4th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 908, 587, 921
Text – Jeremiah 1:9
Then the Lord put out His hand & touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”
THE WORD OF GOD
Researchers for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority found over 200 dead crows near greater Boston recently. There was concern they may have died from the Bird Flu. A pathologist examined the remains of all the crows, &, to everyone’s relief, confirmed the problem was definitely NOT Avian Flu. The cause of death appeared to be vehicular impact.
During the detailed analysis it was noted that varying colors of paint appeared on the beaks & claws of the birds. By analyzing these paint residues it was determined that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with trucks, while only 2% were killed by impact with a car.
The MTA then hired an Ornithological Behaviorist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate number of birds killed by trucks versus the birds killed by cars. He very quickly determined the reason:
When crows eat road kill, they always have a look-out crow in a nearby tree to warn of impending danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows were able to shout the word “Caw,” not a single crow could pronounce the word “Truck.”
The conclusion we can draw from such prominent research is this – the words we use are very important. Okay, maybe not from that research, but if you are a child of God you do have to give serious consideration to the Bible, because the Book of James makes some rather stark claims in regard to the words we speak. Chapter 1:26 tells us:
“If anyone thinks he is religious & does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (ESV) In chapter 3:5-6, James wrote: “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire, & the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (NLT) Chapter 3:8 concludes: “…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (ESV)
It’s fun to laugh about whether a crow can shout “Caw” or “Truck,” but the Bible makes some ominous declarations concerning the instrument which speaks the words we use. Human words come from the heart & too often they bring death instead of life. For that reason, the words we speak are very important.
In the 6th chapter of John, Jesus tells us, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit & life.” (6:63 ESV) Simon Peter reiterates that when he answers Jesus a few verses later, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68 ESV)
God is love, & the Word of God is the only source of life, yet four different times Holy Scripture also refers to Yahweh as a consuming fire. He is good, but He is not safe. The 4th chapter of Hebrews describes the dynamic & threatening role that God’s Word plays in our lives, even as it gives us eternal life:
“For the word of God is living & active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & of spirit, of joints & of marrow, & discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart.” (4:12 ESV)
The sort of transparency which the Bible promises to make of our thoughts & intentions can be extremely disconcerting. It is that Word which absolutely sets the Church apart from all earthly organizations, businesses, governments. Jeremiah was commissioned to speak words of life & death & promise. The Word of God is the channel through which Yahweh confronts the world. Since our Lord is not commissioning prophets today, it is now the role of the Church to confront the world with that very same two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & of spirit, discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart. If the prophet, or the nation of Israel, refused to confront the world, then God removed the prophet, & eventually the nation of Israel.
If the Church today refuses to confront the world, then God removes the Church! Based on the words used to describe Jeremiah, he could have been as young as 12-16 years old when he was commissioned. Does that sound like a lot to place on the shoulders of someone so young? Then you shouldn’t feel so ‘put upon’ that the Word of God has also been placed in your mouth.
The Holy Spirit inspired the prophet Isaiah to write, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire & achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11 NIV)
Given the choice, Jeremiah would have chosen not to speak for the Lord. His call was to preach mostly words of condemnation to a people that had learned to ignore the true God. Verse 10 of the OT reading began: “See, I have set you this day over nations & over kingdoms, to pluck up & to break down, to destroy & to overthrow…”
In the same way, none of us, by nature, is open to the call to faith, much less the call to speak the word of the Lord to our world today. And still, God says, “Go!” just as He said to Moses & to Joshua, to Peter & to Paul, to all the other witnesses whom He has appointed down through the ages.
The phrase, “I have put my words in your mouth,” is the classic description of the relationship between God & His prophets. For us, the assurance comes as we hear & read the written Word of God. It is there as we daily remember our Baptism, to Whom it joined us, & the seal placed upon us in that moment. Our Lord’s assurance comes to us anew, each time the Triune God reaches out & touches our mouths with His own Body & Blood in the Lord’s Supper. By God’s grace, today, we are the people & the Church of God. His Word has called us. His Word instructs us. His Word is on our heart & mind & lips as He sends us out to declare the power of His Word.
Verse 10 of the OT reading began with words of condemnation. It ends with the words, “…to build & to plant.” Our authority is God’s Word. Our assurance is God’s Word. Our power is God’s Word. To us also, the Lord, who knitted us together in the womb, says, “I have put my words in your mouth.”
