Worship Service, January 3, 2021 “A Word for Every Season”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik
on January 3, 2021 via YouTube
The message for January 3, 2021 “A Word for Every Season” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
John 1: 1-10
“A Word for Every Season”
In the opening to his Gospel, John talks a lot about the Word and how this Word is coming into the world in a new way. This got me thinking about an article I had read about new words that have been introduced in our vocabulary this last year that either didn’t exist before the pandemic or we have come to see in a new way because of the pandemic. Take the phrase “bubble.” Before the pandemic, we may have thought about blowing bubbles or bubble gum when we heard that word. Now it is being used to describe a small group of individuals who are trying to follow the same rules and behavior by committing to being together and not with others so that they can be better protected from the coronavirus. Then there is the phrase “social distancing.” This is about trying to keep 6 feet or more space from someone else in order to reduce the spread of the virus.
There are a few other completely new words that have emerged from the pandemic that you might not be as familiar with. A “quarantini” is a daytime or night time cocktail that people have used to help unwind amid working remotely and dealing with shutdowns from COVID. Another word that has developed is “doomscroll,” which refers to the activity of obsessively scrolling through all of the bad news shared on social media during 2020, frequently undertaken at bedtime. In order to capture the feeling of being unsure of which day it is because we are not in our normal routines, the word “blursday,” (rhymes with “Thursday”) came into being. “Blursday” refers to the way that the shutdowns have made the days sometimes blur together.
These words were made to try to express feelings, activities and situations that didn’t exist a year ago, but are now becoming an everyday part of our lives. These phrases take old words that we are familiar with and combine them in a different way to bring new meaning. By doing this, something new is created to express the season of time we are in. Our vocabulary and perception are expanded in a way that it wasn’t before the pandemic hit.
When John writes the beginning of his Gospel, he takes an old concept of how God operates and puts a new twist on it based on his and other people’s encounters with Jesus and who they have come to realize he is. The old concept is that God creates through the word. This goes back to the book of Genesis where we hear that “in the beginning was when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void…the spirit of God swept over the waters then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3). This pattern continues throughout the first chapter of Genesis. God speaks and something is created. God creates through the Word.
In the book of John, however, we see the writer doing a new thing with this idea that God creates through the word. John, says that the word has now become flesh, the word has become a human being and lived among us. This is a reference to Jesus, which means that Jesus is God’s word coming to us in a new way. No longer is God just speaking to us, but God is dwelling with us. God has walked among us to more clearly communicate who God is and what God’s purposes are. As if this were not radical enough, John uses this metaphor to describe Jesus as God’s word for every season of time. He writes that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. With this Word God created all things.
John is trying to tell his listeners that although God was doing a new thing by becoming human in Jesus, this new word is actually communicating to us an ancient truth about who God is, that has been present since the beginning of time. This truth is that God is about creating life and giving light to everyone. Paul expands on this idea in his letter to the Ephesian church that we heard from today in the first reading. He says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing… just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
People in the ancient world knew the power of words to shape their reality. If the king who was in charge at the time gave a royal decree, that meant it became the law. The leaders and subjects had to follow that command. It this way the king’s word created something new. Even today, we know something about this kind of power around words. In fact, Paul uses a couple examples of how words create a new reality in ways that we too can understand.
One example would be the image of adoption. Paul says that God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. My wife and I have a god child who was adopted. When her mother first received her as a baby, her mother had to work with a lawyer to sign many papers and then go to court to officially adopt her. It was the words of the documents and word of the court that allowed our God-daughter to become a part of our extended family. This word created a new reality—a new sense of belonging for her that she would not have had otherwise. God’s word to us in Jesus tells us we have been adopted into God’s family. It gives us a new sense of belonging that we would not have had otherwise.
Another image that Paul uses to show the power of words is seen when he says that in Christ we have obtained an inheritance. A person receives an inheritance when they are written into someone’s Last Will and Testament. A few months ago we received a notice at Holy Trinity that we had been named in someone’s will. This word came to us in a legal document that we had to review and then sign. We then received a part of the inheritance that the church member had left behind after they had died.
This shows the power of words to even transcend the grave. Because the church member had the foresight and the generosity to put their wishes down into words, they left a legacy that included a gift to the church. They had simply made a decree and with the help of a lawyer, that decree became a reality even after they were gone.
Words indeed have power, although sometimes we can forget this or doubt it. There is a story about how one time a small village was visited by a monk who was traveling through the area. As he passed by a small hut, a woman came out and asked him to pray for her child who was very ill. Since the monk was new to town, a crowd began to gather around to see if he could do anything.
The woman brought the sick child to him and he said a prayer over the child. As the monk finished the prayer he heard a man shout from the back of the crowd. “Do you think your prayer will really help that child? Do you really think that just saying some words will make a difference?”
The monk yelled back, “You idiot! You don’t even know what I’m doing! Just shut up!”
The man from the back grew furious at these words. He became visibly angry. His face got hot and red. The man started to yell something back and he moved like he might be getting ready to even hit the monk.
But rather than run away the monk approached the man and calmly said, “If words can have the power to so quickly make you upset and angry don’t you think that words might also have the power to heal?”
The book of James talks about this power of words for good or for ill. James says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire, and the tongue is a fire. …with it we bless the Lord, and with it we curse those made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. Brothers and sisters this should not be so.” (James 3:5-6, 8-10) James is calling his listeners to focus on using their words for blessing. The prophet Isaiah also talks about the power of words to bring healing. He writes, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (Isaiah 50:4)
One way that words can bring blessing and healing is by expressing gratitude. One group of people that are weary right now who could use a word to sustain them are healthcare workers. Just a simple word of thank you can mean so much to them. Last spring a group of nurses and doctors were interviewed on what a thank you means to them and here is what some of them said:
“People don’t realize how physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging nursing really is. When you do get that patient that is truly grateful for all you did for them, it makes it all worth it.” —Lynn C.
“What always meant the most to me were thank-you cards. I still have one that a longtime patient’s family gave me after their passing. The reason it meant so much was that it made me realize how much of an impact we have on our patients. That patient thought enough of me to mention me to his family. Very humbling experience.” —Lynn C.
“I love when I get handwritten notes from my patients or their loved ones. It’s something that I can keep. I honestly take a copy for my manager and keep the original for myself. When I have hard times, I always go back to these notes to remind myself that I can make a difference.” —Sara H.
What would it mean to start off the New Year by using the power of our words to express gratitude for someone in our life? Many of us might even know a healthcare worker or someone who works in a hospital. Could we take a moment and send a word of thank you to that person? Can you imagine what it might mean to them to acknowledge how difficult it is right now for them because of the pandemic?
As we begin this new year of 2021, let us also pause to give thanks to a God who acknowledged the difficulty of humanity’s situation so much that this God was willing to become human and live among us so that we might know a word of grace. This word that has come to us in Jesus declares to us that we have been adopted and belong to God’s family. It declares to us that we are children of God who will inherit the joy of God’s kingdom. It is a word given to us from Jesus so that we might be shaped by a new reality of love, trusting that all the kindness of God has come down to us. Amen.