Performing the Word

As a pastor I have been privileged to be involved in a great many weddings. I have done large weddings at fancy venues and small intimate ones in the church sanctuary. I have done weddings out in the woods and down at the beach. I have been involved in weddings that are well orchestrated with a dictator-like wedding planner and I have been an officiant at weddings which seemed to be thrown together at the last minute. And while there is a lot about a wedding we might ridicule as cliché and overdone, I still love weddings. See, as a pastor I get to be involved in some pretty amazing moments in people’s lives. I have baptized peoples children and been there to say a prayer with a dying father, but there is this moment in a wedding that is simply awesome. It is that time when they exchange vows, when the couple is looking into each other’s eyes and repeating after me. “I take you to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy will; and I pledge you my faithfulness.”

I have this front row seat to the tears welling up in the eyes of the bride as she hears her new husband speaks such things to her. I have witnessed the awe in the face of the groom as his bride speaks them back to him. It is in such moments we learn how words are not just empty things. Words are powerful, they change lives, they can change the world. And if our words can do such things, it is because of the far greater power of the Word of God. For when we speak, we can name things and define them and create powerful bonds. But when God speaks, He creates things out of nothing. He forms whole worlds. He makes light and separates it from the darkness, and land which separates from the waters. The Word of God is life and death, it is the foundation of all we know. You and I are products of the Word. All we see, all we experience, is bound up in the creative Word of God. Luther once said that when a chicken lays an egg, there we witness the Word of God at work. It is a Word which not only created once but continues to bring forth life even now.

So, when God calls his prophet Jeremiah to speak His Word, He says to him, “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.” There was not a time when Jeremiah was not known by our God. How could it be any different? He is a product of the Word, the Word that formed him in the womb and would establish him as a prophet. In this we see why we defend the sanctity of life. Life is sacred for it is not an accident, it is formed and established by God. It is a product of the living Word, that still creates to this day. So, Jeremiah, like you and I and the elderly and the unborn, are creatures of the Almighty, known through and through.

As creatures of the Word, we are destined to be receivers of the Word as well. That same Word that spoke into being all we know is the Word which reveals to you the things of God. Now, the world will challenge this at every turn. Our age would have you dismantle your identity and drive you towards the lie that you are your own creator, you are your own god. You are told the truth is within you, the answer is of your own making. Over and again, you are told what really matters is your own happiness. So, if you think it makes you happy, why then, it must be true. It must be right. But the Word of God speaks of something more, something beyond this age, something beyond your temporal happiness and sense of identity and security.

Furthermore, the Word that created you, the Word that called you to faith, the Word that speaks to you now can be a bit harsh at times. It is not going to simply support whatever you desire. Its main concern is not for you to find the truth within yourself. The Word of God is a Word of truth from outside of yourselves. When this Word comes into your life, it will reveal you have fallen far from the image of God. The Word will bring into light things you would rather remain hidden away in the darkness. As receivers of the Word, you know first and foremost how you are sinners. You have sinned in thoughts, words, and deeds. You have lived as if God did not matter. You have hurt those you ought to have helped and you have neglected those who needed the kindness and care you should have supplied. Yes, the Word of God dismantles any pedestal of your own making. It tears and rips at your pride and arrogance and reveals just how broken we all are.

Yet, the Word of God does far more than this. For the Word that kills proves to be the very source of life as well. The Word that dismantles your works gives you freely the works of Christ alone; works that cover all your sin, which exchange your failures with His perfect righteousness. This is the Word which speaks the sweetness of forgiveness into your ears. When you throw up your hands and declare you cannot do it, that there is no assurance in your schemes and desires, the Word of Christ says, “I have got you. I love you and I will not let you go. All this is mine and I give it to you. All that is good, right, and salutary is now yours.” Of course, this Word changes things. It changes you. Salvation is taken out of your hands and, instead, is proclaimed into your ears. The same Word which said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, is the Word that formed you in the womb, the Word that called-out and condemned your sin. Now this same Word gives you life and salvation. Your identity, security and meaning are found in this Word.

I have this old prayer I say every Sunday morning as I get ready to preach to you the Word of God. It is a prayer written by Luther and I have grown into the habit of praying it as I am putting on my robes, cross, and stole. It is a prayer about being unworthy of this task. I mean, who am I to preach to anyone? And there is this line where I say to God, “If You are pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Your glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Your pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of Your Word and that I may also diligently perform it.” I pray God might use me to be a performer of His Word. Not that I might simply recite it, or explain it, but that I can actually do it, I can perform the Word here and now.

The Word of God is a living Word, a Word of meaning and creation here and now. It is a Word which still does its work. So, when Jeremiah is called to be a prophet, not only does God say he is a product of the Word, that he is known and established by the Word from the womb, He then puts the Word in his mouth. He says, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). The Word of God in the mouth of His prophet can destroy and break and build and plant. The Word continues to kill and bring forth new life. Jeremiah is called to perform the Word.

Here is the thing my friends, so are you. That is right. The creative, life-giving Word of God has been placed in your mouth as well. While you may not be called to be a pastor or teacher of the faith, and you may not be a prophet of God, but you are a brother and sister in Christ. You are a friend and companion, a husband or wife, a parent or child. You are a creature of the Word which has been guided by the Word, embraced by the Word, and filled with the Word of life so you, yes you, might perform that Word for someone else. At its most basic and most powerful expression the performance of the Word is found in your forgiveness, your compassion, and love. And it is in this performance that lives are changed, hope springs forth, and the world is changed.