Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sermon for 9/6/15: Trinity XIV




Mercy and Faith

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

“Faith alone.” “Faith saves.” These statements were foundation stones of the Reformation, and they are most certainly true. But they are also often misunderstood. The point of ‘faith alone” is not that faith is alone, but that faith saves without works. Works are the fruit of faith, not the cause. Love doesn’t form faith. Faith forms love. The thankful leper returns in love. But Jesus does not say to him, “Your love has made you well.” His faith saved him. Still, having faith, he could not opt out of having love because faith always loves. Faith is never alone. His love was evidence of the faith that caused it, a joyful response to being saved by faith.

And thus, faith made him well, and we rightly say, “faith saves.” But even that, on its own, can be misleading. Faith in itself is nothing. Saying “faith saves” is like saying “forks feed.” That is true only when forks convey food. Faith saves only when faith confesses Christ. To say that another way, faith is the instrument of God’s grace. Faith is not a work. It is not something we do. It is not intellect or understanding. It is not conscious thought or will or even a decision. Faith is that trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ, trust which God creates by grace to give His grace to us. In other words, He gives the fork along with the food. Holy Baptism is the perfect example of this. Baptism creates faith in the one being baptized as God bestows His grace and forgiveness, and the faith God creates then receives what He gives.

Those nine lepers who were cleansed but did not return, did they have faith? We cannot answer that question with absolute certainty, for we cannot read the hearts of others, but it would seem that they didn’t. It seems they did not confess Jesus Christ as God in the flesh who had come to save them. They might have thought that cleansing them of leprosy was all He could do or all they needed. Perhaps some even thought that they had cleansed themselves. That’s not as strange as it may sound. All over the world, people will be fed by the generosity of God, with the food and the forks He gives. But how many of them will recognize the source of their sustenance? How many will give Him thanks? How many will, instead, take the credit themselves? Only one leper in ten returned.

The one who returned did so because he recognized that Jesus is God. He came back to worship Him. And that is what faith does. Faith always comes back for more. That is what faith always wants. It is nothing in itself, so it seeks to be filled with Jesus, with His grace, with His forgiveness, with His mercy. Faith is sustained and remains through Jesus.

But we should also notice this. These ten lepers stood off in the distance, as the Law demanded, and cried out to Jesus for mercy. They just wanted help. They were beggars, and they weren’t about to be choosy. They would beg from anyone who might be able to help them. Whatever it was they wanted, and whatever it was they meant when they asked Jesus for mercy, it must have been disappointing to them when His response was, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” What kind of mercy is that? If you know the Levitical Law Jesus was applying here, then you know that He was sending them to where God promised to be present in His mercy. But even so, when do we ever pray for God to provide for us through means over time? When we stand at the bedside of a loved one and ask for healing, aren’t we praying for God to answer that prayer immediately? “O Lord, grant me patience by putting me through long, hard years.” “O God, make me wise at the end of my life through lots of suffering and poverty?” Even if we are too cynical to expect it, we want a miracle! That’s not to say that God no longer works miracles, but we all know that is not His normal way of getting things done.

Things were probably much the same for these lepers. They wanted help right away. They wanted something done immediately. But Jesus sent them to the priests. Is it all that surprising that they had difficulty believing it was Jesus who healed them? But that is the way our Lord works. He is the Lord of creation. He works in and through creation. He has come in the flesh to restore His creation, not to overthrow it. And faith alone is able to recognize that the Lord is the provider, the giver, the healer, through all of these means. Everyone who eats a meal today will do so by the providence of God. But who will recognize it as such and receive it with thanksgiving?

Such faith saves and heals. It comes not by our efforts; it comes from above. It comes through hearing. It is spoken into us by the Word of God in the water of Holy Baptism. It is fed and sustained in the Lord’s Supper. What God reveals is that He is our God; He is for us. He has paid the price of our sin in His Son, to make us clean and to make us well. That faith alone saves. It saves because it receives the grace of God. Faith receives what God gives: forgiveness of sins and the fullness of life with Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

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