Sunday, October 14, 2012

Homily for The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 21)


John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” These words Jesus spoke to an official who pleaded that He would come to Capernaum and heal His son who was near death. I can almost imagine Jesus sighing and shaking in His head in disappointment. However, this probably wasn’t the first time that He had encountered weak faith in men, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. As it was, the constant refrain of the people to whom He was sent, the chosen people of God, the children of Israel, was “What sign will you do so that we may believe!” Earlier in Cana, Jesus had changed water into wine in a quiet and decidedly unspectacular way, simply by speaking His Word. Initially, at least, this fact was lost on the official as he insisted that Jesus come down to his house. Likewise, even after feeding 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish, the crowds cried out for a sign like that of Moses and the manna in the wilderness. And, we cannot forget Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, who, upon hearing of His Lord’s resurrection from the dead infamously proclaimed, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

Are you so unlike the official whose son was dying? Are you so unlike the hungry crowds in the wilderness? Are you so unlike Thomas, wrangling with his doubt? I know that I’m not. In fact, I am Thomas. I need to see and to touch Jesus’ wounds to believe. Thankfully, graciously, Jesus comes to me, and Jesus comes to you, not by Word alone, but also in the seeable, touchable, and tastable means of water, bread, and wine to forgive our sins, especially the sin of unbelief, to strengthen our faith, and to give us life in and through Him. Your Creator, God, and LORD so loves you so as to condescend to come to you, who cannot come to Him, even though His creative Word alone brought forth creation out of nothing, spoke light into the darkness, and brought forth life where there was no life. Jesus is God’s creative Word become man and dwelling amongst us; His Word is forgiveness, life, healing, and salvation – with, or without seeable, touchable, and tasteable means which are bonus and icing on the cake.

What if you pray, but the cancer remains? What if you pray, but the baby dies? What if you pray, but the divorce still happens? What if you pray, but the job never comes? Did God fail you? Did He not hear your prayers? Is he cruel, vindictive, or simply impotent? Or, do you question whether He truly exists at all? If you are honest with yourself, and you need to be, then you will confess that you have thought these thoughts, entertained these doubts, and felt this way from time to time. Doubt is one of the ramifications of sin. Sin has separated you from God so that you cannot be in His presence, you cannot see Him or hear Him or touch Him. Though you are deaf, dumb, and blind in your sin, and though you cannot come to God or enter His presence because of your sin, your God comes to you, and He unstops your ears, looses your tongue, and opens your eyes that you may see, hear, touch, taste, and speak once again. However, doubt hinders your trust and weakens your faith so that you suffer from uncertainties, misgivings, and temptations to sinful fear and pride. Doubt causes you to need a sign, and to fall into greater doubt, eventually into unbelief, if you do not get what you think you want.

The official in today’s Gospel lesson was struggling with doubt. He had faith – faith enough in what he had heard about Jesus, about the miracle He had performed at a wedding in Cana, in order to compel him to go to Jesus and to plead for His help. But, still he was looking for a sign; he wanted Jesus to come to where his son was, maybe speak an incantation, call on some angels, wave His hands in the air, something. Though Jesus called him to faith saying “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe,” the official continued to plead, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” But, you see, Jesus was right. In fact, Thomas was right too. You, I, we, mankind – we do need to see and touch and taste! Though the Word is sufficient in itself, though God’s grace is sufficient for us in all things, we need the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. God knows this, and He has delivered, and He delivers Jesus to us still in Word, water, body, and blood.

For your sake, God sent forth His Son, His Word, to become a man, to fulfill the Law, and to suffer and die for your sins and the sins of all mankind, and to be raised, victorious over death and the devil. For your sake, the Word of God became flesh, died in the flesh, was raised and ascended in the flesh, and will come again and remain forever in the flesh. While the official knew that he needed Jesus, he didn’t know that Jesus was God’s Word in the flesh. Thus, Jesus took the official’s faith in the Man, and He added to it faith in the Word of God that had become that Man. Bo Giertz wrote, “Jesus had never worked miracles to impress people or to make himself popular or to be believed. To do this was one of the temptations of the devil that he resisted. He used his power to help others, but never himself. He used it to reveal the mercy of God and God’s presence. For those who had eyes to see, his miracles revealed that the kingdom of God was at hand and that the Messiah had come.”

To show this to the official, and to show this to you, Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the Word that Jesus spoke to him and he went on his way. Before he arrived at home, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering, precisely at the hour in which Jesus said, “Your son will live”. The official did not need to see his son healthy and standing in order to believe, but now he trusted, not only in the Man who could heal, but he trusted in the Word of God made flesh who is healing and eternal life. The man and his entire household believed in Jesus.

Your Lord Jesus calls you to such a faith – a faith that clings to His Word without seeing and without touching. Nevertheless, He has compassion for you in your weakness of faith and in your doubts and He gives you so much more than even His disciples and Apostles enjoyed, His glorified flesh and blood to see, to touch, to taste that you may commune with Him and dwell in Him and He in you. Still He directs you to the Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us that you may believe that you will live, even if you die, because He has died and yet lives. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He says to you, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And then He asks you, “Do you believe this?” May your answer be the same as my answer, and the same as another father of a boy possessed by a demon: Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. And, He does; and, He will.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: