Big Words: With
Third in a series of five
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 // 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 // Mark 2:23-28
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon includes meditation on the three texts read, as well as from a familiar Christmas text, one that quotes from Isaiah the prophet, Matthew 1:23, “You shall call his name Immanuel, which means God-With-Us.” Our texts thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning are the simplest. Words like go, be, with, but, and for. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology.
Two weeks ago, as we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus was raised from the dead, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, and we focused on the word “Go.” Last week, as we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday, remembering the great mystery of who are God is, we focused on the word, “Be.” The last sentences of our pastor’s corner last week really summarize the sermon: “Who God is has made you and me. Who God is has redeemed you and me. Who God is sanctifies you and me.”
In the coming weeks, we will study the words “But” and “For.” Today, we meditate on the word “With.” What does it mean – and here we can help but build on last week’s sermon – what does it mean to be with?
The dictionary suggests that with can mean alongside, to go with someone. It can mean against. I’m fighting with you. It can be an adverb. Eat your food with joy. It can indicate relationship. I’m with her. One dictionary had no less than 10 definitions for the way we use this word.
This is a really interesting word, because we see it and its ramifications all throughout the Old and New Testaments. It is everywhere, and this little four-letter word. In Genesis, God is with Adam and Eve until they eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they no longer fell like they can be with God. God is angry with them. God sends them outside of the Garden, separated from paradise, without paradise. The Exodus story begins with the Lord hearing his people and drawing near them to be with them. When he is with them the angel of death passes over them.
Isaiah 43: When you walk through the deep waters, I will be – and here’s that word again, WITH you, for – and this is a throwback to last week’s “BE”, I AM the LORD your God. Do you notice that? I AM the one who is, and when the One-Who-Is is WITH you, the troubles of life will not overtake you. If you’ve ever read your way through Ezekiel, you can find his plaintive and simple refrain: All this is for the point that I will be your God and you will be my people. So that I can be with you. The promise of the angel at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel: He will be called Immanuel, God-With-Us. Jesus’s great promise that bookends Matthew’s Gospel: I will be – you can guess it – with you always, to the very end of the age. St. John in his Revelation writes, “Amen! The dwelling place of God is with man, and he will live with them.
And guess what. That’s just the tip of the biblical iceberg. As you can probably guess about many biblical subjects, I could go on and on. But stay with me. Soooo, what does it mean to be “with”? The presence of God. That God is not distant but near. That God dwells in the midst of messy human drama. God is active in his presence in creation. The presence of God.
Today we look behind our texts and readings, not so much focusing on the content of the reading – the Old and New Testament are all about the Sabbath and Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath, but instead seeing the movement of our God in the text…. And asking the question, what does it mean for him to be “with” us?
From our Old Testament reading, to be withGod means guidance. It’s not just in the little snippet we have; it’s in the entire section. Moses is reading again the entirety of the Law to the people of Israel as they enter into the Promised land. They are remembering again that their God has come near in order to reveal to them the way that they are to go. Not only in this section about the Sabbath but throughout the Law, God is giving his people a rhythm that allows them the most opportunity to do exactly what he reminds them of at the end of our passage: “You shall remember that you were a slave and the Lord God brought you out from Egypt with a mighty hand.”
There’s at least one person that I talk to every week, who’s asked me to ask them questions, keep them accountable, help guide them. One particular person comes to my office and I meet with them week after week. What does my presence in her life do? Not much. I have no expertise. I can give very little good advice, but what I can do is be there to ask her questions, what I can do is be there week after week in order to give accountability and guidance. That’s what keeps people moving ahead. That’s one reason to be with people.
So, do you afford yourself opportunities to remember on a regular basis how much your God has done for you? Do you use the rhythm of our worship service to inform the rhythm of your day-to-day life? When life doesn’t go as planned, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Is it a word of praise? Of prayer? Or something else? To be with God means guidance.
Second, to be with God means transformation. That dovetails with last week’s sermon – “Who God is has redeemed you and me.” And we see it in our Gospel lesson. To be with Jesus for the disciples meant that the rhythm of Sabbath rest wasn’t abolished, but it is deepened. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a Sabbath, but it is that the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. Here’s the truth behind that truth: When the almighty, incarnate revelation of God, Jesus Christ comes into contact with anything, his presence transforms it.
Lutherans have a word for this, a word that not many other Christian denominations understand as deeply as we do. The word is “vocation,” or calling.
It’s the idea that all the facets of your life are made meaningful, and that meaning is transformed because of the calling of Jesus Christ to know what you are doing in relation to him! What you do, every second of the day, is significant, because it is part of the story that culminates on the cross. It is significant, because through your hands and your feet, your God is working to bring the whole universe to a close in Jesus Christ, not by fire and violence and war and pestilence – even though that is here and it will surely come – but by your hands and feet he is working the kingdom of God -- the presence of his son – in the lives of everyone who knows you.
Third, the presence of Jesus, our God with us, means life in the midst of death. I’ve said before, all the biggest event of life are never convenient. Births rarely come when you expect them. Children are born whenever they are born; just talk to a couple pregnant for the first time to know what helpless feels like. Children take over your life and they don’t give it back for a long time. Death comes when it comes. I’ve seen people who die quickly, before help can even come. I’ve seen others live on after all the machines are taken away, for hours, for days, even a week.
What does that do to a family? Not knowing how long they have to wait?
I can tell you this: those moments are not easy, but they are good. I was with a family in Rochester this last week, as they gathered in his last hours asking, aching to receive the hope that only Jesus can give, in the word, in his Sacraments. It got hot in the room. There were tears. But as we shared the hope that comes with eating the bread which is Christ’s body, drinking the wine which is Christ’s blood, and knowing in our hearts and confessing with our lips what Paul writes, that even when our jars of clay break, even when we carry death in our bodies, the life of Jesus is with us.
And in that moment, there is an unearthly peace and a godly strength. It doesn’t mean that tears don’t flow. But it means that peace can surpass our understanding.
Being there in those last moments, it puts us into a far deeper rhythm of life than we normally want to know. It slows us down to be present – to be WITH – this one whom we love, even if he isn’t there in the way we want him to be.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who plans out his days, even as he knows that the presence of his God will often lead him to all sorts of unplanned fruit. The kingdom of heaven is like a community where people ask questions, where people take the time to be with others, and that draws them together in a deeper way than words can tell. The kingdom of heaven is how God decided to make himself to man by becoming a man, by being with man in all the trials of a sinful life, yet being without sin and dying a death that transforms our life.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther