Genesis 1:1-2:3 Matthew 28:16-28
This week has been a painful reminder of just how much power words can hold. We’ve tried really hard to forget it. We live in a culture that laughs at the idea that words were used to create our world. That would trade books and poetry for tweets. Even in the church, hearing how God spoke and stuff happened leaves us not with a sense of wonder, but of loss. We can’t do that. Let there be beer, but nothing happens. Do other Christians buy Alexa out of spite for the divine or is it just me? Shuffle my playlist, but even that doesn’t always work. It’s why I used to think our words were less than God’s, even though He gave them to us. He spoke, and creation formed itself to His words. Sometimes it feels like the best we can do is describe a situation.
It leaves us with a creation story that we’re too quick to gloss over. It might have been of more comfort hundreds of years ago, but now we can’t skip past it fast enough. I don’t think God gave us this creation narrative to feel embarrassed about in front of evolutionists, or even so that we would think less of words. I think it was the opposite. So that we would find comfort in just how much power they have.
Words have more power than the nursery rhymes we teach our children would indicate. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words shaped the sticks and stones in the first place. 2 of the 10 commandments about words. One in each table of the law. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor. Use words, not for evil, but for God. Don’t attach God’s name to falsehood, but call upon Him, pray, praise, give thanks. Don’t use words to harm your neighbor’s reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. The reason God gives this commandment is to show us how careful we are with our words to defend ourselves and how reckless we can be with them when talking about someone we disagree with. Words have enough power that God tells you that things can break if you use them for evil, and things can be built and even healed if you use them for good.
Stop. Breathe. Take a step back and consider. There’s something to be said for a group of people so afraid that justice will not happen that instead of seeking it from those given to protect and serve them, they have taken to crying for it publicly. There’s something to be said for the group of people who bear witness to this and instead of shaping their response out of love for the people who hurt, do so out of fear of being called a racist. Look at two mobs crying out identities to each other. Each say “You are not righteous. You have not done enough.” Each cry identities to themselves. “We are the virtuous ones. We stand for good.”
See how God uses words. He builds. He brings order. He shapes. He uses them for the good of someone else. He creates for us. Now look at how we use them. Do you build or destroy? Do you cry for order or chaos? Do you speak for the good of your neighbor, or just for yourself? Words used for good to create good. Words used for evil create more of the same. Words used for hate and violence produce those things. Words used for mercy, for justice, the same.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleans us from all unrighteousness. I think what’s most heartbreaking is how little room there is to be called a sinner for how we talk. It points us away from seeking forgiveness for ourselves, but more, it leaves us convinced our neighbor wouldn’t want it either. This is why the world shouts at each other. If you can only find your neighbor’s sin in a sermon, look closer. This is not who you are called to be. You aren’t called to be the ones who justify yourselves. You’re called to be forgiven by the God who’d bleed for you. True virtue isn’t defined or demanded by the mob. It’s a gift of God who bestows it. And our God gives righteousness to sinners, to me, to you, to all.
He bore the cross to win it. He suffered not just the beating and the torture, but the mockery and the slander. He was called nothing so that you would be called sons and daughters of the king. He was hated so you would be called worthy of love. He was cast out so that you would be welcomed. Yours is the God who sends preachers into all nations, uniting them across all divisions. And something wonderful happens. The 11 go with Jesus to the mountain, and they worshipped, and some doubted. And Jesus still sends them. He said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””
He stands in the face of those who worship Him, still inwardly fighting doubt that this can work. He stands among sinners cleansed in His blood. He sends them out to Baptize in the name of the triune God. Go give a new identity to all nations that would change every would you would speak. Doubt all you want. This doesn’t stand on you. This isn’t about you. This is for you.
We find our God dwelling among sinners in this promise. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. He isn’t waiting until we finally get our act together. He isn’t waiting until one side wins. He is right here where He promised to be. That font and this altar are a mark of His presence. We gather, sinners with differences both seen and unseen, and some of us doubt too, but here, in the things He has commanded us to observe, He is with us. He is for us. And He will be so until that great end of the age when He comes again in glory.