Dear Siblings in Christ,  

These are complicated days. We are pelted with mixed messages on just about everything.  

We know that we’re in a new phase of the global Covid-19 pandemic, but we’re getting mixed messages about masks and vaccines: some experts are saying we should double mask; we learn every day about how vaccines are either available or unavailable.  

We know that we’re experiencing a great deal of political polarization. But there seems to be a disagreement about whether some actions—like storming the US Capitol building—are just free speech of are criminal acts worthy of punishing consequences. Or maybe we’re in the midst of a civil war that threatens to spill over from Washington, DC, to every city and town in the country?  

Are red wine and chocolate good for you? That debate hasn’t come up much in the last few months, so I’m going to a venture a strong YES.  

In this time of deep, profound confusion, we hunger for a word of authority. Some people follow the loudest voice in the room. Others look for education, credentials, and logic. Even there, disagreements abound, often for good reason.  

We need a clear word, a word of divine authority. The prophet Isaiah described the condition of his people by saying “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53.6). We are no different.  

But from where is such a word to come? We can’t behold God directly. Only Moses and Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, were able to behold God face to face. Throughout the Bible and throughout history, we see that God chooses to work through humans, for the Word of God to be communicated through humans.  

As Moses told to the Israelites in our reading from Deuteronomy, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” Although prophets and other leaders are the human vessels for God’s word, that doesn’t make it any less powerful and authoritative.   In the way our Lutheran tradition has developed, we look to pastors to bring the Word. Not just to recite the words of God found in the Bible, but to bring a fresh word, a new word of God that speaks to our present conditions.  

At the same time, we are clear with each other that pastors are no holier or more perfect or hold more power than anyone else in a congregation. As Moses says about the prophetic leader, we select pastors from within our communities. We affirm what we call the priesthood of all believers.  

Nevertheless, that designation, that setting apart, that calling (what we call vocation) is important. Because we believe that the Word of God makes things happen, the Word of God spoken by pastors holds authority within our communities. And that is the key: within community.  

It is possible, for instance, that a person entrusted with the office of Minister of Word & Sacrament—what we call pastors or preachers—will not proclaim a word that is trustworthy and true. You are never expected to receive the words of your pastor with blind obedience. That is why this community—this congregation—has the authority to call and dismiss pastors.  

What is the Word of God, dear siblings in Christ? It is something we discern together. But we don’t discern the Word and will of God together as a social club or a humanitarian organization. We are the Church, the manifestation of the Body of Christ. You and I, individually, are not Jesus. But together, we are the Body of Christ.  

The Gospel of Mark tells us that when Jesus taught at the synagogue in Capernaum—a building on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee you can still visit today—the people were astounded because “he taught as one having authority.” “What is this?” they asked themselves. “A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  

Just as we are the Body of Christ, we speak with authority. Just as Jesus’ teaching in Capernaum was filled with the authority of God’s Word, so too are we called to speak the word of God today. The Dear Siblings in Christ,   These are complicated days. We are pelted with mixed messages on just about everything.   We know that we’re in a new phase of the global Covid-19 pandemic, but we’re getting mixed messages about masks and vaccines: some experts are saying we should double mask; we learn every day about how vaccines are either available or unavailable.  

We know that we’re experiencing a great deal of political polarization. But there seems to be a disagreement about whether some actions—like storming the US Capitol building—are just free speech of are criminal acts worthy of punishing consequences. Or maybe we’re in the midst of a civil war that threatens to spill over from Washington, DC, to every city and town in the country?  

Are red wine and chocolate good for you? That debate hasn’t come up much in the last few months, so I’m going to a venture a strong YES.  

In this time of deep, profound confusion, we hunger for a word of authority. Some people follow the loudest voice in the room. Others look for education, credentials, and logic. Even there, disagreements abound, often for good reason.   We need a clear word, a word of divine authority. The prophet Isaiah described the condition of his people by saying “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53.6). We are no different.  

