When I was little, my mom and dad would sometimes take us over to my aunt and uncle’s house for dinner. Usually, it was a special occasion like a birthday or Christmas or something. My aunt wasn’t the greatest housekeeper in the world, but she always made an effort to make sure everything looked as tidy as possible. Secretly, I think she was trying desperately to compete with my mom, who was one of those ‘clean-aholic’ type housekeepers. One time, my father came over to our house and asked Barbara what the gray stuff was on our end-table. Of course, it was dust; apparently he had never seen it before. Which is another story. But . . . getting back to my aunt’s house, I was quite small (about 7 or 8) and I used to find some amusement in putting my hands under the couch cushions looking for anything I might find. I didn’t mean anything by it, but it caused my Aunt Lucille to become very annoyed with me and embarrassed at the things I would find hidden under her cushions. As a little kid, I guess I was looking for loose change and other small treasures, but occasionally I would find something, even better, like a bottle of Alka-selzer, or on one occasion, my uncle’s Penthouse magazine . . . . actually, we didn’t get invited over there too much after that.
As you know, people do not like others meddling in the personal parts of their lives. All of us, (present company included) know things, or think things or keep things that could best be described as ‘secret’. When our secrets are exposed, which they always are eventually, we become very embarrassed, annoyed and sometimes very angry that our secret somehow got out. We are left explaining ourselves to our friends and relatives, or screaming at our kids for crossing boundaries that ought not be crossed or looking into things that ought not to be looked into. This is how life is sometimes, and sometimes it is not a very pretty sight.
God’s preachers, which the lessons are about today, are sent by God sometimes to look under the cushions of our personal lives. Sometimes they talk about things that we have guarded and kept secret in our lives. Preachers don’t ever expose us to others, but if they are good, they will expose the secrets we keep from ourselves. Basically preachers are here to share their convictions in order to strengthen our resolve and to heal us in a spiritual way. In the Gospel today, as you may recall, while in his hometown synagogue, Jesus reads a few verses from Isaiah and then gives the shortest sermon in history:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in you hearing”
These words, as you may remember, get him into more trouble than you can imagine. The people of his own hometown rise up against him and he has to flee before they throw him off a cliff. Sometimes the truth comes out at a very high cost. Jesus was trying to tell them, in a round about way, that he was the Messiah. But the people in the synagogue saw only Jesus, Joseph the carpenter’s son, who had grown up in their neighborhood and played in their streets. As Jesus says, prophets are not without honor, except in their own hometown.
But what is a preacher? And how are they different from the normal man in the street. Do they read more? Do they pray more than others? What sets them apart?
In today’s Old Testament lesson we read as Ezra who was both, a scribe and a priest, reads to the people the law of Moses while the Levite priests interpret its meaning for them. The people, upon hearing the words and the interpretation begin to weep because the law had convicted them. The Levites who were instructing the people try to calm them down and told them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep, but be joyful. Go home and eat and drink because you now know that the joy of the lord is your strength.”
This particular sermon was so greatly received that Nehemiah, the governor at the time, decided that the day should be enshrined in perpetuity as the beginning of a new year for the people of Israel. And so . . . In the seventh month, on the first of the month, there shall be a Sabbath (or holiday) for you, a remembrance with shofar and trumpet blasts, a holy convocation. -Leviticus 16:24
Today, the Jews call this day Rosh Hashanah . . . or for Christians, the Feast of Trumpets. In biblical prophecy, the feast of Rosh Hashanah will soon play a pivotal role in the end times. For it is a future Rosh Hashanah that marks the end of the year of our Lord’s Favor, the time that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel lesson. This will be the day when Israel signs the seven year peace covenant written about in Daniel. Israel will agree to divide and sell the Holy Land and their national sovereignty for a pocketful of promises of “peace and safety” and will usher in the end time period of tribulation and the final day when Christ returns to reclaim his own . . . but this also, is another story for another time.
Unlike Ezra, preachers rarely see the difference they make in the lives of their listeners. Many only plant seeds that take a lifetime to develop and grow, that others help nurture and yet others finally harvest. Even Jesus himself did not see the fruits of his labors until far into the distant future. But his words didn’t die and His church flourished, even in the face of terrible adversity, even up until today.
So sermons can be powerful stuff in the lives of those who truly listen for God’s word. I remember one instance, perhaps 20 years ago, of a woman who took to heart one of my sermons about withholding information as being the same as a lie. I don’t remember the particulars, but she was so convicted by what I had said, and so upset, that she felt God himself was telling her to confess a secret to her husband that she had lived part of her life as a prostitute. And she did just that; risking everything she had. Her husband of course was astounded by this news but he loved her very much and was able to forgive the omission and go on with their life together. That was a very happy ending to a moment that could have ended tragically. I believe that God convicts us by his Spirit and helps us by his Grace to make those kinds of decisions, if only we are able to see his hand in it.
It is very important for us to realize that God doesn’t just choose preachers to communicate to us. He also uses kids and moms, and dads, and cartoonists, and politicians and mailmen, and people from all walks of life. God’s message is everywhere. We just need the spiritual eyes and ears to perceive it.
The most important thing we all should realize and keep forever in our hearts is that the only preacher that some may meet in their lives is the one that you project in your thoughts, in your words and in your deeds. Your good advice or kind words of encouragement may be God’s only way of entering the life of a friend or stranger. The scary part is that, unlike Ezra, you may never know the difference that you make. Amen.