Gladly Hear and Learn
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2018
The Small Catechism captures well how rejecting the Word of God and believing the Word of God are opposed to each other. In explaining the Third Commandment—Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy—we learn that “we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
Why did God give us the Sabbath day? Jesus says that we were not made for the Sabbath but that the Sabbath was made for us. Further, He says that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Sabbath means rest. In giving us the Sabbath day He is giving us the rest we need. Now, after a long week, sleeping in may just be the rest that appeals to you. Or going out to the lake, or going to the beach, or hiking in the mountains, or reading a book on your porch, or having coffee with your friends.
But Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath and He wants to give you true rest. What you truly need is what He gives you in His Word. That’s what He says in today’s Gospel reading. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” The Word of God is what we need. It gives us rest we cannot get in the mountains or in quiet time by ourselves or in being with friends. And what that is we get through hearing. When you are here in the place of worship what you hear is God’s Word. You do not hear the words of the great minds of the world and history. You hear the Word of God.
The liturgy is saturated with the Word of God. The readings are from the Old Testament, from an Epistle from the New Testament, and from one of the four Gospel accounts. The sermon is a proclamation of the Word of God and based on that very Word of God. The Sacrament of the Altar is the Word given right into you, into your mouth, Jesus Christ in the flesh, His body and blood. Our worship is not so much our offering up what we have to God as it is Him giving to us what we need. And that is rest. We who are weary and burdened by our sins are given rest. We are forgiven. We are renewed.
The Catechism is pretty strong, isn’t it? The opposite of gladly hearing and learning the Word of God is despising it. Would you ever despise the Word of God? That might seem an odd question to ask of those who are in church. Why would someone go to church if they despise the Word of God? But if you have already ruled yourself out of this sin, then you are more prone to it than if you readily see that you do. This is shown in the Gospel reading. Jesus leaves no middle ground. Whoever is of God hears His words. Then He tells those He is speaking to, “The reason you do not hear the Word of God is because you are not of God.” If we thought the Catechism was strong in speaking of despising God’s Word we see that Jesus likewise doesn’t pull any punches.
But are you in this category? If you actually do hear the Word of God and actually believe His Word, aren’t you of God, as Jesus describes it? And if so, then why is it that you need to be aware that you are prone to despising God’s Word? Look back at the Sundays in Lent. Immediately on the first Sunday Jesus was sent out into the desert to be tempted by Satan. The next Sunday we were shown the pleas of a woman on behalf of her daughter who was possessed by a demon. The third Sunday saw Jesus casting out a demon and teaching that without replacing the demon with God and His Word the demon comes back stronger than ever. In the middle we were shown how it is in the midst of this world that is the domain of Satan that our Lord feeds us with His body and blood, the antidote to Satan’s lies and assaults. Today we see yet again that Satan never rests. Jesus is accused of being demon-possessed.
You ignore your enemy at your peril. You need the rest God gives you more than you realize. Satan even realizes this more than you do. That is why he continues to tempt you and assault you. Even if it’s just, I go to church, I’m okay. No, it’s not okay. Not according to Christ. He goes on to say that it’s not just hearing the Word of God, it is keeping it. He says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever keeps My word, he will never see death.” As we learn from the Catechism, we are to gladly hear and learn it. Even so, the hearing of God’s Word is not simply audibly receiving it. It is listening intently. Keeping God’s Word is not simply having it in your possession. It is taking it to heart.
How do you do this? If it’s not just showing up to church, what are we talking about? It is hearing in the true sense Jesus is talking about. You come ready to be fed. You come desiring to hear what God has to say to you, not what you would like to get out of it. You come ready to confess your sins and hunger and thirst for forgiveness. You gladly hear what you need to receive and take to heart that this means that you live not just for yourself, but to seek how you may serve others in their need.
Coming to the House of the Lord in this way means something else. It means what you do before you even come here. And it’s not only the morning of but throughout the whole week. How do you prepare to hear the Word of God given and proclaimed in the House of God? In your home each day you are in the Word. There is no other way to learn to hear the Word of God and keep it than to be in it. You can do this by setting a certain amount of reading, such as a certain amount of chapters. Or you can set a certain amount of time. You can use a guide, such as the Prince of Peace in Prayer sheet, which has a daily lectionary, Scripture readings from the Old Testament and New Testament each day.
When you read the Word of God do so prayerfully. Pray your Lord to bless you. Pray the Holy Spirit to give you His eternal wisdom. Hearing the Word of God and taking it to heart is reading the Word in this way, prayerfully, not just reading it for the sake of doing it.
The more you are in the Word of God the more you will fill yourself with what He wants you to know and how He blesses you in your life. The more you are in the Word the more you will learn and grow. You will see things differently and grow in faith. When you come to church you will have a basis for which to hear the Word of God and see connections you never saw before. Spend some time during the week, or the day before, or the morning of, going through the Scripture readings for that day of the Church Year. Spend time in prayer before the worship service starts.
All of this takes effort and time. It also makes you a target of the devil. He will find big and little ways to prevent you from being in the Word of God or not pay attention or take it for granted. You can’t keep Satan from his constant attacks. But you can arm yourself. You can fight back. You can trust that the words of your Lord keep you strong and renew you. Satan knows that you are weak. But your Lord knows this also. Already He has told you about hearing God’s Word. Already He has said to keep His Word. Now listen to a third time He returns to this fundamental teaching: He knows His Father and, get this, He keeps His Word.
At the end of the day there is no excuse. It really is as Jesus has said and as it is taught in the Catechism. There is no middle ground. You can find many other things to do than to hear and keep God’s Word and it will ultimately end up being despising God’s Word. You can hear and read it and not take it to heart but it will ultimately end up with you holding to your own notions of religion rather than God’s.
So take to heart Jesus’ words of Himself. He Himself keeps the Word of God. If Jesus gladly hears and learns God’s Word, how much more should we! If Jesus, God in the flesh, delighted in the eternal Word of God, how much more should we rejoice in the many ways there are to be in God’s Word, both here in His House and each day in our lives.
Jesus was, is, and always will be. The people asked Him who He made Himself out to be. “Abraham died, the prophets died, and yet You say we ought to keep Your Word.” Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, he saw it and was glad. Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus is God in the flesh. At the beginning of his Gospel account John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. When Jesus says, “Whoever keeps My word will never see death,” you truly see the eternal gift and blessing of His Word and therefore gladly hear and learn it. Amen.