04 March 2015

To Speak Christ as the Father Has Spoken

“Deeds, not Creeds!”  You’ve all heard that slogan.  Perhaps you’ve even used it yourself.  And there’s some truth to the concern.  If you’re gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only or talkers only.

But, for all of that, let your doing begin with your speaking, and let what you say be true.

Confess what is good and right, by confessing what God has done for you and said to you.  In this there is no conflict or competition between your Creed and your deeds, but the greatest continuity and harmony in the Lord your God, in holy faith and holy love.

Indeed, this word and work of confessing the faith is fundamental to the worship of God.  And you should not suppose that it is easy or a cop out.  You know better than that, if you consider how often you are scared and hesitate to speak the Word of the Lord, to confess and call upon His Name.  But it’s not because it’s often hard and sometimes dangerous that such confession is so important and significant.  It is rather because it is in keeping with who God is and what He does.

You speak what the Lord has spoken in the fear, love, and trust that He does everything by and with His Word.  As He created all things out of nothing by His Word, so does He also uphold and sustain all things in heaven and on earth by His Word, not only for this body and life, but for the life everlasting of body and soul.  So does the Father speak to you by His Son.  He speaks Christ Jesus to you, who is Himself the Word-made-Flesh, anointed by the Spirit in His Body for you.

And you, in turn, worship the Lord your God by speaking what is true, that is, by speaking what He has spoken to you in Christ Jesus.  You proceed from Sabbath listening to the right use of God’s Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, in proclamation and confession of His Word.

From the earliest days of the Christian Church, the Apostles’ Creed and the Our Father have been at the heart of this right worship of God.  They are foundational to orthodox faith and practice, because they are true.  They pray and confess the Word of the Lord your God.

Not only does this worship of the Word glorify and honor the Holy Trinity in Christ Jesus, but to speak of God in this way, as He speaks, and to speak to and for your neighbor as God speaks to you, is also the first and foremost service of love for your neighbor in the world.  Which is to say that your deeds of faith and love are centered in the Creed, in the confession of Christ.

By the Word and Spirit of God, you are given to speak His Word, and thus to breathe His Spirit.  Like God the Father, you speak the Word of Christ, His Son, and the Spirit of Christ speaks in you and breathes in you.  So it is that you breathe out the same Holy Spirit whom you breathe in, by speaking the Gospel that you hear, by forgiving the sins of others as you are forgiven by Christ.

This is a high and holy calling to which you are called as a Christian, that you should be given to speak the Word of God to your neighbor.  No matter how little you are, no matter how young or old you may be — whether you are well-educated or simple-minded and forgetful — in confessing the Word of God, in echoing what He has spoken, you are given to say what God the Father says.

No president or king can say or do anything better, more important, or more powerful than that.

Of course, as you speak, so should you also act.  Don’t be a hypocrite, presuming to speak the right words while living the wrong way.  Don’t deny your confession of Christ by continuing in your sin, as though His Gospel meant nothing and did nothing.  As you speak forgiveness, show mercy.

But in affirming the need for consistency in your words and actions, also bear in mind that your speaking is already an activity of your body and life, a doing of something real, whether for good or for ill.  When you speak from the heart of faith with your mind and your mouth, that is to live and act in love, to perform a divine deed by which you give life.  And likewise, when you speak, not from faith but from your sinful unbelief, you perform a devilish, satanic work that destroys life.

What you speak with your mouth — the sound of your voice, and the very words that you say — it all matters a great deal, and it makes a difference, good or bad, depending on whether what you say is good and right or wicked and wrong.  Certainly the Holy Scriptures regard what you say with your mouth, your lips and tongue very highly and very seriously.

Consider the case of Job, for example.  In all that he suffered, he did not sin with his lips.  He did not curse God, but he confessed his faith and blessed the Name of the Lord; he gave thanks in the face of all that he lost.  He relied upon the Lord for his righteousness.  He invested himself and his hope in the promise of the Resurrection, which he confessed against death and the devil.

What Job and others said and did not say is crucial to his story.  When, in response to his friends, he begins to assert his own integrity, then God speaks, and silences Job, and calls him back to repentance and faith.  Job listens in quietness.  He is both humbled and strengthened by the Word of God.  And then he confesses the Majesty, the Mystery, and the mercies of the one true God.  At which point God declares that Job has spoken rightly concerning Him, and that Job’s friends have spoken wrongly about God.  Significantly, Job also prays for his friends, and they are forgiven.

Now we have at hand a similar example in the case of Nebuchadnezzar.  Again, it is a matter of what is said, but, as you have heard, the great Babylonian king did sin with his lips.  And while the words were yet in his mouth, as he was thinking out loud with himself on the roof of the palace, the voice of God from heaven silenced him and disciplined him.  Whereas the prideful words of Nebuchadnezzar were false and empty and powerless, the Word of God was immediately fulfilled.

Because the proud king had spoken in praise of himself, he was driven to madness.  For this is real madness, to exalt yourself over and above the Lord; to credit yourself with all that you have; to praise your own name, as though your life, your possessions and achievements were your own.

So Nebuchadnezzar was driven away from other people to live with the animals, and to become like an animal himself, without words or reason.

