“Powerful, Living Word”
Hebrews 4:12-13 – August 7, 2016
Words have power. Well-written words paint pictures in our brains, lift our spirits, or tug at our heartstrings.
Think of the vivid quote from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest: “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.” And, the stirring words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Or, the heartstring tugs from A.A. Milne’s book Winnie the Pooh: “How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet “You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”
This service today is all about words. Some very special words. Powerful words. God’s words. The Word of God, the Bible.
Our passage for this morning comes from the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4. Reading verse 4:12 again: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Those words are pretty powerful! Sharp, penetrating, dividing, judging. The Word of God has great penetrating power, piercing incisively. This is an everyday picture: imagine a butcher with a very large, very sharp knife, cutting down to the bone.
“The word of God is not just sharp, but sharper than the sharpest doubled edged sword. In that sense the word of God can cut either way—in judgement or blessing.”  Plus, God’s Word, the Bible, is filled with God’s Spirit. That is important, too!
We are taking a closer look at the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. Today’s sentence is: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to preach and teach with the power of the living Word.
God’s words have been powerful since the beginning of time. And, even before. Think of the preincarnate Jesus, the eternal God the Son. The first chapter of the Gospel of John tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.” Jesus, the Logos, which is a Greek expression meaning “the Word.” He spoke, and the entire universe came into being. Jesus is equated with this powerful, living and active Word of God!
As a minister of the Gospel, it is my responsibility and joy to preach and teach the Word of God. To preach and teach the amazing, mighty, powerful, living Word. Yet, the Statement of Mission tells us plainly that we all—that is, everyone here—have that same responsibility.
Last Wednesday afternoon, I went with several people from Morton Grove to the south side of Chicago. My friend had been in touch with a mothers’ group called Mothers Against Senseless Killing (MASK). This group has a free meal outreach called Give Them a Meal.
The four of us went to the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. What a wonderful opportunity for people to come together, to share, to have fellowship and make community. We set up everything so the free meal could be offered to anyone who came up to the street corner.
We were there for several hours. Yes, it was a marvelous afternoon. We were of service to that community. However, I wanted to let you know that just before I left, I had a wonderful conversation with the senior pastor of a Missionary Baptist church that set up an outdoor worship service on that same street corner.
Complete with sound system and moveable pulpit, that church has a regular outreach to their community each Wednesday evening. Pastor Matthew told me of the burden on his heart to disciple the members of his church. He strives to teach them to share their faith. Just as the UCC Statement of Mission says, “be ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word.”
That’s what Pastor Matthew and his congregation strive to do, week in and week out! I am not particularly skilled in evangelism. That is one area where I fall short. I can learn lots from him and the members of his church. Plus, this sentence from our Statement of Mission tells us that teaching and preaching with the power of the living Word is something that every believer in Christ ought to be doing, on a regular basis.
There is a problem, though. We humans have shortcomings. We miss the mark in so many ways. As I was preaching last week, natural humans have deceitful hearts. We hide and run away. Our thoughts, words and actions are cloaked in darkness and sin.
Does this word picture sound sadly familiar? Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and then repeatedly in the New Testament, we see over and over again how natural humans keep tripping up. How we sin “in thought, word, and deed,” The second part of Hebrews 4:12 lets us know that God’s word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I think that all of us here today acknowledge that we humans do sin. Miss the mark. Make mistakes. Say stupid things.
There is a famous picture, or icon, of Jesus. Jesus the Judge. We are all familiar with pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or Jesus with the little children. But here in these verses, we have a serious word-picture of the risen, exalted Jesus, Jesus the Judge. Yes, this is a very real part of our Lord Jesus, whom we know and love.
The other half of this pair of verses lets us know that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Words of caution! Words telling us to take care. As one commentator mentions, “the Word of God can probe the innermost motives of the real self and bring them out into the open, and then, with the self exposed to the light, prompt repentance and forgiveness.” 
Serious stuff, the Word of God! The Bible.
Still, we need to look at the words of the statement from the UCC Statement of Mission. “be ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word.”
When it comes to everyone—all of us being ready to preach and teach, God offers us help. Isn’t that wonderful? God lets us know that we have God coming alongside of us. Helping, coaching, cheering us on as we tell others about the tremendous God we serve.
I have mentioned Miss Rose before. Miss Rose was a loving, caring senior from a church I attended some thirty years ago. Imagine my surprise and pleasure to find her one of the residents at the senior citizen home I worked at while I attended seminary! Miss Rose had the gift of evangelism. She would ask practically everyone, “Do you know the Lord?” Then, she would tell about the wonderful things God was doing in her life.
Miss Rose did not have an easy time at the retirement home. She was in constant pain, among other health issues. However, she did not let that stop her. Practically every person knew that God was Miss Rose’s Helper, Refuge, Strength. Shepherd. Healer.
Just in case anyone is wondering how to be “ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word,” We can follow Miss Rose’s excellent example. Tell others what God is doing for you, right now. Tell others about the Holy Spirit’s power in your life. And, tell others about the amazing Word of God, the Logos, God the Son, Jesus!
What an opportunity! Tell others, like Miss Rose. Tell others about God’s power in your life, today. Alleluia, amen.