Sunday, October 2, 2016
Homily for The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 19)
Matthew 9:1-8; Ephesians 4:22-28; Genesis 28:10-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jacob’s dream was more like a revelation, an unveiling, in which he was granted to see something that had been present with him all along, but hidden, veiled as it were, so that he could not see it. What it was that had been there all along, hidden and veiled, was God Himself, present with Jacob, and with his fathers, but not seen. In his dream, the first thing Jacob saw was a ladder set up on earth with its top reaching into heaven. The ladder had been there all along too, hidden and veiled. It had been set up on the earth by God. Moreover, God’s holy angels were ascending and descending upon it. The scriptures say first that God’s holy angels were ascending, which means that they were already there with Jacob on earth too, even when he could not see them. Truly God’s holy angels, truly God Himself is present with you even now, and every day and moment of your life. Even in your darkest moments and your most uncertain days, your God is with you and His holy angels are with you, guarding, protecting, and defending you lest you strike your foot against a stone.
Then the LORD spoke to Jacob saying, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This was, essentially, a repetition of the covenant promise God had made to Abraham and to Isaac, reiterated now to Jacob, and to you as well. The land that the LORD would give to Jacob and to his offspring, and to you, was not merely that little plot of ground upon which he laid his head, but it was the earth itself, for the entire earth and the universe in which it exists is Bethel, the House of God. The earth and everything in it is the LORD’s, even He who created it and sustains it. And, the LORD has given it to you. Though the LORD was already present in the world, hidden and veiled, what He was about to do would change everything. The LORD, Himself, would become Jacob’s offspring, incarnated in the womb of Jacob’s descendant Mary. The LORD would speak His creative Word once again into the virgin soil of Mary’s womb and raise up a New Adam, His own Son, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Son of David, the Lamb of God’s providing who would take away the sins of the world. Through Jesus, the LORD’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled. In Jesus, all the nations and families of the earth have been blessed.
Moreover, in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, God has intimately and everlastingly joined Himself with humankind. To paraphrase Athanasius, God became man in Jesus that man might become God. “Behold, I am with you,” saith the LORD, “and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Rightly did Jacob awake from his dream and confess, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it,” and “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” In Jesus, God has visited and made His dwelling among His people. The promise is not only for sometime yet to come, but it is a promise that is fulfilled even now. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, then, now, and always. Your LORD God, Creator, and Sustainer has penetrated this His creation, has taken up your flesh and redeemed and restored it in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Word and Son made flesh Jesus Christ. He has redeemed and restored the world and everyone in it – Yes! Everyone in it! And, you are redeemed and restored to proclaim this Good News to the world and to every human being in it, be he brother, sister, friend, neighbor, or enemy. This is the Truth, but your enemy would have you keep silent – and too often you are! Do not keep the Light that enlightens you hidden, but let it shine in and through you that those walking in darkness might see and glorify the LORD. You cannot be a light shining in the darkness if you blend in with the darkness of the world. Repent and return to your baptismal grace, and shine with the eternal, primordial Light of the world.
This is what the paralytic’s friends were doing in today’s Gospel – they were shining with the Light of Christ for all the world to see. When they brought their paralyzed brother to Jesus, Jesus saw their faith. What did Jesus see? What does faith look like? Faith bears forth the fruit of love. It was their fruit, it was their faith in action, that Jesus saw. By bringing their friend to Jesus they displayed their faith – their faith in Jesus, their faith in God, and their love for their neighbor – for all the world to see. Jesus “saw their faith.” That’s a remarkable statement! Then Jesus did something even more remarkable; He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Now, the man didn’t ask for forgiveness. He certainly didn’t confess any sins. His friends who brought him to Jesus didn’t ask for forgiveness either. Presumably, they wanted Jesus to heal their paralyzed friend.
Now, admittedly, this isn’t how we typically think of forgiveness, is it? Don’t we expect someone to repent first, to confess their sins, and then be absolved? Indeed, that’s the way it works in church, isn’t it? Each and every time we gather here we confess our sins together before we receive the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. Then, why did Jesus simply pronounce the paralyzed man’s sins forgiven? If the man needed forgiveness, why didn’t Jesus first call him to repentance? Herein lies the beautiful and wonderful truth of Jesus’ incarnation: Jesus is forgiveness for all who trust in Him. Already then, at that very moment, even before His crucifixion, death, and resurrection for the sins of the world, Jesus is forgiveness, incarnate for all who believe. Jesus saw the faith of the friends of the paralytic, that they lovingly brought him before Jesus trusting that He would help. So, likewise, when you intercede for others, when you pray for them, when you love them and serve them and seek to help them, when you forgive them, they are forgiven. In the case of the paralytic, Jesus only pronounced what was already the case: “Your sins are forgiven.” And, that is what your pastors do. And, that is what you do for others – You proclaim what is already the case: The sins of the world are forgiven in Jesus Christ. This fact is received by all who trust in Him.
