Speaking God’s Words
Based on Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4: 22-30
From the time we are born, words dominate our lives. Early on it is the spoken word that is most prominent in our world, and when the mystery of reading is unlocked for us, we find our way to the written word. Technology and the “sound bite” have altered that dynamic a bit in the past few years. Recently reported data show that the average American reads at 300 words per minute and only reads for 19 minutes each day; that is an average of less than 6000 read-words each day (the greater your level of education the faster you read – up to about 700 words per minute). The average novel contains 100,000 words and the average newspaper column or blog about 1000. Thus, most Americans are not keeping up with the world through reading.
How about the spoken word? Turns out that the average American hears between 20,000 to 30,000 unique words each day – and their brains process about 20% of that total (4,000 to 6,000 words). The Old Testament in the King James translation of the Bible contains the phrase “thus saith the LORD” a total of 431 times – more than half of those in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Prophets and preachers since the calling of Abram have tried their best to communicate to other humans what it is that the One true God is trying to say.
I find myself wondering what will you take with you when you leave here today, next week, next year? Will you have heard what you hoped for or maybe longed for as you gather together as the Body of Christ? Researchers like Edgar Dale, tell us that we only remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, and 50% of what we see and hear. Thus, the majority of what goes on in Church and outside of it gets left behind. Yet we continue with our discipleship, I believe, because we want desperately to know what God has to say to us – and what God wants us to say to each other! Let us go now to God in thanksgiving that God continues to speak God’s message to God’s people…
Jesus continues his teaching in the synagogue and expounds further on the viewpoints of the gathered who want the notoriety of claiming Jesus as a hometown boy; and also want him to work miracles like he did down the road in Capernaum. He disappoints them by speaking God’s words about Israel’s checkered past and prominent sins. They become enraged that he won’t do for his hometown what they want (so that they can boast about it) and in their anger seek to throw him off a cliff. Yet, God’s living Word miraculously “passed through the midst of them and went on his way”.
The Hebrew Bible reading has us in the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah, hearing the call story of that prophet. We are told that Jeremiah’s calling was given to him while he was still in the womb. Jeremiah had a 40 year run as a prophet in some turbulent times for Israel (leading up to the Exile to Babylon). He had to speak some very difficult truths to Israel from God – and he paid a dear price for it being imprisoned in a pit for the way he spoke to a king. While Jeremiah had to speak God’s words of punishment for Israel’s apostasy, he was also given God’s words of love, hope and healing and the promise that the Exile would last only 70 years.
The 13th Chapter in 1 Corinthians is probably his most well-known and frequently cited text. It is used in countless wedding liturgies every year (three times for me last year alone) and it communicates the Apostle’s deep understanding of how God’s word of unconditional and unending love is the focal point for living in right relationship with each other and with God. Paul knew first hand that God’s words of love will redeem us from our sin and put us on the path of salvation. This is why he could write that God’s words of love bear, believe, hope and endure all things. God’s words of love to us and for us never end, and when we learn to speak these same words, then we will come to know fully even as we have been known.
The previous section in Paul’s letter ended with the counsel that we should all strive for the greater gifts of being apostles, prophets and teachers. In this way we are sharing God’s words with each other and with newcomers – we are spreading the gospel. Why is it important for us to all have a bit of the prophet/apostle/teacher in us? Referring to Edgar Dale’s research again, he found that we remember 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we personally experience, 95% of what we teach others. This is why it is so important to be active disciples and not just keep Jesus to ourselves. Paul goes on in Chapter 14 to describe the difference between speaking in tongues and being a prophet/apostle/teacher. He writes, “…Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.” He continues that a whole church which freely speaks God’s words (i.e., prophesies) to an unbeliever who encounters the church’s members, “…will be reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, ‘God is really among you….’”
Our Bishop, Sharma Lewis, knows that we must learn to speak God’s words to each other and the broader world. In her 2017 Annual Conference address she laid out the vision that God had given to her about where we were headed over the next four years. She told us that, “Our ministry vision for the Virginia Annual Conference is to be ‘Disciples of Jesus Christ who are lifelong learners who influence others to serve.’ All United Methodist Churches in Virginia will have a process of intentionally forming disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by your influence and your act of servanthood by 2020.” There is no question in my mind that this Charge is up to that task, and that we are already living into this call.
We tend to act like Jeremiah, however, when it comes to sharing our faith with others. Young Jeremiah said to God, “…Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy….” The LORD responded to him (and responds to us), “…Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you….” From the youngest to the oldest among us, all have something to share with others about our experience of God/Jesus in our lives. Our witness is both our prophetic and our teaching voice – speaking both to lapsed Christians and to non-believers. Seeking to share the gospel of Jesus is our apostolic call and the way we influence and serve our neighbors in Madison County and beyond.
Jesus is the living word of God spoken into our world by God. We are called in our discipleship to hear and then to speak God’s words back into our world. In this way we can influence what happens for God and through God. We cannot any longer sit passively in our pews each week and hope that someone else will listen and act on God’s spoken word. We must, each of us and all of us, actively influence and serve the world around us – and do this with and through God’s living Word, Jesus the Christ. God gives us the words to say, let us speak them with love into our world. Amen and amen! ffffff