But from where is such a word to come? We can’t behold God directly. Only Moses and Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, were able to behold God face to face. Throughout the Bible and throughout history, we see that God chooses to work through humans, for the Word of God to be communicated through humans.  

As Moses told to the Israelites in our reading from Deuteronomy, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” Although prophets and other leaders are the human vessels for God’s word, that doesn’t make it any less powerful and authoritative.   In the way our Lutheran tradition has developed, we look to pastors to bring the Word. Not just to recite the words of God found in the Bible, but to bring a fresh word, a new word of God that speaks to our present conditions.  

At the same time, we are clear with each other that pastors are no holier or more perfect or hold more power than anyone else in a congregation. As Moses says about the prophetic leader, we select pastors from within our communities. We affirm what we call the priesthood of all believers.  

Nevertheless, that designation, that setting apart, that calling (what we call vocation) is important. Because we believe that the Word of God makes things happen, the Word of God spoken by pastors holds authority within our communities. And that is the key: within community.   It is possible, for instance, that a person entrusted with the office of Minister of Word & Sacrament—what we call pastors or preachers—will not proclaim a word that is trustworthy and true. You are never expected to receive the words of your pastor with blind obedience. That is why this community—this congregation—has the authority to call and dismiss pastors.  

What is the Word of God, dear siblings in Christ? It is something we discern together. But we don’t discern the Word and will of God together as a social club or a humanitarian organization. We are the Church, the manifestation of the Body of Christ. You and I, individually, are not Jesus. But together, we are the Body of Christ.  

The Gospel of Mark tells us that when Jesus taught at the synagogue in Capernaum—a building on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee you can still visit today—the people were astounded because “he taught as one having authority.” “What is this?” they asked themselves. “A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”  

Just as we are the Body of Christ, we speak with authority. Just as Jesus’ teaching in Capernaum was filled with the authority of God’s Word, so too are we called to speak the word of God today. The Word of God creates worlds. The Word of God silences and condemns unclean spirits. The Word of God save.  

The Good News of this message is that the power and authority of the Word of God is present with us here today. Each time we participate in the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, we witness the power of the Word of God transforming normal, everyday elements of existence into the means through which God’s grace transforms the world.  

Each time we call on the Holy Spirit to be present with us in praise, reflection and prayer, we acknowledge that we are the Body of Christ moving with authority and power for the sake of the world. For the Holy Spirit is with us, praying in our place when we don’t even know which words to say.  

The Good News is that we, together, are the Body of Christ, the faithful community through which God’s Word comes into the world. The Holy Spirit of God is active, moving in this community, Emanuel Lutheran Church. The Holy Spirit will be with us today in our Annual Meeting as you make practical decisions for how this community will live out God’s will in the coming year.  

These are difficult times. It is understandable for us to be confused and fearful. At the same time, dear siblings in Christ, we are confident in the presence of God among us and confident in our calling to serve the least of our neighbors. This is how we embody the Word of Emanuel, God with us, to the world. Amen.       Word of God creates worlds. The Word of God silences and condemns unclean spirits. The Word of God save.   The Good News of this message is that the power and authority of the Word of God is present with us here today. Each time we participate in the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, we witness the power of the Word of God transforming normal, everyday elements of existence into the means through which God’s grace transforms the world.  

Each time we call on the Holy Spirit to be present with us in praise, reflection and prayer, we acknowledge that we are the Body of Christ moving with authority and power for the sake of the world. For the Holy Spirit is with us, praying in our place when we don’t even know which words to say.  

The Good News is that we, together, are the Body of Christ, the faithful community through which God’s Word comes into the world. The Holy Spirit of God is active, moving in this community, Emanuel Lutheran Church. The Holy Spirit will be with us today in our Annual Meeting as you make practical decisions for how this community will live out God’s will in the coming year.  

These are difficult times. It is understandable for us to be confused and fearful. At the same time, dear siblings in Christ, we are confident in the presence of God among us and confident in our calling to serve the least of our neighbors. This is how we embody the Word of Emanuel, God with us, to the world. Amen.