Sunday, October 18, 2015

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.
What does faith look like? What does faith sound like? What does faith do? Clearly, there are answers to these questions. In fact, St. James famously indicates so in his statement, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” So, faith is something that can be seen and identified, primarily by our works. However, the problem is that our judgment, our measurement, and our evaluation of our own works, not to mention the works of others, is fallen, tainted, and corrupted by sin. As much as we might try, and truly believe that we do, nevertheless, we measure and evaluate our own works, and the works of others, according to our values, beliefs, and opinions, and not according to the values, truth, and all-knowing wisdom of God. And so, we value that which God does not value, and we deem virtuous that which has no virtue, and we esteem great in our eyes that which is nothing in the eyes of God.
Today’s Gospel exhibits for us the nature and the characteristics of faith: how it begins, grows, and increases, and, at last, is perfected. Yes, faith is a continually changing, growing, and evolving thing. And yet, still it is faith – true and only faith – at each and every stage. A man who has been born is not immediately the husband of a wife or the father of a son, but he has growth and increase by the year, month, week, and day. Likewise, a seed that has been sown in the earth does not ripen at once, but requires time. First, it springs up as a little shoot, this becomes a stalk, from this an ear grows, and from this grain. So, too, faith has its growth and increase. First, the heavenly seed, God’s Word, is scattered. When it is taken up in faith, it springs up and brings forth good fruit so that a man begins to trust in God, love his neighbor, and chasten his body, and become a new creation of God, not all at once, but throughout his life until the grave.
This we see today in the Galilean official who asked Jesus to come to his home and heal his son. The concerned father had faith in Jesus, that is why upon hearing that he was nearby, he went to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son. Obviously, the man believed that Jesus could and would heal his boy. His faith was real and true faith, even salvific faith, faith given and created in him by the Holy Spirit of God through the Word of God. And yet, we can see that his faith was not yet fully formed and matured, for he demanded, not once, but twice, that Jesus come physically to his home and heal his son. If his faith was fully formed and mature then he would have known that Jesus’ physical presence was not necessary, but only His Word and His will. Like a certain centurion, he should have confessed before Jesus, “Only speak your Word and my son will be healed.” But, he didn’t. This concerned father and official did not yet trust fully and completely in Jesus and His Word, but he desired “signs and wonders” in order to believe.
Yet, look how our Lord responds to this man of weak faith, but of faith nonetheless. Yes, Jesus rebukes the man, and I won’t say mildly. He said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” I sense a tone of frustration and great disappointment in our Lord’s voice. I know, many Christians have great difficulty imaging our Lord as being frustrated or angry, but I suggest to you that to deny such is to deny Jesus’ humanity. Jesus was truly disappointed. He said to His closest disciples and friends, “O you of little faith.” Likewise, Jesus was truly sorrowful and He wept real tears when His friend Lazarus died, and when He prayed in the garden. And Jesus was truly frustrated and angry when he called the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” and when he turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple in Jerusalem. For, our Lord was, and is, truly human, truly a human man in all the ways that means, yet without sin, and truly God at the same time, in one person, one man, one Lord, one Christ. And so, Jesus was frustrated and disappointed with this man of faith, and with all men of faith, who, because of their fallen sinfulness and brokenness, find it so incredibly difficult to believe. That’s why one of my favorite confessions of faith in the entire Scriptures is that of another father of a demon-possessed son: “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”
And, that’s just what Jesus did with the official and father in today’s Gospel. He rebuked the man for his weakness of faith, for often God strikes before He heals, afflicts before He consoles, kills before He gives life, and condemns before He saves, just as He did with the Canaanite woman who begged Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. But then, as He did with that Canaanite woman’s daughter, He healed the man’s son, and the woman’s daughter, with a Word: “Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live’.” This was both a challenge and an invitation to believe, and both the official father and the Canaanite mother did indeed believe – they already believed – and their children were healed just as Jesus had said. Then, since the man desired a sign when he didn’t need one, after he believed in the Word of Jesus, Jesus also granted him the sign – As he was going down to his home, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering since the very hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” Then he and his entire household believed at the Word of Jesus alone.
