Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sermon for 1/22/17: Third Sunday After the Epiphany

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The Powerful Word

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

This morning we heard the accounts of Naaman and the Centurion. There is much that is similar between the two. They are both Gentiles. They are both in the military. They are both officers, in charge of many men, but they are also accustomed to receiving orders. And they both face a problem outside their control: Naaman has leprosy; the Centurion has dying servant.
Imagine what it is like for these two men. They are used to getting things done. They are used to giving orders and having those orders obeyed. That is the way their lives work. Yet now, here they sit, out of control. They are unable to solve their problems. And these aren’t just your usual, run-of-the-mill problems. These are life and death problems. They face these problems because they are cannot get out of these messes on their own.
Have you been there? Have you ever had a stage in your life where things are sailing along great and you feel like you have everything under control? Then something happens: a death, unforeseen debt, family or marital problems, or even worse. These things can sneak up on you, and suddenly you’re not in control. That is the Law having its way with you. In this fallen world, things just don’t work the way you want them to work. No amount of positive attitude or even plain hard work can change that fact. The truth is, you are not in control of your life.
The Law confronted both Naaman and the Centurion, but their reactions are completely different. One of them reacts in faith in the healing Word of God, and the other responds in unbelief at how God works in the world. Naaman couldn’t imagine that God would use water from the polluted Jordan river to wash away his leprosy and make him clean. Why would Israel’s God not use the water from the sparkling rivers in Syria? But God had promised through Elisha to cleanse Naaman using the waters of the Jordan and no other. That was the promise of God—take it or leave it. At first, Naaman left it. He rejected God’s promise of healing. His pride just couldn’t handle the truth of the Word of God. But after careful teaching and patient begging on the part of his own slaves, Naaman relented and was led into the Jordan. And, lo and behold, he was made clean; his skin was like a brand new baby’s skin. It didn’t make sense on the surface. It was just ordinary water. But because God’s promise was attached to it, it was no longer just water, but a life giving water, full of grace and every blessing from God.
The centurion, on the other hand, recognized his inability to help his servant. But even more than that, he recognized that Jesus could heal his servant. In simple terms, the Centurion had faith. He trusted that if Jesus would say the word, it would be enough. His servant would be healed. Faith trusts the Word of God, whatever that Word claims. If your faith points to Jesus Christ, you will never be disappointed.
St. Paul wrote, “The just shall live by faith.” Living by faith means continually putting your trust in Jesus Christ, who forgives your sins. Only God can give you the faith of the Centurion. And He gives you faith by His Word and Sacraments. Because of God’s Word and command, what looks like ordinary water is, in fact, the very life giving water of life. What looks like simple bread and wine is, in fact, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And what sounds like simple words, “I forgive you all your sins,” are in fact the very words by which God forgives your sins and creates and sustains faith in you.
Believe it, for that is what God promises in His Word. That is the power of the Gospel. That is the power of your salvation, through His Word and Spirit alone. So now you can confess with faith, “O Lord, I am not worthy. But only speak a word, and my [soul] shall be cleaned.” 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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