It is a dangerous word to have, as we noted earlier in that it is a two-edged sword. It discerns, not just the heart of those to whom we speak the Word of God. It discerns also the heart of those speaking that Word. In Isaiah 5, we hear this warning:
“Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, & as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, & their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, & have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (5:24 ESV)
Jeremiah was sent by Yahweh to preach that His plan was now for destruction. The nation of Judah, the chosen people, had themselves despised the Word of God for too long. Yet the promise of replanting & rebuilding is also out there. That promise is ultimately fulfilled in heaven, which Jesus spoke about with Moses & Elijah at the Transfiguration.
In our culture today, Christianity is being twisted to say effectively, “anything goes” because Jesus loves everyone. That’s not exactly what the Word of God says. Satan is still twisting the Word of God, just as he was in the Garden of Eden. That makes it more important than ever to have Lutheran schools where the Word of God can be taught in its purity.
In our early childhood center, & in our elementary classrooms, we are able to use the
Word of God in positive, constructive & helpful ways. Yes, it still discerns the thoughts & intentions of the heart, convicting where necessary, but also building up, healing & restoring to life, the souls of the children who are blessed to attend here.
The Word of God not only gives information, but also imparts transformation. Human words can do well at giving information, but cannot in any way transform a person’s heart. We nag & we hound & we badger, but nothing changes! The Word of God, spoken by Jeremiah, changes the course of history.
Most of the political & religious leaders in Jerusalem rejected both Jeremiah’s message & his credibility. So in calling Jeremiah, the Lord gives him a word of encouragement, & makes plain that Yahweh is in control: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you… I sanctified you… I appointed you!”
The Word of God is powerful to accomplish all things, yet He allows us to reroute His plan through our refusal to believe in & trust in His Word. So the question is, “Do you trust God’s Word or do you reject it?” If we trust His Word, God determines our future. If we reject His Word, we determine our future. Which result would you rather have?
That’s easy to answer in general with no specific conditions. As it’s said, the devil is in the details. It’s in the specific conditions that we often do reject God’s Word & determine our future. Lutheran schools allow their teachers to instruct students, not just in religion classes, but also to teach their students about God in classes like Science & Math.
Do we trust God’s Word in the specific details of Science? Do we trust God’s Word in the specific details of Math? Do we trust God’s Word in the specific details of History? The Word of God has the power of destruction. The Word of God also has the power of life. Happily it is strong enough to destroy all that sin builds or grows. Jeremiah often struggled with the sadness of that alien work of God – as do we – but it must be recognized that God’s destruction is an element of our His love. Without such demolition & clearing of the land, God cannot redeem the soil to build & to plant. Crops are not planted until the field is cleared. New construction requires the removal of the decrepit past.
Jeremiah’s call, in the Biblical context, is part & parcel of the theology of the cross, where God’s grace is most clearly revealed, unobstructed by the glory seeking tendencies of the human heart. God calls a young Jeremiah, maybe 12-16 years of age, because He delights in confounding human wisdom by choosing the foolish, the weak & the young.
Likewise, Yahweh chose David though he was the youngest & least impressive of Jesse’s sons. He sent Jesus as a baby into Bethlehem, a city far from Joseph & Mary’s home. Today’s text is about our Lord & His Word. It truly is an epiphany as it reveals to us God’s way of working on His people in this world. He simply works through His Word.
As Jesus said in John 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word, & believes Him who sent me, has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (5:24 ESV)
It was after the wedding service, at the couple’s reception. The pastor was sitting at a table when a distinguished looking gentleman approached & introduced himself as “Uncle Harry.” He started talking to the pastor about his “spiritual journey.”
He said he’d been raised in The Lutheran Church, but left many years ago because of its teachings against lodge membership & some other things. He complained that Lutherans were too authoritarian. He told the pastor he joined another church because it didn’t make such claims to having authority. However, now, he hadn’t been to church in some time.
When the pastor asked why, Uncle Harry explained that his wife had died a while ago.
He was shocked by the sermon the pastor of his new church gave. He found out that this pastor didn’t actually believe in the resurrection of the dead. Uncle Harry said he felt lost & insecure.
The pastor explained to Harry the joy & security that come from having Jesus speak to us with authority. We don’t reject Jesus’ authority as burdensome. Instead, we live in the joy & security that come from Jesus speaking to us with authority: “It is finished!” “This is my body, & my blood, given for you.” “Because I live, you also will live.” “Lo, I am with you always.”
“[Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, & they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” “Then the Lord put out His hand & touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” Amen.
I know my faith is founded on Jesus Christ, my God & Lord; & this my faith confessing, unmoved I stand on His sure Word. Our reason cannot fathom the truth of God profound; who trusts in human wisdom relies on shifting ground. God’s Word is all sufficient, it makes divinely sure; & trusting in its wisdom, my faith shall rest secure. Amen.
 Luke 4:31-32 ESV
 Jeremiah 1:9 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet