Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Festival of the Reformation (observed)


Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We celebrate the Festival of the Reformation, not because of the birth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, not because of the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the vernacular German, nor even because of the great deeds and bold confession of Martin Luther and other reformers, but we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation because of the eternal Gospel proclaimed to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And the eternal Gospel is this: The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, […] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Thus, what Luther and reformers both before and after him accomplished through their reforms served to strip away the layers of man-made law, tradition, and superstition that had enshrouded and obscured the pure Gospel message that men are justified, not by works and obedience under the Law, not by their personal piety and devotion, but by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood.

But the Gospel had become obscured long before the corruption known as indulgences had become normal practice. In fact, the Gospel had become obscured long before the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law began to layer their own laws and traditions upon the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel had become obscured long before the incarnation and birth of Jesus, long before Moses and the Ten Commandments, long before Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to at least Cain and Abel. In fact, from the moment that God first promised that He would send a Savior who would crush the serpent’s head and remove our guilt and the sting of death, man has striven to offer something of his own to God as payment for his sin and to reject the gift of grace that God Himself has provided.

The eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angelic messenger is exactly that, eternal. It is a message that was proclaimed before the foundation of the world and it is a message that remains unchanged then, now, and always, world without end: The hour of [God’s] judgment has come. When God sent forth His only-begotten Son to be subject to the Law that binds all men, to suffer and die to remove the guilt of all men, it was finished. All that was necessary to justify men before God was accomplished without any work, merit, or even faith from men. That is the eternal Gospel message proclaimed God’s angels, His messengers, be they angelic spirits, prophets, apostles, and evangelists, ministers and pastors in the Church of Christ, or even you, dear Christian, as you share this Good News with your neighbors in word and in deed. How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim the Good News!

The eternal Gospel is extra nos, outside of us, and that is why it is Good News. Your justification does not depend upon you in any way. Your standing before God does not depend upon your good works. It does not depend upon your obedience to the Law. It does not depend upon your piety, your tithing, or your attendance at church. It does not even depend upon your faith, but it depends only, solely, and completely upon the Lamb of God Jesus Christ whom God put forth as the propitiation for your sins. If your justification were to depend on anything at all from you, then you could never know comfort or peace, for there would always be uncertainty that you have done enough or believed enough or given enough. If your justification were to depend on anything at all from you then there would be no Good News, no Gospel, but only the rigid, inflexible, and condemning Law of God that you cannot keep.

Yet, that is exactly what sinful man wants to believe, that there is some way in which we can justify ourselves. Whether you believe that Jesus died for your original sin so that you can pay God back for your actual sins or that you can purchase God’s forgiveness with tithes, prayers, or time, you are, in effect, saying, that Jesus, in His obedience, suffering, and death, did not do enough. You are saying that Jesus’ suffering and death was not sufficient to make you right with God. You are saying, “Thanks for the gift of Your Son, God, but that’s not enough, so here’s what I’ll give you to make up the difference.” Or, to put it another way, any gift that you have to earn, buy, or deserve is not a gift at all. If it’s not a gift then it’s not grace. And if it’s not grace, then you are still in your sins, bound under the Law, and condemned to eternal death and separation from God.

Jesus taught in our Gospel lesson that “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” That is to say that, while God desires to give men the kingdom of heaven for free, by grace, as a gift, men desire to take the kingdom of God on their own, according to their own terms. Indeed, the generation of men from the time of John the Baptist, even from the time of the Patriarchs, and yes, even from the time of Cain are dissatisfied with God’s plan of salvation, the Gospel “Good News” of Jesus Christ. This generation of men are like children who will not dance before a happy flute or mourn at the sound of a funeral dirge. They rejected John the Baptist because he did not eat and drink and they rejected Jesus because He did.

