Epiphany 4C: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 4:31-44
“Don’t preach to me,” we say when someone speaks definitively, especially if it doesn’t fit our preconceived notions. Or when one speaks for a long period of time we say they are getting preachy. Or like the 4 men hunting, all see the same deer and shoot at the same time, and only one hit the deer. They called for an officer to assess the situation and he looked and asked if anyone was a preacher? One was. He said it’s the preacher’s. “How do you know?” they asked. Well, the bullet that hit went in one ear and out the other.
You see, preaching has a bad name, doesn’t it? Even the dictionary can’t help. To preach – to give advice or urge a course of action, especially in a meddlesome or tedious manner. Terrific. This is my chosen vocation. I’m a preacher. You don’t hear a carpenter saying, “Please excuse me for building.” Or a mechanic say, “I’m sorry for tuning this engine,” or an accountant say, “Pardon me for balancing these books.” Yet we do apologize for being preachy.
The prophet Jeremiah was called to preach. The Lord set him aside and consecrated him before he was even born. Jeremiah is the prophet with the some of the biggest concerns as a prophet. This goes to show you that even if God hands you your vocation on a silver platter before you were even conceived or born, it still won’t be easy. In fact it may even be more difficult, since God already knew you wouldn’t have taken the assignment voluntarily. Jeremiah’s call was a tough one – preach to a people who don’t want to hear your message or have anything to do with you.
Jeremiah tries to wiggle out of it. “I’m too young for this, “ he complains. No one will listen to me.” You see, we think it’s all about the preacher, the image, the style, the delivery. But it’s not, at least with the Lord. It’s about the Word, the living and active Word that kills and makes alive, that never comes back empty, that creates and upholds and sustains. This is the Word that does what it says, that speaks light into the darkness.
The Word is what Jeremiah brings as a preacher. The Lord touches the prophet’s lips and says, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” With those words, the prophet will be over kingdoms and nations, he will pluck up and break down, destroy and over throw, build and plant. All with nothing but the Word.
Then we find Jesus preaching in Capernaum. But unlike last week in the synagogue at Nazareth, the congregation at Capernaum was astonished with the authority of Jesus ‘ words. You see, Jesus isn’t simply another preacher delivering a sermon, Jesus is the sermon, God’s Word in human flesh. He is God’s sermon to the world. He was sent to preach the good news. Not the bad news of religion and politics, but the good news of the reign of God, the end of demonic terror, the end of disease and death, the end of the condemnation of the Law that weighs heavy on humanity.
It’s the good news that you are pardoned, that your death sentence has been lifted forever. It is news that gives sight to the blind, that opens the ears of the deaf, that causes the mute to shout out with praise and thanksgiving. It is good news that finds its fulfillment in your hearing, when you hear that God is a peace with you for Jesus’ sake, that your sins are forgiven by His blood, that you are free. Free from the commandments that condemn you, and make no mistake about it, the commandments do condemn you including the ones you think you are keeping. You are free from the darkness and the demons that terrorize this world and may even terrorize you. They must be silent in the presence of Jesus. You are free from the diseases that plague you, all the effects of Adam’s sin, humanity’s sin, your sin. You are free from the death that plagues you, that even though you die yet do you live in Christ by His power over death.
That power was shown in the synagogue at Capernaum. At Nazareth, they clamored for a miracles. “Do for us here in Nazareth what you did there,” they said to Jesus. There Jesus refused. Yet here in the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus does what He refused to do in Nazareth. There was a man plagued by an unclean spirit, a spirit that wanted to create disorder, a religious spirit that confessed Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ, the Holy One. The demons know their Lord and Master, and they tremble. Jesus would not let the demon preach in the synagogue. There would be no demonic sermon, even if it was the truth. With a word from Jesus’ lips, the demon is silenced and cast away. Just a rebuke. “Shut up! Come out of him.” And the demon obeys because Jesus is Lord.
Listen to the words of Jesus- which possess authority. This is the difference between Jesus and any other prophet or preacher, He is the Word made flesh, for the rest of us it must be given to us from the Lord, from outside ourselves.
He stayed up all night tending to the sick and the demonized. He is Light come into the darkness. By early morning, Jesus snuck out of town and went off into the wilderness. The people followed Him. “Please stay,” they said. “Please don’t leave us.” But He had a mission. He had to preach. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” The healing, the demon casting, the displays of divine authority were all there to validate the preaching. It’s all about the preaching and hearing of the Word. That’s how the kingdom comes to us. Thy kingdom come, we pray. And how does God answer our prayers? “When the Word of God is preached in it’s truth and purity, and we as the baptized, believing children of God believe it and live holy lives according to it.”
All of this is conveyed by the humble, lowly preached Word. Words that sound out of mouths through tongue and teeth. Words that travel across space by rattling air molecules together. Words that bang on eardrums. Never say, “It’s only words.” Words are everything; Jesus is the Word, and His Word packs divine authority and power.
Jesus preached in the synagogues of Judea. He preaches in this synagogue here today. His Word of forgiveness. His renewing Word of Baptism. His feeding Word of His Supper. He preaches to our reluctant ears, dulled by the noise of this world, deaf by birth to the sound of His voice, distracted by the religious demons who want a show instead of death and resurrection. He preaches to you, for you. Good news. The kingdom of God has come to you. His death and life are yours.
Faith rejoices in the hearing of the Lord’s Word, the Word of life.” The words of forgiveness spoken in absolution are words of Jesus own authority and power. Christ’s words still have healing power for you today. Your sins forgiven. He preaches to you, for you. Good news. The kingdom of God has come to you. His death and life are yours.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.