Sunday, January 26, 2014

Homily for The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 3)

Matthew 8:1-13; Romans 12:16-21; 2 Kings 5:1-15a

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but speak only Your Word, and my servant will be healed. Do you hear the faith of the Centurion whom Jesus praises saying, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith?” Jesus made a point of this Gentile’s confession within earshot of His Jewish disciples and hearers so that they might know that it is faith that makes one an heir of Abraham and not Jewish descent or the works of our hands. It is faith that clings to God’s Word of promise and trusts in Him that saves us by God’s free grace: grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone.
Indeed, this doctrinal axiom was stated by God to Abraham when He made His covenant with Him saying, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” We are told that Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. This is to say that Abraham was not righteous in himself, and neither was his faith righteousness, but rather the LORD chose to look upon Abraham’s faith in this way and to count his faith to him as righteousness. Abraham contributed nothing in his part of the covenant – nothing that is, except for his faith, faith that God Himself had raised up within him.
And, so is it with you as well. You bring nothing to the table to offer to or to negotiate with the LORD. Indeed, spiritually, you were not even alive before God’s gracious intervention, but you were dead in sin and unable to make any movement toward God spiritually, mentally, or physically. You were like Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, Jesus’ friend, who was dead and buried in his tomb. Could Lazarus have done anything to change his dead condition? Could he have chosen to rise up and walk and to accept Jesus into his heart? No. The only thing Lazarus could have done was to waste, and stink, until he was no more. So, also, you were conceived and born in sin that leads to death. You were spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind until the Word of God opened your ears and eyes and raised you from death to life in Him. Your faith, like Abraham’s, is the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
And, truly, even after faith and conversion, you are not worthy in yourself that the Lord should enter under your roof. However, the Lord has made you to be worthy by His grace, which you receive through the faith He has raised up within you (just like Abraham and Lazarus!), and therefore you are worthy! You are worthy because the Lord has made you to be worthy, even as you believe because the Lord has called you to faith, and therefore you live, because the Lord has given you His life.
Indeed this is true for all the Lord’s saints from Adam and Eve to you, your children, and your children’s children, even unto those whose life is yet to be conceived. We all inherit Adam’s sin and the death that is sin’s due wage. And, likewise, we are all saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in God’s Word alone (which is to say, Jesus Christ alone). Therefore, in terms of justification before God in Jesus Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” But, you see, this passage from Galatians does not teach the equality and non-differentiation of roles as is popularly thought today, but rather it teaches the universal atonement of all humanity in Jesus’ death and resurrection which we all may receive through faith in Him. Therefore, St. Paul continues by saying, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” And, here the Apostle is teaching to the Church what Jesus taught His disciples: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” But, those who come do so by God-given faith in His gracious gift of His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
Our First Mother Eve had this God-given faith. The LORD made His first promise of salvation shortly after our First Parent’s fall saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” While this promise was made directly to the serpent, Eve took those words to heart and believed. When she gave birth to her firstborn son, Cain, Eve famously proclaimed, “I have begotten a Man, the LORD!” believing that the LORD had already fulfilled His promise, delivering the Seed of Promise. While she was mistaken about the identity of the promised seed, Eve’s faith in the LORD’s Word of promise is extraordinarily clear. As an interesting side-note, Jewish tradition holds that Cain’s name was a prophecy of the instrument he would later use to murder his brother Abel, a reed cane. Further, instead of Eve’s faith being shaken by the horrible sin of her firstborn son whom she believed came in fulfillment of the LORD’s promise, Eve named her third son Seth, a name that means “planted” as in “a planted seed.” Again, though she was at first mistaken about the identity of the LORD’s promised seed, nevertheless, she remained faithful that the LORD would keep His promise and provide.
There were many faithful men and women between Adam and Eve and Joseph and Mary, including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and David. And then comes Mary. In many ways, Mary was a Second Eve. If Eve was the “mother of all the living” who, by her sin, plunged all her offspring into death, then Mary is the New “Mother of all the Living” who, by her faith believed the Word of the LORD, as incredible and ridiculous as it surely seemed, that she would conceive and bear the Son of God who would save His people from their sins, and in faith replied saying, “Let it be to me according to your Word.”
“Let it be to me according to your Word.” “But only speak your Word, and my servant will be healed.” “Abraham believed the Word of the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” This is the Christian faith: Faith in the Word, and in the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. It is this faith that God counts as righteousness, Christ’s righteousness imputed to you by grace. You receive this faith as a gift, a gift that lays hold of Jesus and clings to Him alone. In this faith you receive Christ’s righteousness, righteousness that clothes you and covers you, righteousness that you did not earn, merit, or deserve, but that was given to you, declared of you, by God for the sake of Jesus.
This righteousness was given to God’s chosen people first, that through them all the world might be embraced and covered. Hence we are continually given in the Scriptures examples and stories of Gentiles who believe and are forgiven and declared righteous through faith in the God’s Word of promise. Indeed, this is the case with Naaman the Syrian leper who, despite how foolish it seemed to his reason and wisdom, finally submitted to the Word of God and permitted himself to be washed in the Jordan River, a precursor of Holy Baptism. When he emerged, his flesh was restored as that of a newborn child. In a similar way his sins had been forgiven. Also, as I stated earlier, this is the case with the Roman Centurion who trusted in the Word of God spoken by Jesus that his servant would be healed without His even being present.
The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, but apart from faith in Christ, there is no salvation – neither for the Jew or the Gentile – but only weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Word of God is powerful, authoritative, and creative, bringing about what it says. This Word creates faith where there is nothing even as it brought forth all things in the beginning and continues to sustain all things to this day. This Word is Truth, the only truth, and therefore it is the only way of salvation and life. This Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us that, in beholding Jesus, we behold the fullness of the Godhead and His glory. This Word was baptized for you, obedient for you, suffered and died for you, and was raised from the dead for you and ascended to the Father in heaven for you. And this Word will soon return to raise your body from death to eternal life with Him, which was His goal and purpose for you in the beginning.
No, because of your sin you are not worthy that the Lord should enter under your roof. However, you believe and trust in His Word by the faith He has created in you, therefore the LORD counts you as righteous and worthy for Jesus’ sake. You have heard His Word to you this day: “You are forgiven.” Now, therefore, come, and receive His body and blood shed for you, the source and seal of God’s forgiveness, trusting His Word, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” and receive the life that He gives and keeps on giving, for where there is the forgiveness of sins, there must surely follow life and salvation.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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