the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 12. 23-40
The Word of God isn’t paper and ink, but flesh and it’s blood!

You’ve heard me mention it, now and again, over the past few years. More tongue-in-cheek, than anything. More a joke, than something serious. How we get up, Sunday after Sunday, come forward, and read bits and pieces of the bible. And how it all sounds the same! Droning. Monotonous. Unemotional. Like Sargent Joe Friday from the tv show Dragnet. “All we want are the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.” In the end, we read the bible as if it were a newspaper and not the drama it really, truly is.

Well, this week, I gave it more thought. And I realized it’s more of a problem than I’d imagined. Popular belief has it that only seven percent of communication is based on words. Only seven percent. Fifty-five percent comes from body language. Things like eye contact, facial expression, posture. The remaining thirty-eight percent is tone of voice. And all that’s going on at this very moment. You’re not just listening to the words I’m speaking. You’re reading me, as well. And even if we quibble about the numbers, we can all agree that there’s more to communicating than just vocabulary.

That’s the problem we have, nowadays – the challenge we face – when we become so fixated, so obsessed, on words alone. Letters without body language. Syllables without a tone of voice. We risk becoming literal. Superficial. Word for word. Letter for letter. So much so that we type and we talk, but we never, really getting around to communicating. Limited, restricted, by tweets and posts and emails and messages and texts. We just can’t get the whole story relying only on the words. We miss the nuances, the subtleties, of communicating. And in the end, we stake our lives on the seven percent. Out there, in the world. And in here, in church.

Think about what happens when we limit our concern to “scripture alone.” There’s no body language! No tone of voice! We try to imagine it. To create, to recreate, the heartbeat, the warmth, the breath. All the things that gives birth to the words. But, in the end, we always begin where we left off. In the end, we revert to our “default” position. And the bible becomes – or remains – nothing more than an instruction manual. A rule book. Full of directions and guidelines, suggestions and demands. Helpless, powerless, to change anything, to transform anyone.

We read the words, but all we hear is yada, yada, yada, DO THIS! Blah, blah, blah, DON’T DO THAT! Like in this morning’s gospel: “Sell your possessions! Give alms! Make purses! Be dressed for action! Have you lamps lit! You, also, must be ready!” One commandment after another! Decree upon decree upon decree! God sitting there watching, waiting, to see if the dictates are obeyed! Applying biblical principles to our everyday life! But, like I said, that’s what happens when we try to understand the seven percent with a ninety-three percent we already believe in. We make god’s seven percent, Christ’s seven percent, into something it was never intended to be. We overwhelm the grace and mercy with law and order.

No. In order to understand what is written, we have to go to a different place. We have to come at it from another angle. We need to look at that seven percent as if it was a song! Look at it as poetry, not the prose; as art, not science; as imagination, instead of literal! We need to hear it from Golgotha, not Sinai; written on flesh and blood, not etched in stone! The bible isn’t a rulebook! Scripture isn’t an instruction manual! It’s a valentine! A valentine! If you want to understand what it’s saying, that’s where you have to begin!

Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, And so are you! That’s the gospel! That’s the good news! The message god is speaking to all creation! And these nine verses, these two hundred or so words we read a few moments ago, are rooted, anchored, in that message! From the very beginning, right from the start, Jesus wants us to know the Father’s commitment and devotion to and for us …

“Don’t be afraid, little church! It’s your Father’s good pleasure to give! And to give! And to give! And never to stop giving!

That’s grace! That’s mercy! God loves you! And because of that love, you can consider doing things you never thought of doing! Sell your possessions! Give alms! Make purses! Imagine! Think what it means! And the things that follow? They aren’t commandments! Something god demands from us! Booming voice! Angry face! Wagging finger! They’re celebrations! Visions! Dreams! Jesus is saying, “God has given and still preserves! God daily and abundantly provides! God protects and shields and preserves! And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of our own at all!” Just like Dr. Luther’s impressed on us!

That’s the ninety-three percent we miss! What we forget! What we never learned! The ninety-three percent we feel is just too good to be true! So, we don’t. Don’t believe, that is. We look out for number one. Charity begins at home – if we’re lucky – and more often than not, stays there. And the bible remains an instruction manual and a rule book and a collection of principles we have to deliberately and intentionally must apply to our life. And week after week, again and again, over and over, we get us and we read and we sit down and everything’s always the same. But that’s not it. That’s just not it. Because god loves us! Loves us with every atom, with every cell, with every fiber! And because of that, we can think – can live – beyond this box! Even to the point of selling all our possessions! To the point, even, of selling this building! Truth is, as a congregation, we’ve done it! And we’ve been born again, born anew, because of it! God loves us! So what, now, does success look like? Success or disappointment? What does accomplishment look like, or failure? Victory or defeat? How much is too much? How much is too little? The only thing that matters, the only thing that’s important, is that god loves us! Always has! Always will! Now, we do what needs doing! We say what needs saying! It’s just like Luther’s advice! Sin boldly! And believe more boldly, still! Don’t just wonder if you should? If you shouldn’t? God has your back! Your back and your front and your right and your left and your above and your below! It’s your Father’s – OUR Father’s – good pleasure! To give! Go and do the same!

Imagine the light in Jesus’ eyes when he says that! Imagine the sound of his voice! Bending down! Leaning in! And imagine how those next few verses sound! That’s communicating! God living! God loving! God giving and giving and giving still! No. For us, the Word of God is more than the page of a book stained with letters. The word of god, for us, is a heartbeat! The word of god is a life! The word of god is flesh! And blood! And it requires a body – a body and a voice – to understand! My friends, the word of god is Jesus! Jesus and his love, his charity, his grace! And that word, that grace, is too big ever to fit between the covers of a book!