Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sermon for 1/26/20: Third Sunday After the Epiphany

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

Did you notice the leper’s respect and humility? He does not demand that the Lord heal him. He does not presume to tell Jesus what to do. He expects nothing from Him. In fact, the leper sounds like he thinks Jesus shouldn’t heal him, as if he is unworthy of any help that Jesus might give or any word that Jesus might speak. He said, “Lord, if you are willing…”
The truth is, the leper does believe Jesus will help. If he didn’t believe, the man would never have come to Jesus or spoken to Him. The leper fully believes that Jesus shouldn’t heal him, that he has no right to ask for the Lord’s help, that he’s unworthy of even the smallest kindness. Jesus has every right to refuse him.
And the leper believes this because the leper knows himself. He knows what’s inside him, and what comes out of him: how little he truly prays, how easily he doubts, how often he’s lived by fear rather than by faith. The leper knows that his faith is weak, pathetic, barely alive. He knows he’s not worthy.
That’s exactly what the centurion says. This soldier who fears no man, who stares death in the face—this man trembles before Jesus, just like the leper. And for the exact same reasons, he says, “Lord, I am not worthy…” And how does our Lord respond? He doesn’t say, “I only help those who truly trust Me, and you don’t yet believe in Me as you should.” Instead, our Lord both hears their prayers and grants their requests. To the leper Jesus says, “I am willing.” And to the centurion He says, “Let it be done for you.”
These men certainly don’t teach us anything about boldness and confidence before the Lord. They certainly don’t teach us that we need a strong faith when we pray. Still, they teach us an important lesson. When we cry out for mercy and help; when we pray for comfort and strength; when we plead with the Lord to show us the right way or to sooth our grief; when we look for any good from God—we need to know ourselves. We need to swallow our pride. We need to crush the barriers that we’ve built so that people think we’re strong. In place of pride and self-delusion, we need to come before the Lord in true humility, realizing we deserve nothing from Him and, by all rights, He owes us nothing. We need to pray, knowing that He really shouldn’t hear us, much less do for us. We need to admit our weakness. And we need to be willing not only to say, but also to believe the words, “Lord, I am not worthy.”
By the Holy Spirit, we come to know ourselves. By the Holy Spirit, we come to know and believe that we are “sinful and unclean,” and that we sin against God “by thought, word, and deed.” And so, by the Holy Spirit, we have the courage and the faith to say, “Lord, I am not worthy,” and to pray, “Lord, have mercy.”
The Lord is always willing. The Lord goes to great lengths to help us in our need. Look at what He does for the leper. He touches him, unafraid of getting sick, unafraid of being declared unclean. Look at what He does for the centurion. The Lord immediately eases the man’s mind and calms his heart by saying that his servant is healed. The Lord is always ready, always available, always willing to have mercy.
At this altar, in this Holy Supper, the Lord lays out for you the medicine of His own holy Body and His own precious Blood. His mercy is available in the most intimate manner possible. He is willing to restore and renew and refresh your life in Him. Come. Confess your sin. Confess your unworthiness. And confess your Savior, knowing that your Lord says to you, “I am willing.” 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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