What is it that you tell God you will or will not do? What is it that you tell God He can or cannot do. What is it that you tell God and the whole world you will or will not believe? What part of His Good News do you reject and say, “That’s all fine and good, but it’s not enough?” Have you not heard that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom? That God alone is God, and you are not? Indeed, that is the central doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and the First Commandment of the Law of God. It is meant, not to encourage you and embolden you to justify yourself, but it is meant to condemn you in your guilt so that you despair of self-justification. For, only when you confess that you cannot justify yourself can you truly receive grace for what it is, a gift – a pure, and perfect gift. And, when you do receive God’s grace as a pure and perfect gift, then He is glorified as just and the justifier of the one who has faith in His pure and perfect gift of grace, Jesus Christ.

There is a Latin phrase that says ecclesia semper reformanda, the Church is always being reformed. Indeed, this is most certainly true. The Reformation that we commemorate today began, symbolically, on October 31, 1517. But, in truth, it was but the rolling boil of a reformation that had begun much, much earlier, as faithful men of God, His holy angels and messengers, called men to repentance and proclaimed to them the one and eternal Gospel of our justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the nature of sinful man to desire to justify himself, and thus, the Church is always, continually in a state of reformation. Today the Church of Christ needs reformation every bit as much as it did in 1517, and today God still raises up prophets and evangelists, angelic messengers to proclaim the Good News to those dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. Indeed, God has raised you up for this purpose promising, “Whoever confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven.”

There is no higher worship of God than to receive His gifts. And the most precious, pure, and perfect gift He has given is righteousness in His Son, Jesus Christ. Strive, not to please God by your works or to earn His favor by your words, deeds, and piety, but strive to not let anything or anyone obscure the eternal Gospel of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, whom God put forth as a propitiation by His blood that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Ecclesia simper reformanda, the Church is always being reformed; so too are all the members of the Church which is the body of Christ, that is you, dear Christians. Let every day of your God-given lives be a Festival of the Reformation in which you repent of your sins and receive God’s holy absolution by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

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 don’t, 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.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 20)


Matthew 22:1-14; Ephesians 5:15-21; Isaiah 55:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The king had prepared a wedding feast for his son. Absolutely everything was prepared and paid for by the king. Even the proper wedding clothes were to be provided the king’s invited guests. All there was to do was come, come to the feast.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like that. God the Father is the King. Jesus is His Son, the Bridegroom, for whom the feast is being held. And you, you are the King’s invited guests. More than that, you are the Bride! And, the wedding garment that the King provides, it is nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, your Bridegroom. Clothed in the wedding garment the King has provided, you are in, and you never need fear being out. However, without that wedding garment, without the blood of Christ, then there is no place for you but outside the gates. There, there will be only weeping and the gnashing of teeth, not because you didn’t deserve to be thrown out, but precisely because you will know then that you did. You will know it, and you will know that it is your own damn fault, because the King had prepared a wedding feast for His Son. Absolutely everything was prepared and paid for by the King. Even the proper wedding clothes were provided the King’s invited guests. All there was to do was come, come to the feast. And you wouldn’t, you didn’t, and now you are in the outer darkness, and you gnash your teeth and you weep because you know that it is your own damn fault.

But, this did not need to be. It does not need to be even now! But, the invited guests in Jesus’ parable “paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business.” They were invited guests. They were in, but they made themselves to be out. Even worse, some of the invitees seized the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. So, it wasn’t mere apathy, but outright hostility to king that was at play. Not surprisingly, the king was angry, and he justly “sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” Now, some will want to say that the king was unmerciful and hasty in his wrath. Maybe, by man’s reason and reckoning. But, remember, this king isn’t a man, but our holy, righteous, and just God. His wrath against sin is not His proper will, but His alien will. Remember, the LORD has invited all to the wedding feast of His Son. Jesus’ death upon the cross is atonement for all people of all times and all places. This is God’s proper will. However, for those who will not receive this free gift in accordance with His gracious and merciful proper will, there will be only God’s wrath and judgment according to His alien will. The LORD alone is good – the very rule, measure, and standard of goodness. And, the LORD has provided a way for all men to be saved. But, how many will seek for, wait for, and look for another way, a different way? How many will accuse the LORD of injustice for providing only one way? Sadly, too many, indeed.

