The power of God’s word is what the today’s readings deliver. The Lord says to Moses, ‘I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them…I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him.’ ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’, says Jesus in the synagogue, and with a shudder and a cry the evil spirit leaves the suffering man. And the congregation cries out: ‘Here is a teaching that is new, and with authority’. ‘O that today, you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts’, says the Psalm. It’s the same reality. This is the word through which everything is created and held together. This is the word of fire that Israel’s prophets spoke. It’s the Word of God who became human flesh and spoke human words. ‘They hung on his words’, say the Gospels. ‘No one ever spoke like this man speaks’. And these words are with us to this today. The Holy Spirit keeps them alive in the Church. He inspired the apostles to pass on what they had received. Bishops, priests and deacons have to do the same, empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit in ordination. Everyone of us in our way, empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit in confirmation. And so the word of Christ dwells richly among us, and his sound goes out to all the earth.
What does this word say? Last Sunday, Jesus was walking by the Lake of Galilee, and he said to two pairs of brothers, ‘Follow me’. And immediately they did. The power of the word. Today Jesus goes into a lakeside synagogue. A possessed man starts to rant. And Jesus, says ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And immediately he’s freed of the unclean spirit. The power of God’s word. It does what it says. ‘And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.’
These Sundays before Lent can help us grasp what being a disciple of Christ means. Aberdeen has two universities: the original one and Robert Gordon University. And so our city has some 30,000 university students – about 12,000 at Aberdeen and 17,000 at RGU. Not to mention other Colleges. So we’re used to students. And that of course is what a disciple is: a learner, a student. Our students study all kinds of things: engineering, computer science, business studies, medicine, law etc. But what to do with our studies? That is another question. I gain a degree in art, but I may not become an artist. I may study law, but it doesn’t make me a lawyer. Here’s a point. A disciple isn’t just a student. He’s more. He’s a practitioner. The Word of God does what it says. ‘Be quiet, come out of him!’ and it came out. And we too must do what it says, do what we hear. ‘O that today you would listen to his voice.’ Terrible things befell the people of Israel when they failed to obey. Forty years in the wilderness, for one.
I don’t mean to be intimidating. So, here’s a thought. We listen to the Scripture readings in English. But of course they are a translation of what comes from another language, Hebrew or Greek. The translation takes these ancient words, puts them into our language and so they can enter our lives. It’s the same with the prayers of the Liturgy. They’re a translation of what is originally Latin. ‘O that today, you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.’ God’s word, Christ’s words are meant to be translated – translated into the heart, into life, into my life. ‘Follow me.’ And they followed him at once. The possessed man heard what Jesus said to the unclean spirit, and he let it go. Mary said, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.’ The angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, Get up and take the child and his mother into Egypt’ And he gets up and takes them. ‘I can’t baptize you,’ John the Baptist says. ‘Yes, my Father wants it this way’, says Jesus. And John does. He hardens not his heart. ‘Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ No point, says Peter, ‘yet if you say so, I will.’ And they caught so many fish the nets began to break…
A student may study music and never play the clarinet again. But a disciple can’t do that. The Word is for doing. It’s translating into action, into life – into the language of love. Or, to take another comparison, think of the Word of God as God’s music. There it is in the Bible, like music on a score. Or there it is, coming through a sound system. But the music is for us to take up, to play, to perform, to sing, to dance to. It’s not just for paper or the airwaves or a computer.
So a disciple lives what he learns. She does what she hears. And what does this mean? What is the life the Word gives birth to in us? We can say it many ways. Faith, hope and love. The practice of the Christian virtues. Prayer and trust. Chastity, poverty and obedience. Carrying the Cross. Life in the Spirit. We can say it many ways. But we can put it all in a word: Christ. Christ is the Word and the Word becomes Christ in us. ‘Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, lovely in eyes not his. To the Father through the features of men’s faces,’ as the poet put it. So, Christ’s words, Christ’s voice, Christ’s name, Christ’s heart, Christ’s mind, Christ’s wisdom, Christ’s love, Christ’s patience, Christ’s strength, Christ’s kindness, Christ’s body are all to be done in us, to be translated into the language of our lives, to be played out in us. He is the head, we are the members. A disciple is someone who learns Christ and lives him.
So, we pray this week: ‘Grant us, Lord our God, that we may honour you with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen.’
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 28 January 2018)