A Famine of Words

A Famine of Words

July 17, 2022—-6th Sunday after Pentecost–Rev. Patrick Mecham

Amos 8: 1-12; Luke 10: 38-42

People can say mean things.  Starting when we are kids, we learn to defend ourselves from the hurt of those mean things.  When I was a kid, and someone said something mean, we always responded, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  We said that to discourage them from saying more mean things.  But it’s not true, you know.  Words can hurt; words can harm; and words can heal.  The tongue can curse, and the tongue can bless!  Remember what James writes about the power of the tongue: “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. 

“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire.  The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.  (Don’t hold back, James—let it all out!)  For every species of beast and bird can be tamed, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Oh, yes, words have power.  Power for good as well as for evil.

In both of our Scripture readings for today, the power of The Words of the Lord is front and center.  I want to explore with you how God’s word gives life, and how you and I might have more of that life!

God’s Word Is Life

Deuteronomy 8:3 asserts, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  That runs contrary to the popular notion that we can measure the worth of our lives by the size of the pile of our toys, or by how much money we have, or by how many friends we have on Facebook!

No, our faith affirms that the measure of our lives is based on the abundance of our life—measured by the Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord!  And we are blessed to have God’s Word recorded and printed in our own language right at our fingertips. 

I’d like to share a little of my own faith journey in regards to the Bible.  I was raised in the church, hearing the Scriptures in Sunday School and in worship (although I can’t say that I was really listening).  While I was in college, I was exposed to all kinds of cults and weirdos who took scripture and twisted it to fit their own views of life, and I kind of got “turned off” to the Bible.  I still felt called to ministry, so I went to seminary to learn how to be a pastor, and I only studied enough to pass my tests and my required Bible courses.  (It gives me no pleasure to confess this.)

BUT, once I was out of seminary, serving in churches, I was expected to lead Bible studies and preach from the scriptures.  Various writers, like Frederick Buechner and William Barclay, helped me to see the beauty of the scriptures, and to discover the POWER of God’s word!  That beauty and power have been blessing me for over 42 years!  Increased familiarity with the Bible has helped me to sift through all the weirdness and outright error that repelled me so in my early years.

Just recently, I had a chance to go to Dublin, Ireland.  Everybody suggested that I go to Trinity College and see the ancient library and view The Book of Kells.  It is an ancient manuscript of the four Gospels in Latin, and has been beautifully illustrated.  People bought tickets to line up and see this book.  The page it was turned to had a few pretty drawings on it, but nothing spectacular.  Fortunately, I had seen some large representations of some of the more ornate pages while I was waiting in line. 

As nice as it was to see that some folks used their creative, God-given talents to decorate the pages of these scriptures, it kind of left me flat.  One word describing my experience of The Book of Kells: MEH.

I guess I was hoping that it would somehow inspire me and bless me—but I was disappointed.  I had to remind myself that the living word of God will never fail to inspire and bless me!  When the Holy Spirit brings the scriptures to life, they are no longer dead words on a page—they are the life-giving word of God!

I have been studying the Bible, preaching and teaching from it, for four decades.  As I grow and change—as my circumstances evolve—Scripture springs to life and addresses even the most modern of issues.  Some folks view the Bible as a giant “wet blanket” that gets thrown on our fun.  But the opposite is true.  The light of Scripture helps us to really engage with LIFE!

Worldly stuff doesn’t do it.  I love the phrase from Zechariah: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Now, let’s hear from the Prophet Amos.

A Famine of Hearing the Word of the Lord

I want to talk for a minute about the function of a prophet.  They were not “fortune-tellers,” trying to foretell the future.  They were forth-telling the message of God to the people.  It often followed a formula: If ________, then _____ will surely follow.  If the people continue to choose their own way, then they will have difficulties.  The prophets were identifying where the people have strayed, and then issuing a call to repentance—a change of direction back to God’s way.  It often sounded like a pronouncement of DOOM & God’s judgment.

Amos had spent years warning the people to stop their sinful practices.  He gave them second chances, and third chances.  But in today’s text he is pronouncing the judgment, in much the same way that a judge delivers a sentence.  He tells them that God is turning their feasts into mourning, their songs into lament, and is sending a FAMINE.  Now, this famine is not one of bread or water, but a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.  In God’s name, he declares, “You will seek the word of the Lord but you will not find it.”

You will seek life but you will not find it.

One Thing Is Needed (Luke 10)

In our Gospel reading, Jesus says something intriguing.  It reminds me of something I heard in the movie “City Slickers” (with Billy Crystal).  These greenhorns are moving a herd of cattle under the direction of Curly, a seasoned trail boss (played by Jack Palance). Curly wisely tells them, “You got to figure out that ONE thing, then everything else will fall into place.”  Of course, they want to know what that one thing is, and he tells them, “That’s what you gotta figure out!”

In our passage from Luke, Jesus and the Disciples are visiting Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  Mary “sat at the feet of Jesus,” listening carefully (as one would to a great teacher).  Martha is busy in the kitchen—she was a super hostess, you know!  In frustration, she demands that Jesus send Mary to help her, and Jesus takes advantage of this teachable moment.  He tells Martha, “You are worried and distracted by many things.  Only ONE thing is needed.”  Mary has chosen that ONE thing.

[Martha apparently listened to Jesus, because we see her later (when Lazarus dies), and she is a woman with a deep, abiding faith.  She had figured out that ONE thing: hearing the Word of the Lord.]

Isaiah 40:8 tells us, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, BUT the word of our God stands forever.”  Today we might paraphrase, “Sports celebrities, movie stars, political figures—their glory fades.  But what lives forever and gives us LIFE??  It’s the word of our God!”

To finish this morning, I would like you to think about what it is that FEEDS you—what nourishes you to your core, and fills you with energy for life?

Then think about the time when the disciples had gone into a village to get some food, and Jesus waited for them beside the well.  While there, he had a life-giving conversation with a woman who had come to the well.  When the disciples came back and offered him food, he said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.  My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

Friends, we feed on the Divine Word and obey the Divine Will, and life is full and good.  The alternative is a Famine of the Word of God.

Prayer: God, please help us.  Help us to find our fulfillment, our joy in a life that is nourished by your Word.  We ask in the name of Christ, amen.

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