Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2017, Lectionary A, Proper 11
The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, + Rector Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:30
Let us pray.Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Words, words, words, we hear them all the time. They coming roaring at us, whispering at us, in a song to us, angrily at us, joyfully at us, sadly to us, confused to us—good English, bad English, and words in languages we don’t even know. What, though, are words? They are sounds, vibrations traveling across the air, through the air. Words need air in order to be spoken, to be heard. There is no sound in a vacuum. If you see a science fiction movie with rocket engines rumbling, it is wrong, dead wrong. If there is no medium, no atmosphere through which sound can travel, then there is no sound and no words.
So, here is this phenomenon called sound, more specifically words, by which we listen, speak, and act. Think of it. An array of sounds (arbitrary at its inception) has been assigned to various objects, feelings, circumstances, and ideas like the sound for cat or dog. If I make the sound, dog, sending vibrations to you, you know, assuming you speak English that I am referring to this four legged, furry creature, which licks, barks, and sometimes bites.
These sounds have been arranged into various principles which we call grammar and semantics. If you have studied other languages, even our own English, then you know that from a basic sound, a root sound may come a number of words—nouns, adjectives, verbs, or adverbs. Returning to the word, dog, we get the noun, dog; we get the verb, dogged, as in he dogged him; we get the adverb, doggedly; and we get the predicate nominative such as he or she is a real dog.
These sounds impact our eardrums, which set them to vibrating, as did the sound as it moved through the air. That vibration is picked-up by a set of neurons which then transfers it to the brain and we say, “Oh, that sound refers to a cat, a dog, or my wife or husband.” Curiously, those sounds, those words, mean something to us, despite that they are merely a bioelectric event in our brain. (Do pardon me if my neuroanatomy is out of date. It has been a while.)
The amazing thing is that we think these sounds mean something. Not only do they communicate, but they encourage, discourage, direct, confuse, anger, or make us happy. And, all they are is vibrations. Should so little impact us so much? Can a word be eaten, keep us warm, or provide literal light? No, there really isn’t much substantive about these words, these sounds.
So, what I have to offer you this morning is what I have every time I preach. I have words/sounds to offer to you. I have sounds to make for you to hear or not hear. I wish it were more. Somehow it should be more. You can think for yourselves. You can read and study for yourselves. Yet, here I am offering some thinking, some insights, associations, or conclusions to you for better or worse. Hopefully, these sounds will mean something to you. Most importantly, hopefully, these words will move through the medium of the Holy Spirt, and vibrate life into you and me. In other words, for the next 18 minutes or so I will be sending vibrations to you. Remember the Beach Boys’ song.
“I’m pickin’ up good vibrations. She’s giving me excitations. I’m pickin’ up good vibrations. (Oom bop, bop, good vibrations) She’s giving me excitations (Oom bop, bop, excitations). Good good good good vibrations (Oom bop, bop). She’s giving me excitations (Oom bop, bop, excitations). Good good good good vibrations.”
The words, the sounds, the vibrations that Jesus spoke to us in last Sunday’s gospel are called the Parable of the Sower. In that parable He told us that a sower cast seeds onto various qualities of soil—packed, rocky, thorny, and good. Of the different soil qualities, only the good soil produced any grain. Even Jesus’ disciples were confused as to what Jesus meant by this parable. What does it mean?
Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples that this seed, sown by the sower, is the word. What is this word? It is the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Different qualities of soil, meaning different conditions of the human heart, will receive the word, the message of the kingdom, differently. With the packed soil, the individual hears the word, but the devil comes and snatches it away. With the rocky soil there is no depth and the word does not take root. With the thorny soil the word cannot take root because the worries of this world choke it out. Obviously, with the good soil conditions are favorable to the word, the kingdom of heaven for bearing fruit.
So, this word, as spoken of by Jesus, is spiritual. It is a spiritual vibration if you will. We hear in Genesis 1:3 where God spoke these words: “‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” The words spoken by God vibrated into existence light as well as the rest of creation. If we want to introduce a scientific understanding, then we know that atoms are constantly in motion, constantly vibrating. Light itself is a vibration of differing wave lengths.
St. John in his gospel even tells us that Jesus is the word, the sound, the vibration. We have heard it many times. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3). If we pause to think about it, it is often when Jesus speaks the word that something incredible happens. By Jesus’ words water is turned into wine. By His words, a storm on the Sea of Galilee is calmed. By His words, Lazarus is raised from the dead. “He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43). Of notable insight, we hear the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). The word, the kingdom of God, and Jesus belong together; they are of the same spiritual substance.
So, the word which Jesus spoke in last Sunday’s gospel is closely related to Him if not He himself. Depending on an individual’s condition of heart, packed, rocky, thorny or good, that individual will or will not receive Jesus, the word, the kingdom of God into his or her heart.
