Sunday, October 16, 2016
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.
Why didn’t Jesus do as the grief-stricken father pleaded with Him to do and come to his home on the spot and heal his son who was dying? Why didn’t Jesus come immediately to His friend Lazarus when He received word that he was dying? Why didn’t Jesus just heal the paralyzed man on the spot instead of proclaiming his sin’s forgiven? Why doesn’t Jesus answer your prayers in a direct, obvious, and satisfying way and heal your cancer, mend your broken marriage, or reform your rebellious teen? Time and time again you come to Him in prayer and nothing happens, nothing changes. Maybe He isn’t listening? Maybe He cannot help? Maybe He doesn’t care? Maybe He isn’t even real? Or, maybe, you are not so unlike the people of Jesus’ day, refusing to believe unless you see signs and wonders?
Jesus performed numerous signs and wonders during His earthly life and ministry, and an even greater number in the times before then as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, exacting astounding plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, parting the Red Sea and the Jordan River, providing manna, quail, and water from the rock to sustain the children of Israel in the wilderness, guiding them in their journeys in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, appearing in a burning bush and with fire and smoke and an earthquake upon Mount Sinai, and more. You have all these signs and wonders and still you refuse to believe Jesus’ Word and promise to you. If He says that you are healed, then why do you not believe? If He says that you will be raised, then why do you not believe? If He says that you are forgiven, then why do you not believe? If He says that He is with you always, even to the end of the age, and that He will never leave you or forsake you, then why do you not believe? If He says that you have died with Him in Holy Baptism and that you will be raised with Him in His resurrection, then why do you not believe? If He says that He is present with you in this Holy Meal that you may eat and drink and commune with Him in flesh and blood and spirit, then why do you not believe? O, you of little faith? Do you, like Thomas, refuse to believe unless you see and touch?
No, you are not alone in this, your weakness and smallness of faith. Though Abraham believed the LORD so strongly at first, when Sarah did not conceive according to his timeline he took matters into his own hands and conceived a son with Hagar, his wife’s maidservant. But, Ishmael was not the son of promise, and the LORD provided still a natural son for Abraham and Sarah in Isaac, through whom all the nations of the earth are blessed in Jesus. Likewise, Moses and the Israelites, who had witnessed many signs and wonders, failed to trust in the LORD and obey His command to travel around the land of Edom for fear that they would perish of starvation. Because of their sinful unbelief the LORD sent fiery serpents to bite the people, and many died, that they might turn in repentance and be forgiven and healed. Even then, many refused to look upon the bronze serpent to which the LORD had attached His Word of Promise and healing. Though forgiveness and healing were provided them, they chose unbelief and death over faith, repentance, and life in the LORD. And, then there was Peter, who gave a bold confession in reply to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” answering, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But, then, Peter was overcome with fear and doubt when Jesus explained that the Son of Man must suffer and die, and on the third day be raised. Peter refused to believe Jesus’ Words, and Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me Satan.”
They had seen so much. They had come so far, lead and fed, cared for and protected by the LORD and His Word. And, still they struggled, at times they failed, to believe. And, so do you. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will never believe.” This Word of Jesus was at once a rebuke, a statement of fact, and a commiseration, for your Lord Jesus is a flesh and blood human just like you, experiencing the temptation to fear and doubt and unbelief that come with hunger and thirst, pain and sorrow, and ultimately death, just like you. Jesus knows what it is like to be you. The LORD your God knows what it is like to be you. Therefore He grants you signs and wonders that you may hear with your ears, see with your eyes, touch with your hands, and taste with your mouths that He is good, that He cares for you and guides you and protects you, because He loves you and He does not desire to see you perish. God loves you, and God loves the world so much that He has given His Son into your fleshly weakness, has suffered temptation and overcome Satan by faith and trust in the Word of the LORD, and has submitted to death on the cross, the death you deserve, that you might have, in exchange, His life that cannot die, that you might be restored to sonship with His Father as you were created to enjoy in the beginning.
