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The Word: The agent of creation (July 10, 2022)

Uniform lesson for July 10, 2022.

Uniform Lesson for July 10, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: John 4:46-54

If Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, was instrumental in the creation of the universe, surely this same Jesus can create life out of death in our world today. This week, Jesus returns to Cana, where he made water into wine, and performs a second sign — this time at the request of a royal official whose little boy is near death (v. 46-49). Jesus once more creates and heals with a word — this time, at a distance and in a way that demands our circles of healing expand. How does this pattern of creation and re-creation help us discern where Jesus is at work today?

Healing with a word

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Word — spoken, embodied, incarnate. One of the mysteries of Jesus’ first sign in Cana is that he never commands the water to become wine; he simply tells the stewards to fill the jars with water and take some to the chief steward (John 2:7-8). But with this second sign, the power of Jesus’ words becomes more evident. Again, he doesn’t explicitly command the child to become well, but he declares the good news that his presence and power makes possible, saying, “go; your son will live” (v. 50). With these words, Jesus creates a new reality and a new cosmos where death no longer reigns supreme. He thus reveals himself as both the messenger and the message of a new era of God’s work in the world. Again, God’s light is shining in our darkness and the darkness will not overcome this light-made flesh.

Maybe it’s important that we begin this lesson by reminding ourselves of the power of the Word in our lives as God’s people. The PC(USA) Book of Order states, “Where the Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the living Word is present by the power of the Holy Spirit” (W-3.0301). When we hear the Word proclaimed “we are called, above all, to discern Jesus Christ, receive his grace, and respond to his call with obedience” (W-3.0301). The proclamation of the Word through Scripture and sermon allows us to “encounter Jesus Christ in God’s Word” and because of that we “are equipped to follow him more faithfully, and are inspired to proclaim the gospel to others through our words and deeds” (W-3.0305). The Word inspires words, which lead to deeds. Through our words and actions, God’s creative work continues.

Healing at a distance

One of the most interesting details of this healing story is the fact that it occurs at a distance. The official goes up from Capernaum to Cana and asks Jesus to come down with him in return, assuming Jesus must be present to heal. But clearly Jesus’ presence is not bound by space, even though, here, it still seems related to time (v. 53). Jesus speaks, in Cana, and the official’s son is healed, in Capernaum. Jesus speaks a word, and new life and possibilities appear: first, close at hand in a wedding in Cana of Galilee and second, at a distance, in Capernaum by the sea.

During the pandemic, we have worried a great deal about what God can and can’t do at a distance. Surely there is a place for proximity and presence as we share the good news of God’s healing in our words and in our deeds. However, we must not limit the power of the Word when it comes to spreading God’s creative power. Too often we think of God’s love revealed in Jesus as restricted to our neighborhood and our people. Here a royal official comes to Jesus and asks him to accompany him back to his hometown for healing. Jesus makes it clear that no trip is necessary. Once God’s Word has been let loose, the cosmos begins to change. This is not a local, but a long-distance call and claim.

Unless you see

Jesus not only refuses to travel, but Jesus also takes a swipe at all who demand “signs and wonders” (v. 48). The “you” in this verse is plural. We, as human beings, are prone to demanding signs and wonders regarding God’s creative power in order to believe. But John’s Gospel celebrates those who come to trust in God’s resurrecting power without seeing (John 20:29). Can a parent trust Jesus’ ability to heal even if her child dies? Can we continue to trust Jesus’ ability to heal amidst the brokenness and brutality of our world today? We speak words that go out and disappear and often we can discern nothing in response. Do we stop speaking and acting? Did Jesus?

For discussion:

How can we trust Jesus’ ability to heal — across barriers of space and time?

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