Of course, the animals cannot speak like man, yet they acknowledge and praise the Lord their God and look to Him for their food in due season.  In this, they are both wiser and more innocent than sinful man.  They cannot confess the Lord in the way that man is privileged to speak the Word of God and call upon Him, but neither are they able to blaspheme the Holy Name of the Lord.

The ability and capacity to speak is both a powerful and a dangerous potential.  With your mouth, your lips and tongue, you are able to bless or to curse the Lord your God, to speak either truly or falsely, to help or to hurt your neighbor.  And you are held accountable for what you say, just as the king of Babylon was.  For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.

Thus Nebuchadnezzar was chastened and humbled by the Lord, who brings down the lofty and raises up the lowly.  And, humbled like the animals, he learned with the animals to look unto God.  His eyes and ears were lifted up to the Most High, and so too were his mouth and lips and tongue.  For his reason returned to him, the genuine logic of right words.  No longer did he exalt himself, but in humility he glorified the Lord with his speaking, with his words, and with his confession.  Then his counselors and nobles began to seek him out again, and he was restored to his throne.

In contrast to the madness of self-righteousness and blasphemy, this indeed is true divine reason, wisdom, and strength, namely, to speak the Truth concerning God Most High, and to praise the Name of the Lord:  That is to speak the Truth of who God is, what He is like, and what He does, by confessing what He has spoken concerning Himself.  It is to confess His Law and His Gospel.

With this Creed, you praise, exalt, and honor the Holy Triune God.  You worship Him rightly by such faith in His Word, by such confession of His Name.

With the same Word, you serve, support, and strengthen your neighbor; you call him to repentance and faith, to righteousness and holiness; and you comfort him with the mercies of Christ Jesus.

Do not underestimate how important your words can be to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and do not be afraid or ashamed to speak the Gospel to them, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of the resurrection.  Speak the truth in love, yes.  If your neighbor is caught up in some trespass, you who are spiritual restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Such restoration will include, not only pointing out the fault and calling to repentance, but also the confession of Christ and His salvation.

You don’t have to come up with your own clever and creative words.  Usually, it’s better that you don’t.  Instead, speak the words that you have been taught from the Bible and the Catechism, the words that you have heard and received in the Church’s confession of Christ.

You have opportunity to do this all the time: one-on-one with your neighbor; with your family in your home, around your table; with your colleagues at work; with your classmates at school.

So also, when you are gathered together as the people of God, as the Body of Christ, you serve, support, and strengthen one another by your praying, confessing, and singing of the Word of God.  The Spirit of God thus dwells among you richly, in and with that Word that you speak to and for and with each other.  You fill each other up with the Spirit of Christ Jesus by the confession of His Name.  More often than not, the Lord who opens your mouth to speak and to sing in this way, will be caring for your neighbor and addressing his hurts in ways that you won’t even realize.

As a parent, you do this for your children — and for your children’s children from before they are ever born — by the catechesis and confession of Christ Jesus.  That is both your privilege and your responsibility as a Christian father or mother — that the Word of the Lord should be spoken and taught and handed over from one generation to the next — just as you also received that Word in the Creed and in the Scriptures from those who came before you in the faith and life of Christ.

For thousands of years, Christians have been confessing these same priceless words, in countless languages around the world, to and from the waters of Holy Baptism, and throughout the Church.  And by taking this confession of Christ upon your lips, as you also ponder it in your mind and treasure it in your heart and soul (for you speak as you believe), so are you strengthened in the one true faith and armored against the devil, all his works and all his ways.

Putting on the full Armor of God and wielding the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is not merely poetic rhetoric, but the most practical and important admonition: By faith you hear and receive and make use of the Word that is preached to you and taught to you.  You rehearse it, and you exercise your faith in the Word, by actually speaking it, by praying and confessing it.

The Creed and the Our Father are a great place to start.  By such prayer and confession, you drown out the false words of wickedness with the true voice of divine Wisdom.  The devil cannot stand against that Word of Christ.  Whether you are two years old, twelve or twenty, 40, 60, 80, or 90, you speak that Word of the Lord, as He has taught you, and the devil has no choice but to flee.

This is something that you can and should do, as a baptized Christian, as a disciple of Christ Jesus: to be like your Teacher, your Master, and to speak as He has spoken to you and catechized you.

Of course, it is not your own work, reason, wisdom, or strength.  It is the gift of God, His Logic, His Righteousness and Peace, which surpass all human understanding, but which are given to you by His speaking of His Word to you, in which you rest, and by which you live in Christ Jesus.

It is by and with His Word that He is near you and abides with you.  By His Word that He foils the tempter’s power.  By His Word that He guides you, guards and keeps you, as your Staff and Stay.  It is by and with His Word that He is kind to you, and gentle and good, and heals you of all iniquities and all infirmities of body and soul.  It is by His Word that He holds the Cross before your closing eyes, in order to bless you by the forgiveness of the Cross: in life, in death, even unto the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.  And by this Word He opens your ears to hear, your heart and mind to comprehend and believe the Gospel, and your lips and mouth to show forth His praise and glorify the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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