Monday, July 11, 2011

Proper 10 of Series A (Isaiah 55:10-13)

“So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing which I sent it.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifty-fifth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ, in the beginning, God planted a garden. It was full of beautiful plants, bringing forth a bountiful harvest continually, feeding both animals and man. But man ruined this garden, he spoiled this wonderful gift that had been established for his good. By succumbing to Satan’s temptation, the man didn’t just condemn himself to death, but he condemned the garden to corruption. Now, weeds grew up, thorns and thistles that choked out the good plants. It was no longer a pleasure to tend that garden, but instead it only gave up its fruit through back-breaking labor. You have seen the effects of this. You have pulled those thistles, you have worked the ground, or watched your neighbors and relatives struggle to bring in a crop. Gardening is enjoyable, but every thistle, every weed, every drought or flood is a reminder that we live in a corrupted world, a world broken by sin. The thorns and thistles that rise from even the best-kept field show us what we are inside- fully corrupted by sin. But despite this corruption, God in His grace continues to pour out His great gifts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The Lord has not abandoned His corrupted garden, but He continues to provide for it. You know the benefit of a timely rain; we are seeing that in the beauty of our fields this season. I’ve lived through a drought; I know what a ‘million dollar rain’ is, when Nebraska farmers can turn off their wells for a few days. Each timely rain is a gift from God’s bountiful goodness. The water doesn’t return empty, but accomplishes what He sent it to do: it waters the earth and makes things grow and flourish. God provides for His thirsty, corrupted garden with rain, and in the same way He provides for His thirsty, corrupted people by raining down the Word. “So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The rain we can see, we can understand. We know exactly how it provides for the Lord’s garden. We know the power of the rain; power to make alive, power to renew and strengthen. But the Word’s effects we cannot always see and so we don’t understand its power. For if you truly understood the power of the Word, you would thirst for it even more than the dry ground thirsts for water. Someone would have to physically restrain you to keep you away from the Sunday morning Divine Service. You would drink in every bible class, and be pestering me to offer more. If you truly understood the power of the Word, you would begin every day in that Word, drinking deeply of the living water that the Lord gives you there. That Word would be on your lips in your various vocations, as you sought out opportunities to give to others the great gift you have been given. As corrupted and sinful as this earth is, it still has the good sense not to reject the rain that the Lord gives it, but instead it drinks deeply of His gifts. Not you, not me. We cut ourselves off from the life giving rain of the Word; we choose to dehydrate ourselves while God pours out His gifts in abundance. God states that His Word will not return to Him empty, but we treat it as empty, we treat it as if it were worthless.

We scorn the Word because we it doesn’t seem very successful at all. Unlike the rain, which makes the corn grown taller and yields a harvest we can literally bring to the bank, the effects of the Word are much less visible. Think about the Parable of the Sower that Jesus told in our Gospel lesson. Three quarters of the seed produces no harvest at all! I don’t think any farmer or gardener would be satisfied with that! That is why so many churches and so many Christians think that something has to be added to the Word for it to have any effect. There has to be something else, right? The Word by itself can’t have any kind of power, because it seems to be so ordinary and seems to cause such little success. Surely a book or some words spoken by a sinful pastor doesn’t look like much. But success in God’s eyes is something different. He sends His Word to accomplish what He desires. And what does God desire? He tells us in the book of Ezekiel: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” God desires that no person should die in their sin. He has no pleasure in the death of any wicked person, whether it is you or me or Osama bin Laden. His definition of success is sinners turned from their wickedness in repentance and faith, and His Word is successful because it accomplishes just that.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God’s Word was sent to this corrupted earth to accomplish God’s desire by taking on human flesh and walking among us as a man, God and man in one person, Jesus Christ. God desired that no person should die in their sin, but that all should be turned in repentance and faith to Him in a restored relationship. God sent out His powerful Word to cleanse this earth of its corruption, to restore the garden to the way it was in the beginning. “So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” His Word did not return to Him void, but instead it accomplished all that God sent it to do. Jesus, the Word, succeeded in the task for which God sent Him. But once again, this success was not the success of the world. In fact, it looked like anything but. For the success of God is a man hanging upon a cross, suffering and dying. Such humiliation is success for the Word hung there bearing your sin, your corruption, His blood was poured out upon the ground to renew it, to cleanse and restore it. The success that God sought was that sin would be paid for, that you would be delivered from the corruption that has filled you since conception. Jesus accomplished all of that for you; the Word did not return void, but accomplished your salvation. The resurrection was the kind of victory that the world would expect, but it only came after the triumph of the cross. The Lord poured out His Word upon His garden, and it succeeded in the thing for which God sent it.

For the success and victory of God is a dead Jesus upon the cross, a sinful man preaching from a pulpit, infants being baptized. The success of God is sinners being forgiven, transformed through repentance and faith. His powerful Word does that work within you. His Word even today transforms you from a sinner under the condemnation of eternal death to a child of God, cleansed and forgiven from your sin and corruption. His Word was sent out to turn you from your sin in repentance and faith, and it has not returned void. It forgives your sin, it gives you faith in Christ as it has done this very day. The Word restores you to your God. Only the power of the Word can do that, only it could transform enemies of God into His beloved children. The Word comes to us in such humble means: in a book, through the lips of a pastor, joined with ordinary water, bread and wine. But in those means it has power, the power to make all things new.

For God doesn’t stop with transformed people. The Word has gone forth to transform the entire creation, to renew and restore His garden. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.” On the Last Day, the garden will emerge once again, and the thorns will be no more. All corruption will be erased, for the Word gave His life to cleanse this world of sin and death. The new heavens and the new earth is the new garden, established by the power of the Word of God. All creation will rejoice in that day, for our bonds have been loosed, we have been redeemed and restored, all things have been transformed by the Word of the Lord. “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The very creation will rejoice, for God’s Word did not return empty, but accomplished all He sent it to do. His Word will pour out upon the new creation, God’s garden, for eternity, nourishing it forever. That is your destination, your eternal dwelling place, for the power of the Lord’s Word has transforms you from death to life.

Transformed people along with the transformed creation point to the One who acted to restore it. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” For eternity, the new heavens and the new earth will declare God’s character, that He is a God of love who delivered creation from its bondage through the power of His Word. It will stand as a memorial to God’s goodness, declaring that His Word did not return empty, but accomplished that for which it was sent. The success of the Word, hidden until that day, will then be clearly shown forth in a new creation that will never be corrupted again. But until that day, you and I also stand as signs in a world of sin, demonstrating God’s gracious character. We are living, breathing examples of the power of the Word; we are living, breathing examples that we have a God of love. For He has redeemed us, forgiven our sins through the power of the Word, and has given us the promise of a life forever with Him. In that promise we live each day, sustained by the power of His Word. In the Name of that powerful Word made flesh, our Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ, whose blood sets all creation free from the bondage of sin, Amen.

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