Brothers! Sisters! Born to new life by God’s eternal word!
If you are a pastor or teacher, we all have a kind of a strange feeling in our hearts as we sit by your side. You see. been in the same place you’re sitting now. At the end of our preparation for ministry. At the beginning of a new way of life. It’s like all the days since then telescope together as we remember how it was when we were sitting where you are.
I have to say for me, I was excited and optimistic. Sure I knew there’d be problems and challenges. There always are. But it just seemed like I was about to launch into this great adventure. I felt ready for it. It was my turn: after all the years of books and study, now we actually get to be full-time pastors.
Funny how things change. I’m not saying I’m a pessimist, but I gotta say that I don’t have the same bounce now that I did then. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many springs turn into winters. Too many things I wanted to do that I never did and far, far too many things that I did that I can only look back on with sorrow and regret.
I’ve been doing an informal poll of students to get ready for this graduation sermon. I wanted to ask them as they look out on the American scene and the ministries they hope to have, what is their overriding sense of the future. In the answers I get back are almost as many as the students I ask. On the whole I would say it sounds like students are optimistic. There’s a lot of things they want to do and they want to get to them.
On the other hand there are some who express anxiety and trepidation, not so much because of the hostility of the world. They realize the world has always been hostile place. More out of a fear of failure: will they be the kind of compassionate, clear, caring preacher they really want to be?
That’s what makes this passage so comforting. It’s the one thing all the people I talked to agreed on. And we know it is directed to those whom God commissions to call out to the world his eternal word. The text makes it perfectly clear that no matter what is going on outside in the world or inside in your own heart,
The Word Stands Strong Forever!
1. With a message of hope
2. With a message of power
1. Hard times befallen this great nation. We have seen the ancient Chinese curse come true among us, “May you live in interesting times!” We’ve split up into tribes with nothing better to do it seems than to throw verbal rocks at one another. The foundations of family, community, and mutual love are dissolving before our eyes. I doubt if it was ever true to say that this was a Christian nation. But it is undoubtedly true to say that the influence of Christianity over the hearts and minds of this people is less than it ever was. There is absolutely no earthly reason to believe that things are ever going to get better here in America.
Hard times befallen the people of Judah. They were at a dead end. The dynasty of David had become a dead stump. The best and the brightest had been carted off to Babylon to spend their day in lonely exile. No hope there. Absolutely no reason to expect that anything ever would get better.
Except from the throne room of God comes the call, “Comfort, comfort my people. Yes, I know they have no right to be called my people because of their rebellion and wickedness and sin. But I have forgiven their sin and put their iniquity away. Speak tenderly to the people of Jerusalem, to a city now that is no city. Tell her that she will rise again in glorious dress. Speak right there in the place where nothing grows or can grow. Make a highway for God in the unlikeliest of places. I am coming and I will reveal myself in all my glory, the glory as of the one and only, full of grace and truth. I will reveal myself in all my glory not only to you but to all flesh all humankind will be witnesses to my majestic love revealed in the face of Jesus.”
God loves dead ends. Right there where all human possibility ends God begins his work. In the unlikeliest of places in the unlikeliest of spaces in the darkness of the human heart God causes his great light to shine from the face of Jesus Christ. And don’t you see that this is a hope for the hopeless? It’s exactly this kind of word for this kind of nation that God gives you to speak. A hope for people who know themselves to be living in these hard times. And this is a word that stands forever. In fact it is the only word that will stand after it all falls down. After heaven and earth had passed away, this word of hope will still stand. God puts it in your mouth!
And make no mistake, it is a word of power! A voice says cry out. I said what shall I cry? All flesh is grass like the flower of the field. The grass withers; the flowers fall because the breath of our God blows on it. Grass withers; flowers fall but the word of our God stands for all eternity. That is your commission friends! That is what God is called you to do to speak his eternal word. Consider its power!
A human word is such a paltry thing. A voice speaks. We hear the sound. One syllable follows another until the voice stops speaking. And once the voice stops the sound vanishes and the words with it. Isaiah is talking about the miracle of preaching here. It’s as if he was saying to all of us, “You might think that this is just a human voice. Saying things that don’t matter with words that don’t last. But if you think that when a man steps into the pulpit, you are misreading the whole thing. I have put my words in his mouth. He speaks because I sent him. This is no human word he speaks but my eternal word. And that stands forever!
When I said to that rebel Adam, “Dust you are and to dust you will return!” death came upon all men because I spoke the sentence of death. When I said to the earth, “cursed is the ground!” It brought forth thorns and thistles. Everything was filled with decay and dissolution. Every blooming spring was bound to turn into a hard dead winter. Walk through a graveyard why don’t you? You may be surrounded by all the flowering madness of the spring. Then your eyes will be drawn to a sad, neglected stone with a name etched on it and the glory of the withered bouquet sitting on top of it. The best human beings can do, the most brilliant actions of the best and the brightest are doomed to decay and death. This does not just happen. This is not simply a sunrise sunset kind of thing, the endless cycle of seasons. This is God’s breath blowing. This is the word I give my heralds to preach to bring down every tall tower of human pride.
But… is the same word they speak when in the light of the empty tomb, they say, “he lives and because he lives you too shall live.” This is the word that gives life to the dead and calls into being things that are not. As strong and as powerful as the eternal word that I spoke in the very beginning when I said let there be, so much more strong and so much more powerful is the eternal word that I speak in my Son Jesus Christ through those whom I send out in his name. I say, though you were dead yet shall you live! I say though your sins be scarlet stained I will make them white as snow. I will make flowers bloom in the desert. Sins forgiven! Warfare over!
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but these words will not pass away. God’s word stands forever! And that’s the word he has put in your mouth.
Preach it, brothers!