Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sermon for 1/23/11—Third Sunday After the Epiphany (LSB 1-year)

Immanuel Revealed in Mercy

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was the One who was to come, Jesus responded by saying, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” This was a laundry list of Old Testament signs that pointed to the promised Messiah. Immanuel would reveal Himself in part through these works of mercy. And here in the Gospel appointed for today, we see Jesus starting to draw check marks next to the items on that list and saying, “Done.” We heard today about two miraculous healing acts. The first person healed was a leper; and the second person healed was the servant of a centurion, who was paralyzed and tormented. Both were healed by the power of the Word of Jesus.

The world would have us ask, “What is it about these people that makes them worthy of Christ’s healing?” St. Luke also records the account of the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and he tells us that the elders of the Jewish community came to Jesus and told Him about the worthiness of the centurion. By the earthly standards of these representatives of the Old Testament faith, this centurion had proved his worthiness by building a synagogue for the Jews. For the Jews to speak well of a Gentile in any way, well, you can be sure that this must have been a good man, worthy of anything the Lord could do for him. But the unnamed centurion looked at himself differently. He said to Jesus, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” And then, showing this was not some sort of false humility, he commented on the nature of authority—that he was under authority, and that there were those under his authority. And if his word was enough to make those under him obey, lowly centurion that he was, surely the Word of Jesus would be that much more powerful to bring to an end the torment afflicting the servant. Jesus praised the centurion’s faith, saying that He hadn’t seen such faith “even in Israel”—that is, even among those who lived in the hope of the promised Messiah.

But what does that mean for us? We’re supposed to be amazed with Jesus by the faith of the leper and this centurion who trust the power of God’s holy Word. But isn’t that exactly what we do? At least the leper and the centurion with their own eyes could see Jesus in the flesh; should it not be so much better for us who live by faith? Should not the miracles be a raging torrent of healing and mercy? ‘Lord, I believe, too. I trust the power of Your Word, too. Why am I still afflicted? Why are my family and friends and co-workers still troubled?’ But those afflictions remain. The trouble persists. Just look in the bulletin this morning. We’ve got our own laundry list: people who are sick in body or mind, people recovering from surgery or who face surgery soon, people who are in danger because of the situation of the world today. Illness, pain, suffering, bullies, unemployment, divorce, even persecution and death—these things continue to befall Christians. Where is the Word from heaven to deliver those who are afflicted by the cares of this world?

We find our answer in the faith of the leper. This man was an outcast from his society, considered ritually unclean because of his disease. If he was bold enough to approach Jesus in spite of his disease, why was he not bold enough to just ask for healing? Instead he says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This leper fully believed that Jesus had the power and authority to cleanse him both physically and spiritually. But he left his healing up to the gracious will of Jesus. It’s as if he is saying, “Lord, You can heal me. But if, in your wisdom, it is better for me to remain diseased, if in my illness you will bestow on me a better grace or a richer blessing than my healing would give, then may Your holy will be done.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is true faith: trusting in the good and gracious will of God, whatever it is that you face, however long you face it. This is not easy—nor did the Lord promise you that your lives would be easy. It is hard to walk the narrow way. It is hard to live by faith. The way of the cross is full of suffering; if it were easy, it would not be the way of the cross. You carry grief and loss with us; that is your lot in this life. You’ve been dealt terrible blows—deadly diseases, crushing difficulties, the loss of parents, the loss of children. But even in the midst of sorrows, God is gracious to you. He does not leave you to bear these burdens alone. He is Immanuel, God with us, revealing Himself through His great mercy. After all, who knows the burdens of the cross better than the One who bore the cross to His death for all people? The Christ bears your burdens with you, suffering with you and, more than that, sustaining you in the midst of your suffering through His own suffering and death .

The gifts of God are His, and He bestows them where He will. Even in the midst of suffering, you know that. Is the sin you were born into so filthy that the waters of Holy Baptism could not wash it away? Certainly not! You have been cleansed like the leper, washed whiter than snow. Have you sinned so much that there is a word of Holy Absolution that is not sufficient for you? By no means! Christ speaks His Word to you, and your soul is healed and made whole. Is there any spiritual hunger so great that the body and blood of Jesus cannot satisfy it? Don’t even think it! The body and blood of Christ you receive in the Holy Supper sustains you in the true faith in both body and soul unto life everlasting.

Let me repeat for you the words of the last stanza of the hymn we just sang:
What God ordains is always good: this truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, for with His arm He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.
No matter what your hardship is, no matter how heavy, no matter how long it lasts, the will of God is always good; for in everything God works for good for those who love him. In the meantime, don’t stop praying for miracles, for God in His mercy hears your prayers, and in His great love He answers them in the way that is best for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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