Sunday, October 13, 2013
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.
The seventeenth century French philosopher, mathematician, and Christian apologist Blaise Pascal posited that human beings all bet with their lives either that God exists or that He does not exist. Given the possibility that God actually does exist, Pascal continued, and assuming the infinite gain or loss associated with belief in God or with unbelief, a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God, for, if God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.) instead of an infinite loss (the loss of eternal life and the receipt of eternal death and damnation). Pascal’s argument first appeared in his Pensées (Thoughts) and has come to be known as “Pascal’s Wager”.
It must be understood that Pascal’s Wager was not intended to be a proof of God’s existence, but, rather, an exercise of reasonable probability in how a man should live his life. His argument goes something like this: Either God exists, or He does not exist. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions. Nevertheless, you must wager; it’s not optional. However, if God exists, and you have wagered accordingly, you gain all. And, if God does not exist, whether you wager correctly or incorrectly, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is, for, there is an infinity of infinitely happy life to gain, while what you stake is finite.
I trust that, while you can see the reasonableness of Pascal’s Wager, you can also see that betting on God’s existence according to mere rational probability in respect to what you will either gain or lose accordingly is a far cry from what the Holy Spirit calls you to believe about God and His goodness in the Holy Scriptures and in the proclamation of His Gospel message. And yet, this does not make Pascal’s Wager incorrect, for, indeed, it is true – you do stand to receive infinite gain by believing in Him and trusting in Him, while unbelief in Him and rejection of Him will gain you infinite loss. Is this not what St. Paul teaches, at least in part, by saying, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?” Ah, but there is a difference, and not an insignificant one: St. Paul is speaking in faith in the eternal, benevolent, and Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and not merely in consideration of what his faith will benefit him. Paul is speaking about how he will live his life in the world because of His God who has loved Him to the end in Jesus Christ.
Bo Giertz wrote in his notes on today’s Gospel, “Only he comes to God who loves Him and seeks to do His good and gracious will, whether it pays off or not.” What this means is that you must not believe in God and trust in Him merely because He gives you what you want, but you must believe and trust in Him because His Word is true and good, even when it accuses and scolds you, even when you do not receive what you want. In the Gospel, an official, probably from Herod’s court, wanted Jesus to come to his home and heal his son who was dying. No doubt he had heard, maybe even observed firsthand, the miracle He had previously performed in Cana, turning water into wine. Jesus rebuked him for demanding a sign, His physical presence in attendance to his dying son; He said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Then He told the man, “Go; your son will live.” John tells us that “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
The lesson here is that, while signs and wonders are indeed significant and wonderful, they are not the one thing needful, but the one thing needful is the Word of God. Indeed, signs and wonders are nothing apart from the Word of God just as baptism, without the Word, is only water, and communion, without the Word, is unsatisfying bread and cheap wine. But, with the Word of God, the water of Holy Baptism is a cleansing, regenerating, and faith-creating flood, and Holy Communion is the real and true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. As the story goes, before the man reached his home, his servants came to him with the news that his son had recovered. He knew that it was at the very moment Jesus said, “Your son will live.” Though he did not see the miracle being performed by signs and wonders, it happened nonetheless – just like the water being changed to wine at the wedding in Cana.
But, this is the continual revelation of Holy Scripture: God’s Word is powerful and creative, bringing into being what it says. In the beginning, God created all things that are by His powerful and creative Word so that “All things were made through [the Word], and without [the Word] was not anything made that was made.” Moreover, the powerful and creative Word of God, by which all things were made, “became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jesus, “the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” When Jesus heals, He is re-creating and restoring His fallen and broken creation. When Jesus forgives, He is doing the same. He takes the world’s sin and brokenness and uncleanness upon Himself. He takes it to the cross, to your cross, and there He dies with it and for it so that it is no more, and He buries it in His tomb, your tomb, from which He has risen, leaving it dead and buried behind.
The official wanted signs and wonders. That’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with signs and wonders. However, your God would have you love Him, not because of signs and wonders, but because of His goodness and the truth of His Word. He has performed countless signs and wonders, and He performs them for you every day. But, signs and wonders are a secondary thing to His Word, even a fruit of that true and life-giving Vine. Pascal was right, if for the wrong reason: There is infinite gain in believing and trusting in God. You gain in this life by living in accordance with His Word. Through His Word He blesses you; and through His Word He makes you a rich blessing to others. And, when this life is ended, He will bless you with eternal life. It’s a win-win situation, a no-brainer! For the Christian, to live in this world is to live Christ’s life in humility, kindness, charity, mercy, peace, forgiveness, and most of all love. Then, when this life is ended, to die is only gain.
Yes, the world and men will assail you, but they are not your true enemy. Indeed, St. Paul exhorts you that you “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, abut against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This means, no man is your enemy, for we all have but one enemy, Satan, the evil one, the enemy of God, His Son, His Word, and His people. However, you do not face the enemy or his flaming darts alone or unprotected. You are covered in the holy armor of God: Truth, righteousness, and the Gospel of peace. These are the Word of God that mark you, guard you, and protect you – they are defensive armor against the assaults of the devil, the world, and the flesh. In truth, the only offensive weapon you have is the Sword of the Spirit, which, also is the Word of God.
Be not afraid; the Lord is with you. He is faithful and true, and He keeps His Word. As in the miracle at the Wedding at Cana, when Jesus changed the water into wine, the Lord works through His powerful and creative Word, often hidden and unseen, without signs and wonders. But, He works, and He is working. By His Word He created all things, sustains all things, and re-creates all things for the good of those who love Him in Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is through you, more than through signs and wonders, that He does much of His work. It is through your hands, your mouth, and your heart that He comforts and heals, helps and befriends, serves and intercedes for all His people. It is through your vocations as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, teachers, bankers, managers, carpenters, nurses, caregivers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers that He serves His people and provides for all their needs of body and soul. He does this all through you “who [love] Him and [seek] to do His good and gracious will, whether it pays off or not.”
Of course, it does pay off temporally; and it will pay off eternally. For, His Word has spoken so, and His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, has died and has been raised to new and eternal life, the only sign and wonder that truly matters. And, to strengthen, keep, and protect you from the evil one in this new week, He gives you the sign and wonder of His body and blood in Holy Communion. “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.