Sunday’s Sermon: Hearing God’s Word

  • So here we are in the second week of our sermon series on worship.
    • Whys
    • Hows
    • Ways we find God in what we’re doing here
    • Last week: gathering – come together as a community of believers to pray, to praise, and experience God
      • Parts of worship that are included in this phase
        • Call to Worship
        • Opening hymn
        • Prayer of Confession/Words of Assurance
        • Passing of the Peace
    • Today, we tackle the next phase of worship: hearing God’s Word. And as I was thinking about this topic this week, I heard a really interesting piece on Minnesota Public Radio.
      • Fall membership drive = replaying a “favorite piece” that had aired sometime earlier in the year
      • Featured specialist in taste and smell
      • Talking about recent study done with a group of people
        • Close their eyes, plug their nose, sample (taste) something, and describe it
          • Words like “sweet” and “tangy” but couldn’t specifically name the flavor – couldn’t put their fingers on it
          • Only when the people in the study were allowed to unplug their noses and fully take in the food sight, smell, texture, and taste together – were they able to recognize and name it as strawberry rhubarb jam.
            • Similar to way we encounter God’s Word in our worship service –> hear and interact with God’s Word in different ways throughout our service, but if we don’t integrate them all as one whole experience, we’re bound to miss something
  • Ps for today speaks to important role the physical Word of God – Scripture – plays in our lives
    • Text pledges dedication to God’s word: I set your ordinances before me … I cling to your decrees, O Lord.[1] –> That’s a pretty powerful form of commitment. Things that cling to one another aren’t easily separated. But it’s important to notice that this commitment on the part of the psalmist is far from blind commitment.
      • Certainly wholehearted commitment but also informed commitment – text: teach me your statutes. Make me understand the way of your precepts. … I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding.[2] –> see psalmist being fully open to the word
        • Asking God to continuously teaching him/her – can’t be taught when your mind is closed
        • Professing being open to being changed/transformed by the word – can’t make a change when your heart isn’t in it
          • See profound nature of this change in Heb: “you enlarge my understanding” – “understanding” = actually Heb. word for inner self or heart –> So the psalmist is acknowledging that the presence of God’s Word in his/her life broadens not only the mind but the heart and soul as well. This is why it’s so important to approach God’s word with an open heart and an open mind.
  • And this is what Jesus is encouraging in the parable of the sower that we heard in the Mark passage.
    • Some seed never even gets a chance
    • Some seed doesn’t find enough substance to take root
    • Some seed is choked out by everything around it
    • Some seed grows and flourishes
    • If we’re exposing ourselves to the Word on a regular basis but we’re not open to letting it work in our hearts and in our lives, we’re not giving that Word the chance to grow and flourish.
      • Scholar: The parable of the sower invites us to reflect on the complexities of faith. … Genuine growth in faith can be measured only by the developments in a person’s life.[3] –> Seeds are made to grow. It’s that simple. And so is our faith. It’s not meant to be stagnant, always doing what it’s always done and being what it’s always been. That’s why the part of our worship service that includes hearing the word is so important. There are many ways that God continues to speak to us today, and one of the places that we experience that is through hearing that Word read and proclaimed and offered up in prayer.
      • Sometimes it’s hard to approach a text with openness
        • Difficult message to hear
        • Flip side: easy message to hear – passage we’ve heard a hundred times
          • E.g. – story of the good Samaritan
        • Idea = similar to another study in MPR piece
          • White wine tinted to look like red wine –> people use “red wine words” to describe flavor (“oaky,” “full-bodied,” “chocolate undertones”) even though flavor was never changed
            • The people who were a part of this study saw wines in varying shades of red, so they expected to taste red wine … and they did! Their expectations affected their reality, effectively transforming a crisp, white wine into a heavy, red wine. And if we gather as the body of Christ expecting God’s Word to speak only one, specific message to us, we will almost certainly hear that message …  but we may also miss something else – something equally important or maybe even more important that God is trying to teach us.
  • And that growth that we can experience is a gift from God.
