of Christ Jesus with the ears of a disciple. And to be a Christian is then also to confess with your mouth the Word that you have heard, that is, to speak the same thing that God has spoken to you by His Son — that same Word of Christ Jesus — and by that Word to pray, praise, and give thanks from a heart of faith.
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 preaching and teaching.
By the same token, so it is that husbands and wives are to speak the Word of Christ to each other.
Fathers and mothers, likewise — along with and far above all of their other responsibilities — they are to catechize their children with the Word of Christ from infancy to adulthood. Not only by careful and consistent instruction, which is basic, but also by their own practice and example.
What you say and how you say it matters. It really does.
Consider the consequences of your speaking, be it good or bad, for those entrusted to your care. If you speak the Word of Christ to your children, for example, they will learn to speak it, as well. But if you curse, swear, lie, and deceive — if you yell and scream a lot; if you mock and make fun of other people; if you gossip, complain, and criticize; if you engage in vulgarity or tell dirty jokes — what then will your children learn to speak? What will they believe, teach, and confess?
Consider, too, that father at the foot of the mountain in the Holy Gospel this morning, especially by comparison and contrast to the faithful Syrophoenician woman you heard about last Sunday.
This father today must first of all be catechized, so that he might pray and confess rightly from a heart of faith in bringing his poor son to Jesus. He must first be catechized by the Word of Christ, so that he will have a Word of Christ for his son, to strengthen and sustain that weary child. For there is still the ongoing care that will be required of this father for his son beyond this occasion.
He must hear and believe the Gospel, in order that he might confess it and speak it to others.
He must be forgiven all his trespasses, and so learn to forgive those who trespass against him.
The very same thing is true for you, no less, and for your children and your children’s children.
But the Word of God is not a magic formula, nor a button to be pushed on some kind of machine. His Word is 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 anyone’s heart and life are 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, it still remains the case that you must keep on listening and learning. Apart from that, all is lost.
But even with that effort and discipline to avail yourself of the Word and listen to it, still, it is not by your own reason or strength, neither 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. It is a divine Mystery of His grace.
So also, then, 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 would open your ears to hear, your heart to believe, your lips to confess His Name and show forth His praise.
That is the point and purpose of the Collect in the Liturgy. For the Church does not presume even to hear the Word of God relying on herself, but she beseeches the Father for the gift of His Spirit.
So listen to His Word with confidence, but not presumptuously. And as you hear, so also speak.
And do actually 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.
For now, you find yourself caught — 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, indeed, and left to yourself you cannot win.
And when the Church’s prayer is answered — when the Word of Christ Jesus 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 going to be utterly destroyed.
Truth be told, you are put to death by the Word of the Lord, as the Sword of the Spirit slices and dices between yours bones and marrow and cuts you even to the quick of your unclean spirit.
But it is by the fire of the Holy Spirit and by the waters of your Holy Baptism that you are put to death by the death of Christ, even the death of His Cross. And 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. Consequently, death and the devil do not get to have the last word.
For in these last days, God has spoken to you by His own dearly-beloved and well-pleasing Son, who has come down from heaven to help you and save you; who has gone through the fire and the water — going ahead of you through death and the grave, and blazing the trail for you — in order to deliver you from death and open the way of life to you, to bring you into His own Resurrection.
And that same Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus is here for you, whose tongue and lips speak Peace and Life to you; who prays for you at the Right Hand of God, and whose Spirit also intercedes for you at all times, even when a deaf and mute spirit has gripped your ears and your tongue and lips.
Christ is here for you, and He stretches out His hand to lay hold of you in love, to raise you up from the dust and the dirt to the life everlasting. So has He opened your ears to hear and your heart to believe, and so does He open your mouth to receive the Bread of Life with which He feeds you.
As you have heard, and as you believe, so may you speak, and so may you live by His grace alone.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.