The Word alone, sola. The Word alone is sola gratia, for it comes to us by grace alone. The Word alone is sola scriptura, for it is found in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, alone. The Word alone is sola Christus, for the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ and made His dwelling amongst us. And, the Word alone is received by faith alone, sola fide, for only by this gift of the Holy Spirit, delivered through the Word alone, can a soul believe in the Word made flesh and cling to Jesus alone in faith and trust for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
For, who is this Jesus in whom we trust but the very Word of creation in the beginning. The Word the Father spoke into the nothing saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light – the Word by whom we confess “by whom all things were made.” This is the Man the concerned official and father begged to come to his home and heal his son. “Who do people say that I am?” Elijah? John the Baptist? The Great Prophet? But, what about you? “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And, upon this confession, this rock, Christ has built His Church, and the gates of hell will not, and cannot, prevail against Her. For, the confession of Christ as the Son of God, as the Word of God made flesh dwelling amongst us, this confession is the full and mature fruit of faith, which is made evident in the fruit of faith, good works that serve our neighbor and glorify God.
What kinds of signs and wonders are you looking for, O you of little faith? Do you hope that next November’s election will produce a political savior who will restore godly order and morality in your county? Do you hope that violence and crime in your neighborhoods and communities will come to an end and that there will be peace and comfort and easy security again? Do you hope that this little congregation will be filled to standing room only, its coffers overflowing with money, providing numerous programs and services to meet your needs and desires? Or, do you merely hope for your spouse to love you, your kids to respect you, and to have enough money to retire without having to sacrifice your creature comforts or change your lifestyle? Well, maybe you’ll get some, or any of these things. Or, maybe, even likely, you’ll get none of these things. Thanks be to God that your faith is not in things such as these, or in any thing at all, but your faith is in Jesus and in His Word.
Thanks be to God that the Word of Creation, Jesus Christ, is present with you now with His Word and with His Wounds to do for you, and to you, precisely what He says in His Word: Your sins are forgiven. Your faith is re-created, restored, and strengthened. His life-giving blood cleanses you from all sin and you are declared holy and righteous in Him. He gives you life that will never end. And, He has promised to raise your mortal body from death to be reunited with your immortal soul in heaven.
So, what does faith look like? What does faith sound like? What does faith do? Faith believes in Jesus. Faith trusts in Jesus. Faith clings to Jesus. And, faith receives Jesus. But, faith is never alone. Faith produces fruit. Faith produces good works – works that are counted as good in the eyes of the LORD because of the atoning blood of Jesus. Faith in Jesus and His Word clothes you in His righteousness as with defensive armor, armor that makes you strong in the might of the Lord to withstand the spiritual forces of evil in these evil days, and a shield that can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one. And more, the Word of God, and the Word made flesh Jesus, is the very sword of the Spirit that fights for you to defend you, to preserve you, and to keep you through life, through trial and tribulation, and through even death, unto life everlasting.
So, what does faith look like, sound like, and do? Faith believes, trusts, clings to, and receives Jesus, and faith produces good fruit, good works. That is to say, faith is a continually changing, growing, and evolving thing. And yet, still it is faith – true and only faith – at each and every stage. May the Holy Spirit who has created this faith within you continue to nourish and strengthen, preserve and protect you in faith throughout all your days. May the Son, Jesus Christ, whose blood has cleansed you of all sin, continue to be your strength, your life, and your salvation, as you trust in Him and receive from Him forgiveness and life through His Words and His Wounds. And, may the Father who created you and who gave you life continue to work through you to give life to others, using your hands, your heart, and your voice in loving service of others, that they may know Him and His Son and live, and that His Name would be glorified to the ends of the earth.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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