Why didn’t Jesus heal the man? Well, in fact, He did. Forgiveness is the healing that all of us sin-sick-unto-death souls are in need of. All physical ailments and suffering of any kind are but the external, physical, and emotional effects of sin. Sometimes Jesus heals physically, sometimes He does not, but Jesus always forgives those who trust in Him and cling to Him for life and salvation. Truly, even those whom Jesus did heal grew sick again later and died. And, those whom Jesus raised from the dead still died again, for the wages of sin is only, and always, death. Jesus would have you look beyond temporary healing to the one thing needful – to faith and forgiveness, which are the true healing, and to resurrection unto life that does not perish and die. In forgiving the sins of the paralytic, Jesus was simply proclaiming what was already a present fact – God’s gracious and merciful presence was in their midst, even as Jacob saw God’s holy angels ascending and descending a ladder set up upon the earth with its top in heaven. Forgiveness and true healing are here for you now in Jesus Christ. When you intercede for others and pray for them, and when you bring them to Jesus, as did the friends of the paralytic, you do a holy work for them, one that accomplishes infinitesimally more than physical healing, which will still, ultimately, end in death. When you pray for others and bring them to Jesus you extend to them the same grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness you yourself have received. And, Jesus’ grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness never fail to accomplish what they are poured out for – the forgiveness of sins, and the bestowal of life that cannot die.
But, the scribes were offended. “This man is blaspheming. No one can forgive sins except God.” Of course, they were right, but they didn’t know how right they were. Jesus is God, in the flesh, the Word and Son of God incarnate as a man, in our midst, even the Ladder set up upon the earth with its top in heaven. In Jesus, God dwells with men and brings the kingdom of heaven down to earth. Therefore, it was not Jesus, who is God, but the scribes who were blaspheming. However, what the scribes were truly upset with was that Jesus was taking authority away from them. There was a whole process and ritual by which sinners were forgiven, made clean, and restored and it involved sacrifices and repentance; it involved them. But, Jesus bypassed all of that and simply pronounced the man’s sins forgiven. All that is required to receive forgiveness is faith – not sacrifices, not penance, not a public confession or a priestly absolution, though these are gifts our Lord provides to comfort and confirm us in faith. Even our Lutheran Confessions state that, “repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sins. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven.” Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends borne out in their love for him and trust in Jesus. And, Jesus knew the heart of the paralytic and saw his own faith as well: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus answered the scribes saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” In this case, Jesus granted the physical healing, but this was but a foretaste of the true healing, which was hidden and veiled, the forgiveness of sins, and the greater physical healing that is yet to come in the resurrection of the body. As great as was the healing of the paralytic that day, that man would still pass through death. So much greater will be the day of his, and your, resurrection when the effects of sin and death will be healed forever. Truly, it is easier for Jesus to say your sins are forgiven, for that includes the healing from sin now, and the healing of the body for eternity on the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
Jesus is God’s forgiveness present among you now with His Words and His Wounds. Your God-given, Spirit-created faith receives His forgiveness in faith and trust and causes you to bear forth the fruit of faith, love, towards your neighbor to the glory of God. As Jesus healed the paralyzed man because of his faith, and the faith of his friends, so too does Jesus hear your prayers and intercessions for others and forgive them. Thus He has taught you to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” The whole earth is Bethel, the House of God, because God is present here with you in His Son Jesus. Jesus is the ladder that bridges heaven and earth. In Jesus, God has visited His people in mercy, love, and forgiveness and has made His dwelling with you. You are an extension of this Good News to all the nations and families of the world. Let them see your faith. Let them see Jesus in you. Surely the LORD is in this place for you. Your sins are forgiven. Rise and walk. Pray for your brother, your sister, your friend, your neighbor, and even your enemy, and bring them to Jesus. Your love covers a multitude of sins, not least of all your own.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.