Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Sunday’s Gospel lesson has several lines that can catch a preacher’s attention and send his mind reeling with thoughts for devotions or sermons. Sometimes it is difficult to settle on one or two of them. There are several possible reasons for this. On occasion, my creative juices get flowing with such force that I can’t seem to shut my mouth or pull my hands away from the keyboard. That may sound like an admirable position to someone with writer’s or preacher’s block, but who wants to hear a three-hour sermon or read a 20-page “Edit-O-Earl?”
On other occasions, I can’t seem to choose one topic out of 10 presenting themselves. That can result in a lot of surface rambling and no genuine depth. A big problem comes when a lot of little ideas are there, but no one is particularly important, striking or interesting. Finally, the problem attests to the power of the Word of God. Through His Word the Holy Spirit can make us think and act, or at least want to act.
A Nineteenth Century theologian, Horace Bushnell, once wrote in a letter to his daughter: “I find the Bible dull when I am dull.” That is usually the problem when we are uninspired by the Word.
Alfred W. Hurst told a story about a minister who sent a New Testament to be rebound. When it came back, he was surprised to find it labeled in gilt letters, “T.N.T.” There was apparently not enough room to spell out “The New Testament” on the cover, so the bookbinder had chosen to abbreviate it. Hurst adds, “Quite frankly, that’s not a bad name for the New Testament. On the day of Pentecost it is reported that suddenly there came from heaven a sound of the rising of a mighty wind. Moffatt translates it ‘a mighty blast.'”
T.N.T. or TNT has become synonymous with any kind of explosive. Technically, it refers to the specific explosive Trinitrotoluene. Surely, the first six letters of that name are just coincidence.
The first line of the Gospel to catch my attention was that Jesus “taught in their synagogues being glorified by all.” It strikes me that Jesus still teaches in our churches today, being glorified by 40 percent of the members … or less. At Nazareth, Jesus went to the synagogue, “as was his custom” on the Sabbath day. Again it struck me how few of His followers today have His “custom.” Someone gave Him “the book of the prophet Isaiah,” and from it Jesus read part of this Sunday’s Old Testament lesson. Here is Jesus–the walking, talking, breathing Word of God–He goes to church and reads from the Book.
After reading, He rolled up the scroll, returned it and sat down. Luke wrote: “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him.” How important, and how necessary it is that we all learn to fasten our eyes on Jesus! Last week, I mentioned that all God’s servants should follow Mary’s advice to the servants at the wedding in Cana and, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” If we don’t know what that is, it’s high time we found out!
Finally, Sunday’s Gospel lesson closes with Jesus telling His hometown folks that the passage He had just read is not just some long-forgotten words from some long-forgotten servant of the Lord, 600 years earlier. It was TNT with a very long, but very well-lit fuse, and it was exploding right then and there in their midst. The Word of God is not an inert record but a living something going on.
It influences lives, becomes flesh again and again. It is not as much the container of history as it is the creator of history in the present moment. Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” I would hasten to add that their hearing did not have much to do with that fulfilling. It was His doing that made all the difference.
The faithful in Jesus’ day were waiting for a second fulfilling of this and many other passages from Isaiah and other prophets. Just as Israel had been set free from Babylonian tyranny, so they longed to be set free of the barbarians of Rome. Surely, the anointed one (Messiah) would be lean and strong like David, riding on a prancing and snorting war horse. He would “preach good news to the poor … proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind … release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
What could not have been expected is that He would become afflicted in order to bring the Good News to effect, that He would be brokenhearted and forsaken before it could be finished, that He would be held captive so that we could be free or that He would die so that we might live. The day of God’s favor was a day when His grace was bestowed on even His worst enemies–His own executioners. Such grace no one expected. No one could have.
Yet, that is the message of the Book–a message that is continually being fulfilled in our reading, hearing and doing. When the Nazis searched Martin Buber’s apartment, they asked him if he had any revolutionary literature. Buber went immediately to a shelf and handed them the Bible.
The Stanford Hotel in San Francisco reported a few years ago that in 15 years of placing the Bible at bedsides as a service to guests, not one was lost or stolen. In one month, after the same service was provided with dictionaries, 41 of them disappeared. I’m not surprised that thieves find the words of humans more useful or perhaps more valuable than the Word of God. I am disappointed that the same thing sometimes seems to be true of those who would not steal.
Jesus’ mission unfolds in this Gospel reading. It is foretold in the Old Testament lesson. But you and I are still fulfilling it. We fulfill it when we are His missionaries telling the Good News about Jesus to our neighbors. We fulfill it when we support other missionaries who tell it half a world away. We fulfill it with gifts to LCMS World Relief that bring help and comfort to earthquake survivors in El Salvador. We fulfill it in whatever way He through His Word becomes the dynamite–T.N.T.–force in our lives!