Then the king told his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” A truer statement could not be uttered. None of the invited guests were worthy of the king’s gracious invitation. But, they were made to be worthy by the king himself who of his own grace and mercy chose to count them as worthy. Those who ignored or rejected the king’s invitation did much more than offend his grace; they rejected his kingship, his lordship. They made themselves out to be kings and lords over themselves. Once again, the LORD alone is good, is just, is holy and righteous. The LORD is the Law and it’s sole source, rule, guide, and measure. To reject the LORD is to reject His Law; it is to be a law unto one’s self. This is the height of pride and arrogance, the root of Lucifer’s fall, of our First Parent’s fall, and of the fall of all mankind. Indeed, the king’s invitation, the LORD’s gracious invitation, is to leave all that behind and to truly be free in the Law of the LORD, which is true freedom, and to truly live in the LORD who alone is and gives life.

Again, the LORD’s proper will is displayed as the king commands his servants to go “to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” The servants did as the king commanded; they “went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” The wedding hall was filled with both bad and good; once again, none of the invited guests were worthy of the king’s gracious invitation. But, they were made to be worthy by the king himself who of his own grace and mercy chose to count them as worthy. And yet, amazingly, there is still a problem. One man was found in the banquet hall without a wedding garment. Remember, the king provided the proper wedding garment for all of his invited guests to wear. The king provided absolutely everything that was necessary. They only way that someone could be without a wedding garment would be that he willfully, stubbornly refused to wear it. Once again, this was the height of pride and arrogance, an affront to the king’s grace and mercy and to his kingship and lordship as well.

The king is the LORD. The king’s son is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The wedding garment is the shed blood of Jesus for you, His Bride. There simply is no entering the wedding feast without this garment; there simply is no entering the kingdom of heaven apart from the atoning blood of Jesus Christ – His forgiveness, sinlessness, and righteousness imputed to you. In Jesus you are worthy. The LORD has made you to be worthy. You are in, only you can make yourself to be out. If you make yourself to be out, you will have only yourself to blame. The king, the LORD, has done all that was necessary to make you in. All is prepared for you in the grace, mercy, and love of the LORD through Jesus Christ. To be out, and to know full well that it is your own fault – this is the cause of the weeping and the gnashing of teeth: anger, resentment, hatred of self, hatred of God, hatred of everything. Jesus ends His parable saying that “many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, all are called, all are invited. Those who are chosen are those who do not refuse the LORD’s gracious invitation.

Jesus’ parable echoes the continuous theme of the Holy Scriptures from the LORD’s first proclamation of the Gospel after the fall of our First Parents. We heard it today from the Prophet Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” We are always on the receiving end of God’s grace and mercy. When we receive from Him we acknowledge and confess Him to be God and LORD. This is why the Lutheran Confessions state that the highest worship of God is to receive His gifts. Indeed, our German forebears called this Divine Service Gottesdienst, which means, God’s service, for here, in Word and Sacrament, our God and LORD serves us. Indeed, this Divine Service is a foretaste of the wedding feast that is yet to come. The King has called you to the feast through His servants who bear His Word of gracious invitation. In Holy Baptism He has clothed you with the wedding garment of Christ’s holy and innocent blood. All is prepared for you, all you need to do is trust and receive His gifts. You don’t need money. You don’t need works. All you need is faith, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“It can’t be that easy,” you say? Indeed, it is. However, being the LORD’s invited guests, the Bride of Christ, means that you won’t be the same. The LORD accepts you the way you are, as a sinner, but He will not permit you to continue to walk in the same sinful path. It won’t happen over night, and it won’t even be perfect until you die and are raised again. Indeed, it will be a lifelong struggle. However, you will put away the ways of the world and the flesh and walk in the Law, life, and liberty of the LORD in Jesus Christ. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts you: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” The will of the LORD is that you receive His gifts free, without cost, works, or merit, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Any other way is the way of the world and the flesh. This you must crucify and leave behind.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

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.