Sunday, January 23, 2011

Epiphany 3 Sermon

Epiphany 3 – January 23rd, 2011

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
My dear friends in Christ, in today’s Gospel lesson we continue with our Epiphany theme of Christ Jesus revealing that He is indeed True God, come down on earth to win salvation for mankind. In our text, we see Jesus heal two people – He heals a leper, and then He heals the serving boy of a Roman Centurion. Indeed, if we were to keep reading in Matthew 8, we would see more healing – in fact, the next section gets entitled in the ESV as “Jesus Heals Many” – including Peter’s mother in law. And Matthew sums this all up, Chapter 8, verse 17, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” These healings, these miracles, these are Messianic – these are things pointing to the fact that Christ Jesus is True God. There had been healings before, the prophets of Old did some, but these are different, the number, the way in which Christ approaches them – different, as we shall see.

But, as we begin to consider these two healings given for us in the Gospel lesson this morning, to begin, I want you to consider how shocking these miracles would have been to the Jewish people who saw them, how shocking this lesson would have been to the Jewish folks who first heard them. Here we have Jesus interacting with two people – a Leper and a Centurion. Jesus interacting with either would have been shocking would have been shocking to a 1st Century Jew. First we hear this – “And behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.’” Part of the problem is we know the story, we know Jesus, we know that He wants and desires to heal – and so we can miss how shocking this is. Lepers didn’t walk up to people. It just didn’t happen. Lepers were hated and feared and cast out of society. A few of you here are old enough to remember when AIDS was starting to get noticed in the 80s, and there was wide spread panic and fear – how might it spread, can we safely let kids who have HIV show up in our schools – just panic over what might happen. Take that attitude, but make it worse, because with leprosy, it’s not just fear – its knowledge. You know that this leper who suddenly comes up and kneels before Jesus could infect you – that if you were to touch him, for the safety of all you should be banished. Do you understand the revulsion that hearers would have had, the shock that would have been on people’s faces, how those with Jesus would have been pulling away from this man? And yet, what do we see Jesus do? “And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’” Jesus touches him – while everyone else in the world would pull away, Jesus touches him. That would have been more shocking to the people in Jesus’ day than the healing.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Next we have the Centurion. We hear, “When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, appealing to Him, ‘Lord, my servant is being paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’” If the poor and diseased weren’t enough, now we see a Roman. Jewish hatred of the Romans was palpable. These Romans were invaders, occupiers, people from a decadent culture who were blasphemous and vile. Think of how your typical Muslim extremist views America, would view our soldiers over in Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s how the typical Jew in Jesus’ day would have viewed the Romans. And here you have this Roman dog – a Centurion, someone who has almost certainly ordered Jews to be killed, saunters on up to Jesus. The expectation would be for Jesus spurn this centurion as one would spurn a rapid dog. Yet, what do we hear? “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’” This is shocking. Jesus will… come. Jesus is actually going to go to this man’s house, his domain? Jesus is going to enter the house that this man has sullied? Shocking! Now, we know, Jesus doesn’t actually get to the house, the pious Centurion says that he isn’t worthy to have Christ come, simply speak a word. We will address that more in a bit, but do you see how shocking both of these are – you have Jesus touching the untouchable one, you have Jesus offering to enter the house of the hated one.

Now, this should serve as an admonition to us, because here we see the fullness, the limitless nature of Christ’s love. The initial, the gut reaction, the sinful reaction of anyone hearing this in Jesus’ day would be, “Oh, surely Jesus isn’t going to deal with them.” Man’s hatred and revulsion would spring up, yet Jesus’ actions would cut right through it. And so this day, we are called to consider our own lives, and how hatred and revulsion play a part in them. This is an example, given to us by our Lord, for He is serious when He calls us to love our neighbor, and this means everyone. Those people that we make excuses not to love, not to care for – no, that isn’t right. It’s sin. These healings, this love that Christ shows calls our sinful hatred out to the carpet, shows it to be vile sin, opposed and at odds with how God Himself thinks, what God Himself does.

Yet these healings are also a great comfort for us. When we consider, when we confront our sin, when we take seriously what the Scriptures say we are to do, who we are to be, we see how utterly low we are, how often we fail, and even how we delight in our failure, how we will brag of it even – any of you delighted in how you showed hatred to another, any of you have a moment where you got to do the, “Well, I sure told him” sort of reaction? It’s not who we are supposed to be. And of course, even the outside world will pile on us. I’m sure that this week, every one of us here has had some treat us rudely, cruelly, had someone look down upon us, disdain us. Whether it’s from our own honest self-examination, or whether it’s from the hateful accusations of the world, we can be tempted to think that we are so low as to be unlovable. Indeed, Satan wants you to see your lowliness and then have you think, “I am beyond love.”

