Sunday, January 26, 2020

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, if you will you can make me clean.” That is faith speaking. The Jewish leper confessed his faith in Jesus, first, that Jesus had the power to make him clean; second, that, if Jesus willed him to be clean, he would be clean indeed. Yet, as great as that confession of faith was, there may have been a twinge of doubt – “if you are willing.” The leper believed in Jesus’ power to heal, but he seemed uncertain of Jesus’ will. True faith trusts in the goodness of the LORD’s will come what may, come healing or not. The LORD is good, Jesus is good, and His will for man is always good. Holy Spirit, increase our faith and gives us eyes to see the goodness of the LORD in all things, in weakness, suffering, and death, as well as in healing, joy, and life that cannot die.
Then there is the centurion, a Gentile, who petitioned Jesus, not for himself, but for his servant who was paralyzed. Jesus offered to come to his home at once and heal him, but the centurion confessed, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The Roman commander of one hundred soldiers confessed his own unworthiness. This great man whom many admired, and whom everyone feared, considered himself to be nothing but a poor miserable sinner. Now, I suspect that some of you don’t much appreciate those words we confess concerning ourselves each time we gather here in Divine Service. The Old Adam hates to confess his sinfulness and unworthiness; he’d prefer to blame someone else, even God. That is precisely why we say those words each week, “I – A – POOR – MISERABLE – SINNER,” because that is the truth, that is what I am, and that is what you are, do not deceive yourself. If we don’t want to believe it, at least keep on saying it that, in time, the Holy Spirit working through those words might cause you to believe it.
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” That is faith speaking. The faith of Abram who believed the LORD when He promised him an heir from his own flesh through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed – Abram believed the LORD, Abram believed the Word of the LORD, and the LORD counted his faith, his trust, to him as righteousness. The faith of Mary who believed the LORD when His Messenger Gabriel announced that she would conceive and bear the Son of God – Lord, may it be to me as you have said, according to Your Word. Mary believed the Word of the LORD, she trusted the LORD and the Word He had spoken to her. The faith of Abram, the faith of Mary, and the faith of the Roman centurion – that is what faith (trust) looks like, sounds like, and does. Jesus praised the centurion for his faith saying, “Truly, with no one in Israel – not even the Jewish leper – have I found such faith.” And He continued saying, “I tell you, many will come from east and west [Gentiles] and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [Jews] in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom [Jews in name only] will be thrown into the outer darkness.” Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And his servant was healed at that very moment.
“What God ordains is always good.” Whether the LORD grants physical healing or permits us to endure suffering, it is good: It is good for you. It is good for your family. It is good for others you may not even now when they observe your faith, your trust, in word and deed. I had a different hymn programmed for today, but as this homily came together it became obvious and fitting that we should sing “What God Ordains Is Always Good.” Let me refresh your memory of what we sang a few minutes ago: “What God ordains is always good: His will is just and holy. As He directs my life for me, I follow meek and lowly. My God indeed in every need knows well how He will shield me; to Him, then, I will yield me.” “What God ordains is always goodHe never will deceive me; He leads me in His righteous way, and never will He leave me. I take content what He has sentHis hand that sends me sadness will turn my tears to gladness.” “What God ordains is always good: His loving thought attends me; No poison can be in the cup that my physician sends me. My God is true; Each morning new I trust His grace unending, My life to Him commending.” That is faith. That is the faith of Abram, of Mary, and of the centurion, and of many other heroes of the faith. That is what faith (trust) looks like, sounds like, and does. That is the faith the Holy Spirit alone can create in you, sustain, and bring to fruitfulness unto life everlasting.
In our reading from the Old Testament, it was the faith of a young Israelite girl who had been carted away to Syria to serve as a slave to a high-ranking Syrian commander that was on display. Despite the fact that the LORD had permitted her to be carted away and enslaved, the girl trusted the goodness of the LORD and showed love for her Syrian captor who was afflicted with leprosy. She encouraged him to seek the Word of the LORD in Samaria from the Prophet Elisha. Having nothing to lose, Naaman traveled to Samaria to seek this healing. However, Naaman did not have faith. He went seeking to purchase his healing with gold and silver and costly fabrics. Moreover, he went to the King of Israel, not to the Prophet, because he expected such healing to come from someone of great power, wealth, and authority. This is a temptation we often fall to as well, expecting, demanding, that the LORD answer our prayers in the way we think best, forgetting, or worse, denying, that what God ordains is always good. The king of Israel was terrified because he could not heal leprosy and he thought the king of Syria was trying to entrap him. But, Elisha the Prophet sent word to the king to send Naaman to him, so Naaman went, once again with his horses and chariots and wealth, to purchase healing. This time Naaman was angered that the Prophet himself did not come out to see him but sent his servant with instructions to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman was incensed and protested that the waters of Syria were preferable to the filthy waters of the Jordan, so he turned away in a rage. But his servants said to him, “It is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?’” Essentially, they said to him, “What do you have to lose?” Then Naaman went down and washed, and he emerged from the waters cleansed, his skin like that of a newborn baby. This story is not an attestation of Naaman’s faith – Naaman did not have faith – but, rather, it is an attestation to the goodness of the LORD and His will and the power of His Word for those who believe, for those who trust in Him come what may.
Faith is trust, plain and simple. Faith is the confession that, though I am but a poor, miserable sinner, the LORD is good and His will for me is always and only good. At the very least you can come to Him as one having nothing to lose. But, you are invited, you are called, to come to Him with so much more than that – true trust and love and hope founded in, trusting in, and clinging to the goodness of the LORD, come what may. Has He not said to you that you will be healed? It matters not the way, means, or time; all that matters is the promise He has made and sealed in His Son Jesus Christ which can never be broken. “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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