It happened in Cana, where Jesus had performed His first wondrous sign changing water into wine at a wedding feast. He did not do this simply to bring pleasure and joy, but Jesus changed the water into wine that His weak-faithed people might see and believe. And, many did. One of those who saw and believed that day may very well have been the official in today’s Gospel who, hearing that Jesus was near, came to Him and pleaded with Him to come to his home and heal his son who was near death. The official had faith, though it was small faith. That is why he came to Jesus. However, Jesus desired to strengthen his faith, just as He would strengthen Thomas’ faith saying, “Do you believe because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus told the official, “Go, and your son will live.” Though he was surely disappointed and struggled to believe, the official “believed the Word that Jesus had spoke to him and went on his way.” “As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.”
The Word might seem weak as a foundation for faith unless it has something visible, physical, and tangible with it. But the Word is sufficient by itself. Compare Jesus’ Word to Jesus Himself and you’ll see how true this is. Jesus seemed like a weak foundation for salvation. His strength was beaten out of Him. He stood helpless before His accusers. He was too weak to carry His own cross all the way up Golgotha. He died quickly as far as crucifixions go, letting go of life long before the criminals crucified on either side of Him did. Is this seriously your foundation for salvation? Yes! Yes it is! Jesus may have looked weak, but that’s how He chose to defeat sin, death, and the devil.
What we were set up to expect in today’s Gospel indeed came to fruition: Jesus did another sign in Cana, and more believed. Jesus did not go to the official’s home, and yet He healed the man’s son by speaking His Word. In the end, the official’s faith depended on Jesus’ Word, and not upon his sight. Faith that believes without seeing is stronger faith. This your Lord would have for you. Faith that believes the Word of the Lord without accompanying signs and wonders is faith that cannot fail. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Now, you have heard countless sermons and teachings on the importance and power of the Word of God, and this is yet another. However, I will attempt to simplify things and get right to the point. The Word of God is not a word like you and I speak, a word that changes in meaning over time, a word that effects nothing true or lasting, a word that can be spoken falsely, insincerely, or in deceit, but the Word of God is a person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, even the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word God spoke in the beginning by whom everything was made and is still sustained. When God said, “Let there be Light,” Jesus was the Word that God spoke even as He is the Light of the world. God’s Word, Jesus, is a creative and performative Word, a Word that actually brings into being what it says. When God says, “Let there be Light,” there is Light. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” your sins are forgiven. When Jesus says, “This is my body; this is my blood,” they are precisely what He says. And, when Jesus says, “I will raise you up on the Last Day,” you can trust that He will. So, when your Pastor tells you that you must believe and trust in the Word of the Lord, this is what he means by the word “word.”
Therefore, the Bible is not just a book full of words, written by men, therefore containing errors and myths and prejudices and agendas that our task today is to weed through and discard the chaff while ascertaining the wheat. No! The Bible is the Word of God, breathed by His Spirit through His inspired writers, testifying to all that God has done, is doing, and will do in and through His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The Word of the Lord, the Bible, is authoritative and unchanging, true and without error, and Jesus Christ is the interpretive key and the revelation of its fulfillment and meaning. The Word of the LORD is sufficient for you. It is all you need. Whether or not the Lord provides you signs and wonders, you can trust His Word and promise that will not and cannot fail. And yet, your God is not a God who is far off, but a God who is near, even a God who has become a man, flesh and blood just like you. And, your God is present with you now, not only spiritually, but in signs and wonders that you can hear and see and touch and taste. Your God would have you believe without seeing, but to strengthen your faith and to lead you there, He washes your sins away in Holy Water, He absolves you anew through the mouth and the hands of your Pastor, He comforts, strengthens, and equips you through His Word of Law and Gospel proclaimed in the Church, and He feeds you and communes with you, filling you with Himself in the Holy Supper of His real and true body and blood. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” Believe it for Jesus’ sake.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.