In today’s gospel, what is known as the parable of the weeds, Jesus continues with the agrarian, farming imagery. We heard Him say, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field.” Here the word, the seed, has taken root and produced. Verse 37 puts it clearly. “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one.” In other words, there is evil in the world that not only wishes to destroy what is good, but also masquerades as being good, being of the kingdom. It is a scary thought. In fact, Jesus seems to suggest that the good and evil are somehow intertwined. We heard Him say, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.”
What are we to take from this parable of the weeds aside from Jesus’ obvious warning that there will be an end time judgment “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”?
We live a time where there is a greater proliferation of words than ever before. Indeed, it is has been called the information age. Words assail us from every direction by more and more means. Originally words came to us by the spoken voice. Writing would follow as a means of communicating words. Then there was the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the television, more recently emails, various social media like FaceBook or Tweeting, and, of course, texting.
In other words, if we want to get the word out the means and opportunities for doing so are greater than ever. Some like to email; some like to do Facebook, some like to Tweet (one person in particular); and some prefer to text. In some respects the medium we use to express our words is seemingly determined by our generation. The older we are our preference is the telephone. The younger we are our preference is texting. Whatever our preference, we certainly don’t want anyone curtailing our opportunity to speak those words that come to our hearts and minds.
We not only make words, but words make us. They determine how we see ourselves as well as others. By the words we speak, people come to know something of who we are and what we intend to do. Words are labels. By them we are judged and we judge. Our feelings and how we perceive ourselves can be bound up in a single word. We may say to ourselves, “I am ugly, stupid, afraid, lost, depressed, or happy.” Similarly, we may use a single word to describe others, to hurt, to love, to frighten or encourage. The three simple words, I love you, may have more power than a nuclear reactor, and conversely to say I hate you, may be more destructive that a nuclear bomb.
From today’s parable we deduce what we already know. There is a war of words. We hear it in the news constantly, and we are reminded that words can be cheap. One person or political party describes an event with this set of words. Another party describes the same event with an entirely different set of words. Which words are we to believe?
In today’s gospel Jesus has told us that there is the word of the devil. There is the word of God and there is the word of the devil. Here, is where the slope indeed gets slippery. It is to this that Jesus draws our attention. How do we tell the difference between the good seed produced by the word of God and the weeds produced by the word of the devil? The devil, of course, is the father of lies, making his words lies or half-truths, which is the same as a lie. He will even use the word of God, but other than God intended.
In Matthew 4:5-7 we read, “Then the devil took (Jesus) to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Indeed, in this one little scene we witness a battle of words, a battle between God’s word and the devil’s. The word of the devil is fighting against the word of God.
This is the world in which we live, a world of words. Without words, there is no world. They are the lens of our perception. The childhood jingle, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” could not be further from the truth. We though are not without hope in this war of words of good and evil, God and the devil. Words, from Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God, come to mind.
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us; The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.” One little word shall fell him. Who is that word? Jesus is that word.
Indeed, Jesus life, death, and resurrection gave new words of hope, love, and life eternal. Surely, it is no accident that on the day of Pentecost the disciples spoke new words, words unknown to them before.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4). As a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit (being baptized in the Holy Spirit) they were given new words to speak. What were they saying with these new words? “In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power,” reported the Jews visiting from foreign countries (Acts 2:11).
What were God’s deeds of power? Well, there is creation itself; there were the deeds done through the prophets; there were various miracles performed by Jesus; there was His resurrection; but it does not stop there. We can read in the very next chapter of Acts, chapter 3, where Peter healed a man crippled from birth. How was this possible? The Pentecost event of being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues had empowered Peter to heal in the name of Jesus. Did it stop there? No, we find other healings and miracles documented in the Book of Acts, but did it stop there? No, it did not.
In his book, Nine O’clock in the Morning, the Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett, referenced last Sunday, tells of the marvelous things that happened to him and his congregation after being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Not only was there the gift of tongues with interpretation, not only was there prophecy, but something more visible began to occur.
For some years, Bennett relates, they must have prayed for at least a thousand people to be healed, but where were the healings? That all changed, however, after Bennett and others received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Here are some of the healings that he shares in his book.
“One day Dorothy, a faithful church member, hobbled to the altar rail and asked for prayer. She had broken her hip in an automobile accident; it had healed imperfectly, and the doctor told her she would never walk normally again or without pain. When we laid hands on her and prayed, the hip instantly healed. On another occasion another member presented herself for prayer. She had an ugly eczema or psoriasis covering her hands. We prayed; and I wish I had not looked away for a moment, for when I looked back, the unsightly lesions were gone. The skin was as clear as a baby’s.” Sometimes,” wrote Bennett, “it seemed that nearly everyone who asked was healed, and why not? Jesus said, ‘These signs shall follow them that believe, they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover’” (Mark 16:18b).
When we invite Jesus, the Word, into us, when we ask Him to baptize us with the Holy Spirit, when we stay in His written Word, the Bible, then God’s power comes to abide, to reside in us. Perhaps, this gives us some insight as to what Jesus means in John 14:12-14: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
What happened after Jesus went to the Father, after He ascended? The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost and baptized the disciples. What might we want to happen to us? I think we know, and it is more than mere words.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.