    • This is why hearing God’s word is the central part of a worship service – everything else stems from this point
      • Scholar: By the reading and preaching of the Word, Jesus Christ does indeed become present to the congregation … This presence is not ours to command, but is a gift of God by means of the Holy Spirit.[4]
    • But we come to worship on Sunday morning to do more than just learn something new for the week. We also come to be renewed – to have our hearts and spirits strengthened by God’s word as it is sung, read, preached, and embodied.
      • Psalmist also speaks of being strengthened and renewed, of finding that life-giving essence in the word of God – text: My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word. … My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to you word.[5]
        • Heb “revive” = same root as Heb “life” –> Give me life according to your word.
          • Reminds me of way Christ explains why he – the living Word – came for us: (gospel of John) I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.[6]
  • Important to realize that scripture = so much more than just words on a page – it’s an ongoing action … awe-inspiring, startling, profound –> This is why the “hearing” phase of worship includes more than just the Scripture readings and the sermon.
    • Other elements: children’s sermon, hymn following sermon, prayers of the people
      • Scholar: Scripture is not a dead letter but a dynamic, living word. It is to be read and heard and proclaimed in openness to the Holy Spirit … who leads the church to discern the Word of God for our place and time.[7] –> Hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed and sung and prayed gives us the opportunity to interact with our Eternal God – the One who was and is and is to come, the God powerful enough to bring the universe into being and yet humble enough to make the ultimate sacrifice: dying a shameful death on a cross for our own sake.
        • This is the word we hear
        • This is the word we speak
        • This is the word we encounter
    • Again, openness is crucial – different ways to experience Word = learning different things from God à When we …
      • Hear God’s Word read in Scripture: encounter God in words of the ages – words passed down to us through countless generations of believers
        • Introduces elements of history and tradition into hearing God’s word – shared story of faith
      • Hear God’s Word proclaimed in Sermon: encounter God in words for today – more contemporary
        • Important to point out that this part actually has very little to do with me à more about privilege of letting Holy Spirit speak through me
          • Many times in pastors’ lives when someone comes up to them after service and thanks them for specific message … even though that message wasn’t necessarily even part of the sermon!
            • E.g. – preaching in Eau Claire
            • God using the words being spoken to work directly in people’s hearts
        • Sometimes message looks/sounds different (e.g. – various accounts used on World Communion Sunday instead of one whole sermon) –> gives God opportunity to transform our hearts and minds through different kind of Word
      • In hymn, God’s Word speaks to our souls in a different language – language of music
        • Sometimes more powerful
        • Sometimes more emotional
        • Sometimes able to reach places we were trying desperately to hide or places we didn’t even know existed
      • Also “hear” God’s Word through actions –> sometimes hearing with our ears is overrated
        • Hearing with our eyes – learning with children
        • Hearing with our hearts – lifting up the prayers of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ à also requires that element of openness
          • Scholar: These prayers need to be as inclusive as the headlines of the current newspaper. Of all places in the liturgy, the church must … open out in broad embrace of the world. “Our prayers should be as wide as God’s love and as specific as God’s tender compassion for the least ones among us” (BCW 40).[8]
  • The Word of God is a central part of our worship, and a central part of our lives. It truly is a living breathing presence, woven throughout all that we do and all that we say in our worship services. When we gather together here and participate in the Word – when we hear it read and proclaimed and sung and prayed, and when we are open enough for that Word to transform our very beings – we cannot help but be changed. Amen.

[1] Ps 119:30b-31a.

[2] Ps 119:26b-27a, 32 (emphasis added).

[3] Pheme Perkins. “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 574.

[4] Peter C. Bower, ed. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003), 31.

[5] Ps 119:25, 28.

[6] John 10:10b.

[7] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1176).

[8] Bowers, 33.

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