Words Create Worlds (A Sermon for Epiphany 2A)
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Cypress, Texas)
January 15, 2016
On Christmas morning a few weeks ago, we turned from the infant in the cradle to give our worship to the mighty God who came among us as that baby. We read these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Word: this is one of our most holy names for Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Beloved Child of God. Christ is the Word of God. And, as John tells us, Christ the Word was present with God in the act of creation—all things came into being through the Word, just as it is written in the book of Genesis. God speaks, and worlds are created.
So what worlds shall we create? What shall we do with this powerful tool each of us has, the ability to speak truth into the world? In our reading from Isaiah, the prophet is grappling with just this question.
He recognizes that God has called him to do something, God has made his mouth like a sword. In fact, God’s call has been present with him his whole life—from the time he was in his mother’s womb.
And God has equipped him as well—God has given him a particular ability with words. “[God] made me a polished arrow,” he says, “in his quiver he hid me away.” In other words, God gave the prophet the ability to send out words that hit their mark, that find their target.
But we also notice, the prophet doesn’t seem satisfied with his work. “I have labored in vain,” he says. “I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” These are words that sound close to despair.
It is not always easy to figure out where God is calling you, or just what it is that God wants you to do. That is especially true when you have had the experience of feeling that your work has been ineffective, or worse.
In the case of the prophet, the work he believes he has been called to do is to unify, to bring together the people of Israel, who have been dispersed throughout the world in the time of exile. Can you imagine? Makes me want to say I will never complain about any aspect of any job description ever again.
Most of us are not called upon to achieve such enormous objectives. But the call to be God’s arrow always grows in size, rather than diminish. “It is too light a thing,” says God, “that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
God is calling this servant to go beyond rebuilding the people of Israel. God is calling this servant to go beyond the narrow confines of partisan concerns. God is calling this servant to make his constituency a very, very broad one—instead of the people of Israel, the whole world. Instead of the tribes of Jacob, all the ends of the earth.
Here’s the funny thing about this passage. It is not clear just who or what this servant of God’s is. Scholars note that, at times, it seems to be a single individual. In which case, we are back to totally overwhelming and impossible job descriptions that would make most people want to run screaming into the night.
On the other hand, if the “prophet” described here is a collective, if it is more than one person, if it is the whole people of Israel—as some readers believe—then that instruction to reach all the ends of the earth still looks daunting. But now it is a shared burden. Now it is the work of a community.
And the good news about our call, yours and mine, is that it is both individual and collective. It is both private and personal—a call to be a deacon, say, or to be a teacher or a lawyer or a chef, or to show Christ’s love in the workplace. But it is also collective and communal. Our call as a community is to shine forth the Light of the world, so that it can be seen by all people.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that isn’t a daunting call. It is a big task. But it is a task we are called to fulfill together. Together, we can do such a thing. Together, we can let the light of God’s love reach to the ends of the earth. That is a big task, no doubt. So let’s start with a small chunk. Let’s start with our words.
This week, our strained political discourse is surely to continue. This Friday, about half of the country will be excited about our new president. And about half of our country will be marching in solidarity with those who rightly are nervous or fearful in this moment.
But before we get to Friday, we as a nation will remember something else. Tomorrow our nation remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At a time when our country was torn apart by the painful issues of segregation and discrimination, he sent out powerful words that are still resonating with us today.
King had strong opinions on the necessity of well-chosen and well-timed words. And he was passionate about exactly what the content of those words should be. He said this; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We must be sure that the words we use are words that heal, and not words that wound.
Words create worlds. What worlds shall we create with our words? Worlds of hope and not despair. Worlds of reconciliation and not division. Worlds of healing and not pain. Worlds of light and not darkness.
We have been given that task, individually and as a community. So choose your words carefully this week, and speak light into the darkness, so that the salvation of God may reach the ends of the earth. Amen.