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21th Sunday of the Year 26 Aug 2012

Dr Lutz Ackermann (Christ Church, Polokwane)

Only you have the words that give eternal life (Jn 6:68) Good Morning, Christ Church Cathedral! As I was preparing this sermon I was thinking of the very first time I preached in this church. It was some time in 2004, and it was on the prophet Ezekiels vision of the valley of dry bones that come to life. In dramatic words the prophet describes the dryness of death, of dead bones; and then, as an effect of his prophecy, they grow into human bodies and eventually come back to life. With a word from God, the prophet comments all this, and I quote: So prophesy to my people Israel and tell them that I, the Sovereign LORD, am going to open their graves. I am going to take them out and bring them back to the land of Israel. When I open the graves where my people are buried and bring them out, they will know that I am the LORD. I will put my breath in them, bring them back to life, and let them live in their own land. Then they will know that I am the LORD. I have promised that I would do this---and I will. I, the LORD, have spoken." (Eze 37:12-14) Now here I stand again, preaching again about the lifegiving word of God. Of a God, who speaks to us so we can live. "Lord, Simon Peter says to Jesus, Lord to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. Let us pray.
2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE

[Lord help us to listen to your word. Speak to us so we may hear and live. Amen] As I am reflecting on the words of the Gospel reading this morning, I would like to speak about three things: about words. About words that can give life. And about words that give eternal life. So, lets begin by talking about words. Now I cant give a long lecture on the nature of words and language, anything from Plato to Wittgenstein; firstly I am not qualified to do that; and secondly, I need to preach, not to lecture. But having said that, I would simply like to state: Words are important. Young people know that. On Facebook or Twitter, or whatsApp, what is it that we post? Mostly words. Ok, we also may post pictures or videos. But even there, words can give meaning and interpretation [WoG pic]. So let me just list a few things about words. Firstly, words are powerful. We know that. One wrong word can break a person, a career, a relationship. Words have power, and the words of those in power have got even more power. After the terrible events at the Lonmin mines, people were closely listening to what the president would say. In a situation like this, words can be helpful or unhelpful; but in any case, powerful. Secondly, words are strange. Isnt it strange that that what is in this glass, you call it meetse, others call it water, I call it Wasser, the ancient Romans used to call it aqua and scientists call it H-2-O (which is a special kind of word, a formula). All different words for the same thing. [even in a single language: synonyms]
2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE

But it gets worse: not only can one thing correspond to multiple words; also one word can correspond to multiple things or meanings. (L-E-A-D: verb or noun? Pronounciation). Words are strange, because they can mean so many different things (they need a context). Thirdly, words can create and reflect relationship. Whether I feel accepted or rejected by others can depend on the words they say and the ones they dont say. A love letter tries to capture my feelings for another human being in words. The words I use to greet someone, when I enter a room reflect in some way, how I relate to the people I meet. Fourthly, words shape and form memory. Ok, there are of course other ways how memory is shaped and formed: pictures, scenes, smells and sounds may all be attached to certain memories. But I think it is words that can be most pregnant with memories of the past. Take a word like Sharpeville. Its not just the name of a township, somewhere between Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging; its a whole history; it conjures up emotions, it captures memories of the past (same with 9/11). Fifthly, words can require a response. When I ask a question, I am soliciting a response. When an army officer gives an order he wants to hear and see a response. When a customer formulate a request, she expects some response. In German, for word we say Wort, for response we say Antwort. Often, when we start using words, we cannot remain neutral. We declare ourselves, on this or on that issue. Sixthly, words are not things. Lets go back to the word water. If I am somewhere in the desert, dying from thirst,
2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE

