This is the sermon I preached this morning at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC. The texts for the day were Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 4:21-30:
Jeremiah 1: 4-10
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
6Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7But the Lord said to me,
‘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.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’
9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’
21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
I preached sitting in a chair in the chancel and holding a binder (so it’d look a little like a storybook) with the title When Words Collide… (© 2013. VicarBelle Publishing House) 😛 Enjoy!
Come, gather ‘round, Christ Lutheran Church!
I’m going to leave my normal perch,
And sit up here and tell you a story,
So sit back, listen well and don’t you worry!
I read these texts and hear an emphasis on words,
Or maybe that’s just because I’m a language nerd,
But there are some important themes running through,
And so I chose a word-laden poem to bring them to you.
By definition, words are little carriers of meaning,
They can be straightforward or need some sense-gleaning,
For two holy prophets were words crucial tools,
Even though some may have thought them fools.
First we hear about a young Hebrew fella’
His call to be a prophet made him turn a little yellow,
Jeremiah said, “Ah! Lord! I’m just a boy”
And the Lord said, “sorry, kid, you’re now in my employ!”
“I’ve been with you since before you were born,
And I’ll be with you from the dawn of each morn.’”
So now I’m putting my words in your mouth,
So you can go speak to the kingdom in the south.”
The young prophet Jeremiah was none-too-thrilled,
I mean, can you blame him, he might have been killed!
God had charged him to go forth to all the nations,
To tell them about all of God’s frustrations.
He was given the job without pay or pension plan,
Only the promise that he was God’s appointed man.
God told him, “do not be afraid of what lies before
I will deliver you as I did your ancestors of yore.”
So out he went and performed his role,
And though at some times it took a toll,
Jeremiah knew he couldn’t do anything different,
He was called to be God’s wandering itinerant.
Fast forward to Nazareth’s local synagogue on Shabbat,
A young man who’s been coming since he was a tot,
Steps up to read and opens up the Isaiah scroll,
He’s reading well – you might even say he’s on a roll.
It’s a Torah portion about bringing amazing news –
For the poor, the oppressed and all singing the blues!
He tells the congregation that today it’s all fulfilled,
And, naturally, they’re all super thrilled!
They love the words they’ve just heard from his lips,
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” one of them quips,
All are astonished at the skill of this homegrown lad,
All are excited and couldn’t be more glad.
But then this young man named Jesus gets upset,
Saying things that make the people start to fret.
He says, “you’ll want me to do miracles like in Capernaum!”
And “no prophet is accepted where he comes from!”
It’s almost like he knows their attitude will change,
And that’s why he starts speaking so strange.
He brings up Elijah and Elisha from the past,
Who went to people who should have been outcasts.
In this it seems he’s saying the news he brings,
Is going to be a boundary-pushing, daring thing.
It’s going beyond where we’re comfortable going,
It’s going far past the love and mercy we like showing.
That’s when people really become filled with rage,
It’s so palpable in the gospel, it leaps off the page!
Over a cliff this hometown hero is nearly thrown,
But he escapes through the crowd to become better known.
You see, words have the power to move us to tears,
They can calm our doubts and assuage our fears.
They can stir up within us feelings of joy,
Or they can make us slap our foreheads and say, “oy!”
Those who wield words can hurt or heal,
They can cause scandals or make business deals.
Words can draw us closer to family and friends,
Or bring short or long-term relationships to an end.
Tyrannical leaders can stir up people to harm others,
Or lead people to oppress their sisters and brothers.
Silence can be crushing when you need an answer,
Or a word can break the heart when you hear, “its cancer.”
But words can call forth God’s vision for the world,
And urge others to work toward the kingdom unfurled.
Others’ words can give voice to our prayers,
Hearing a kind word shows that someone cares.
But there’s one word that shapes the others we use,
One word that embodies powerful good news,
One word that seeks out and transforms humankind,
And if you’ve guessed it, you’ve got a sharp mind!
It’s the Word of God, the Word enfleshed,
God on earth, in human form dressed.
Jesus, the Word, who came to love all people –
The one we worship under this steeple.
We’ve experienced the tremendous power of a word,
But what about the Word of God, our Lord?
How does this Word shape how we talk?
Does this Word shape our life-long walk?
So my question today for all of us,
Is therefore, hence, as follows, and thus:
How do we use our God-given voices
or speak up when there are so many choices?
What words do we choose among all the commotion?
How do we follow Christ in our speech with full devotion?
Sometimes it’s difficult to speak against opponents,
But it can be important to do so at the right moment.
Perhaps there’s something you’re called to say,
But you’re hesitant to toss your hat into the fray.
What injustices weigh on your heart and mind?
How can you advocate while being honest and kind?
Jeremiah and Jesus also found it hard to speak up,
Neither of them wanted to drink from that cup.
But they did anyway knowing that God was with them,
And would stay with them even amidst opposition.
Or perhaps you’re being called to use words of love,
To forgive as you’ve been forgiven from above.
How does Christ’s love transform your reactions,
And build up ties rather than cause fractions?
Our words can help others glimpse our God,
The Word incarnate who dwelled among the flawed.
The Word of God who sets all people free,
who graciously forgives the sins of you and me.
So I suppose what I am trying to say,
Is “take this Word with you as you leave today.”
Carry the Word of God within your hearts,
And see what wisdom to your words it imparts.
© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.