“And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him.” “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’” You are not unlovable to God. These healings, the fact that Jesus shows such love, such care to these two men, this is written so that you might know and understand and be assured that God loves even you – that there is never a point, never a moment where you are beyond God’s love. When God says that He loves the world, He means it. He even loves this leper, even loves this Centurion – and likewise He loves you. This is the hope and comfort we see from this text, this is what this text drives home, what it reveals about God. Our God loves even the poor and miserable, and indeed, Christ Jesus comes to touch us – to wash us in the waters of Baptism, to give Himself to us physically through His supper. He not just comes to our home, but calls and invites us to His home here – indeed, prepares for us a home where we can dwell eternally with Him. Nothing you have done hinders His love – no sin you have done is bigger than the Cross or stronger than the blood which He poured out on the Cross to cover and forgive your sin. That is the point of these texts.

Now, our texts do also give us some instruction, some wisdom for how our lives should be shaped knowing that God has such wondrous love for us. The leper teaches us. Did you note that the Leper doesn’t actually ask anything, he doesn’t ask a question? He simply states a fact. If you will, you can make me clean. Jesus, You can do whatever You wish, whatever You want to – and if You want to, You can heal me. This is what we believe by faith as well. This is how we are taught to pray – Thy will be done. Because we know, because we are focused upon Christ’s love, our lives are to be ones where we trust in God and let Him show us the love that He wills – that even when we pray, even when we ask God for something, we do not demand, but say, “If it be Thy will, grant unto us…. whatever.” Do you see what this teaches? We don’t have to be in charge, we don’t need to tell God what He has to do – we don’t have to impress God with our piety or righteousness or how awesome our prayers are to manipulate Him. We know that He loves us – and because of that, He will do what is good for us, and if He so wills, He will grant our requests. If He doesn’t – eh, He has other plans. So be it – the fact remains that God loves us, and if our requests aren’t answered the way we want – Thy will be done. Our eyes are not focused upon our desires, but always upon the Love that God has shown us by sending Christ Jesus to the Cross. That love reigns, and that love shapes us so that we learn more and more to be content with whatever God wills.

Likewise, the Centurion teaches us. When Jesus offers to go to his house, the Centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the Word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘go’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” And even Jesus marvels at this, says He hasn’t found such faith in all of Israel. So what does the Centurion teach us, what does this show us faith to be? The Centurion knows that the Word of Jesus has power and authority – that by His Word, Christ accomplishes what He wills. This is faith – and faith recognizes the authority of God, the power He gives His Word. And this holds true to this very day. All of us here have been brought to the Christian faith by the power and authority of the Word of God – when Christ Jesus used someone to speak His life giving Word of forgiveness and salvation to us. And this idea – this focus on authority shapes everything in our lives. Why are you here listening to me preach? Is it because Eric Brown is so awesome? Hardly. Is it because you think, “eh, we give the poor sap a paycheck, we might as well humor him”? I hope not. Rather this – I have been called and ordained, I have been placed here with God’s own authority, not to speak healings and riches for this life, but called and ordained to proclaim the Word of God that forgives you your sin because of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection, called and ordained to give you Christ’s own Body and Blood until the day when He returns, resurrects our bodies and calls us to the heavenly feast directly. The Centurion understands authority and the Word of God, and what do I have here as pastor – only and simply this, the authority to proclaim the Word of God here.

You too are under authority – you have been given authority in your life. Are you a parent? Then you have been authorized by God to train and teach your children, to correct them when they are wrong, to point them to Christ and His Church. Are you someone’s child? Then you have been authorized to serve and care for your parents, given by God the duty to serve and obey, to care for them as they age, and even to speak the Word of God to comfort them as they need it. Spouses – same thing – placed by God to care and to speak Words of Christ’s own forgiveness. I’d recommend you read the Table of Duties out of the Small Catechism this week – this all deals with this authority, what we have been authorized by God to do. And this always, always revolves back to God authorizing and instructing us to show His own love to each other.

There is a lot in this text, more that we could ponder. But this is the point – Christ Jesus loves you, and in order that you always recognize and know that love, He has put people into your life to tell you that you are loved and forgiven – be they your pastor who is to preach it, or your neighbors. And knowing this love, you are called to be confident in Him – to trust that His will is for your good. Christ Jesus came to this world to win your salvation from sin, and He shall come again to give you the wonders of heaven. How things happen between now and then – I don’t know – but the love of Christ Jesus for you will remain, and you know it because it is given to you through His Word. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

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