I can think the word water, I can write it in the sand, repeat it to myself, shout it at the top of my voice. All his will not change a thing. Invariably I will die. Only the actual thing, the water itself can save me and it would do so, even if I didnt have a word for it. And yet, mere words can create hope. So the word water in the desert cannot feed my body but my spirit: to carry on, not to give up. Where words do not correspond to tangible realities, we call them empty. --But now, lets get back to our text: to the words of the gospel writer giving us the words of Simon Peter about the words of Jesus, who is the Christ. You, he says to him, have words that give eternal life. Life-giving words. Now, life is one of the key topics of the fourth gospel. Let me briefly remind you of some of the ways this gospel speaks about life. It affirms The Word was the source of life (1:4) And also Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (3:36, 6:47) It has Jesus speak about life-giving-water (ch 4, also 7:38) In John, Jesus calls himself the bread of life, the resurrection and the life and also the way, the truth and the life

2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE

In Jn 10:10 Jesus says The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life---life in all its fullness. Just in chapter 6 alone, there are 12 verses that speak about life! So when Simon Peter starts talking about words that give life he is summarizing one of the main points that Jesus is about in this gospel: life. --Now, how can words bring or give or lead to life? We saw that words can be powerful. In the first pages of the bible, the beginning of life is connected to the words spoken by God: Let there be. And there was. It is the image of a powerful ruler, who just has to say a word and things happen. And Jesus, in the fourth gospel is presented to us in the same way [Cana, 2:5; healings 4:50, 5:8; noncondemnation 8:11; raising the dead 11:43.] Like words, that are characterzed by a variety of meaning, so life needs variety. George Orwells famous novel 1984 gives us a world that is ruled by big brother, the dictator whos reign stifles the free unfolding of life. It makes it onedimensional and narrow, and interestingly it does so by redefining language, by taking control of words. The words of Jesus are given to us, as an inspiration, not to close our minds, but to open them, so we can live. We also noted that words can create or destroy relationship. Life-giving words are such words that do not only speak to me as an individual; they are words that help building relationships and thus help building community. It is interesting that as Jesus addresses the Twelve (would you
2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE

also like to leave?, he asks them), Peter becomes the spokesperson and he speaks about we. Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God. The word of Jesus has transformed its listeners into a community: we. How else can words be life-giving? Words, we said earlier, also establish and create memory. As creatures of memory, as human beings we have a life that does not consist of the moment only. It also consists of the past. My life that is not only who I am today but also how I got there (with all the names and memories and stories attached to that). [CV, Biography]. So words unfold their life-giving power in making accessible to us our life not only at a single instance but over a period of time through our memories of the past and hopes for the future. Furthermore, words insofar as they beg for a response are related to life. If I spoke words to a piece of rock, expecting a response, I would be very silly. If I call my dog, there will be a response: he will jump up and come to me. That is exactly why I say the stone is dead, the dog is alive. In some sense the dignity of life lies in the fact that we can listen and respond: to ourselves, to others and to God. And finally, just as there can be empty words there can be empty lives. If words are not backed up by deeds and facts and realities, we call them empty. When lives are not in tune with reality, we call them empty. But where words and lives show a correspondence to reality, they will be full and rich.

2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE

--Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God. So Jesus is someone who has words. And he is someone, who has words that give life. And: he is the one who has words that give eternal life. So, while we are coming to the end of this sermon, here is yet another dimension to discover. From the beginning of creation, life itself is closely linked to words. Words, spoken by humans and words spoken by God. But beyond this natural order, words from God can lift our life to a higher level; they can lead us, as it were, to a life of new, special quality: eternal life. The life of faith. As we believe and put our trust in Jesus, we are invited to experience this: new life, divine life, if you will. It is that life, which already Ezekiel announced to the dry bones: I will put my breath in them, bring them back to life, and let them live in their own land. Then they will know that I am the LORD. I have promised that I would do this---and I will. I, the LORD, have spoken." --Lord God our Father, you have spoken to us through the living word, your son Jesus Christ. You interpret our confused lives by your clarifying word; our dead lives by your life-giving word; our isolated lives by your communitycreating word; our forgetful lives by your memory-creating
2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE

word; our weak lives by your powerful word; our limited lives by your limitless word; and our unimaginative lives by your transformative word. Lord Jesus, help us to hear you and with Peter to confess And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God." May this faith and this knowledge transform us on the way of becoming the people you have called us to be. Amen.

2011 DR LUTZ ACKERMANN CHRIST CHURCH, POLOKWANE