Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of my favorite theologians is Robert Alan Zimmerman. Of course, you might know him better by the name Bob Dylan. More than a few years ago, he had a song called “My Back Pages,” and the chorus of that song says, “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.” I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now. The song revolves around his earlier certainties, his earlier positions, his earlier opinions. He was set in his ways and thoughts; he was “older” then. But then doubt crept in, uncertainty encroached, his positions and opinions changed. He was less certain than he had been, and it seemed as if he had grown younger with time.
What this looks like for the Christian life is not what most people think it is: that I once learned a lot of things about God from Sunday School, my parents, my pastor, or the Bible, and now I’ve come to see that a lot of that wasn’t true. God is so much bigger than what I used to think, and as I’ve aged, I’ve come to see God as simply a big mystery of love that no one really knows anything about. Some of that, of course, is true and happens as we grow and learn. But often that’s simply me remaining the judge of what’s important. I was certain; now I am not.
Instead, what it should mean is that we grow less and less certain about ourselves, our ideas, our opinions and more and more certain about what God has said. What God says is true, not because I believe it, but because He has said it. It’s not important because I have faith in it, but because He is faithful. It’s not important because I trust Him, but because He is trustworthy. His promises and words become ever more certain, while I doubt myself at every turn. It’s His Word that matters above all, not my certainty about it, which is always secondary.
And when we hear from Ezekiel and Mark this morning, we see two things very clearly: it doesn’t matter who God sends to speak His Word; and it doesn’t matter who hears it. What matters is the Word itself. God sends Ezekiel out to say, “Thus saith Yahweh.” This is the Word of the Lord. In another place, God tells Ezekiel that He’s not sending him to a foreign land, where people speak another language, where they wouldn’t understand him. Then, they might listen to him! Instead, He’s sending Ezekiel to his own people, who speak his own language. And they’re not going to listen because they are a rebellious people (3:4-11).
God sends Ezekiel and He says, “Whether they listen to you or do not listen to you, they will know that a prophet has been among them” (2:5, 7). Why? Because Ezekiel is so impressive? No, because God has been speaking, and God’s Word always does something. It creates faith or it hardens hearts, but it never does nothing. God speaks, no matter whom He sends and no matter who believes or doesn’t.
And when Jesus sends out the Twelve two by two, He tells them to stay where they go until they leave, and not to take any extra things for the journey. But if some do not listen, to scrape off from their shoes even the dust of that place as a testimony of judgment against them for refusing the Word of God. As Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, “The one who hears you hears Me; but the one who refuses to hear you refuses to hear Me and, more than that, refuses to hear the one who sent Me” (10:16). God’s Word goes out by the one whom He sends, and to refuse to hear that word is to refuse hear Christ and His Father. It doesn’t matter whom God sends and it doesn’t matter who hears it. What matters is that the Word goes out and it is true because God speaks it in the Word made flesh. Jesus is the Truth who has been spoken and continues to be spoken into this world.
And so St. Paul boasts in his weakness, so that it is clear that the power of God’s Word doesn’t belong to him or his speaking. “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9). So I am glad that you know my weaknesses, my mistakes. I am glad that I do not do everything perfectly, or make everyone happy, because then you might be tempted to think that the Word of God is dependent upon me or any other preacher or pastor. I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, my broken, clay-vessel self. Then it’s only the Word. We have come to rely too much on expertise, too much on personality, too much on the person. Christ alone. His Word alone. That’s all that matters. If the Word of God is not enough for us—if we need something other, something beyond, something more, then nothing will ever be enough. We are ravenous in our idolatry. We will keep looking and keep looking for something that will satisfy us, but we will never find it. I know myself: I want something that works, not this helpless Word. But as Peter says, Lord, You have the words of eternal life. Where else could we go?
It doesn’t matter to the power of the Word who speaks it or who hears it, but of course it matters to us whether we hear it! God, prevent us from being a rebellious house, who refuses the Word You have sent to us! Keep Your Word among us, and do not let it pass on, like a passing rain shower, to some other place, some other city, some other people, because we are ungrateful and unworthy! Keep us in Your Word only! Keep us steadfast in Your Word! Let Your Word alone be our joy. Let Your Word alone be our peace. Let Your Word alone be our hope and comfort, now and forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/7/18