Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 7, 2015)

LUKE 7:1-10 
GREAT FAITH TAKES THE LORD AT HIS WORD. 
  
In the name + of Jesus. 

     Anyone who has raised children has uttered the words, “Because I said so.”  These words are not a cop out.  Parents use these words because they are the God-ordained authority of the household.  Parents are responsible for the well-being of the house and the people in it.  They have to make and enforce the rules.  Children may buck the rules and challenge the parents.  They will demand to know why curfew is at 11 PM, why they have to dress up nice for a meal, or why they have to clean their rooms.  Parents reply, “Because I said so.”  It is a valid response.  It reinforces the rules.  And for what it is worth, it is still a valid response even when your children crack 20 years old.
     If children chafe under their parents' authority, it is because the children are sinners.  This is the very same reason we chafe under God's word.  God sets the standard of what is good and evil, what is right and wrong.  God tells us to embrace the good and to do it.  God tells us to abhor the evil and shun it.  Our sinful nature, however, likes what is evil.  And since we don't want to be judged or condemned for doing what is evil or failing to live up to what is good, we choose to redefine what is good and evil.  Basically, our standard comes down to this: If we like it or want to do it, it is good.  Our gratification trumps God's word.  And so, we defend our family, our friends, and ourselves when we cheat, fornicate, lie, or neglect God's word and sacraments.  To further soothe our consciences, we assume that God has adopted our new standards of good and evil.  We reject God's, “Because I said so,” for our own preferences.  This is unbelief.  It is rejection of God's word.  And there is no hope for any who reject God's word.  Repent.
     A Roman centurion understood the power of an authoritative word.  He had a highly-esteemed servant who was at the point of death.  He had heard about Jesus, and he sent elders from the Jews to Jesus so that Jesus might come, lay his hands on his servant, and heal him.  But the Roman officer had a change of heart.  He did not pull rank on Jesus, explaining that he was a Roman and an officer.  He said, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:6-8)
     The Roman centurion understood the power of an authoritative word.  He was answerable to officers in command of him, and he himself had 100 men in his charge.  When orders were given, they would be followed.  As an officer, the centurion did not have to back up his commands with, “Because I say so.”  His rank and position gave his word its authority.  This Roman centurion recognized that Jesus is the Lord.  He is the Creator of heaven and earth.  Just as Jesus brought all things into being by his say so, so also he could simply give the word and heal the centurion's servant.  Since Jesus is the Lord, his word has all authority.  If Jesus would merely give his, “Because I say so,” the servant would be healed.  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.
     For the only time in the Gospels (in a positive sense, anyway), we hear these words: Jesus ... marveled at him. (Luke 7:9)  Jesus was amazed that this Roman did not seek a performance from Jesus, just a word.  Jesus' authoritative word would be enough.  It would accomplish what Jesus said it would.  Turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9)  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.  The centurion believed that when God speaks, everything he says is true.  When God gives the word, it is so.
     The reason that we must cling to all that God says is for our own salvation.  We do not have the right to dismiss parts of God's word because they are difficult, restrictive, or damning.  If we do not believe God's judgment and wrath are real, why should we believe that God's mercy and love are real?  If we don't believe the part that exposes our sins is true, how can we believe the part that forgives our sins is true?  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.  When God exposes us to be sinners, God is right.  When God calls us to repent, it is right to confess our sins and flee from them.
     The Roman centurion approached Jesus with great faith, but also with great humility.  Even though his friends insisted, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:4,5), the centurion did not share their assessment.  He confessed, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy....” (Luke 7:6)  The centurion did not make demands of Jesus.  He sought nothing but mercy—and not even for himself!  He eagerly yearned for a word that would save, and he was not disappointed.  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.
     You also have such an authoritative word which saves you.  The Lord Jesus has delivered you from your sins.  He paid the price for sinners who chafe under God's commands and who have turned against God's word.  Jesus did not chafe under God's judgment, however; he willingly submitted to it.  Even though it was not just, Jesus endured the damning punishment for sins he did not commit.  It was not just, but it was grace.  Jesus took up your sins so that he could deliver forgiveness to you.  Jesus suffered your hell so that he could deliver salvation to you.  Jesus died your death and conquered it so that he could promise to you your own resurrection from the dead to everlasting glory.
     Jesus Christ has delivered this salvation to you through his word.  He has attached that word to water where he has washed you clean of all sin and clothed you in garments of salvation.  How can water do such great things?  It is certainly not the water which does such things, but God's word which is in and with the water and faith which trust this word used with the water. (Luther's Small Catechism; 3rd part of Holy Baptism)  He attaches that word to bread and wine where he summons you, “Take.  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.”  How can eating and drinking do such great things?  It is certainly not the eating and drinking that does such things, but the words “Given” and “poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luther's Small Catechism; 3rd part of Holy Communion)  It is as he said: “for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Lord speaks through the mouth of his minister to the penitent who grieve over their sins.  And through his minister, Jesus declares, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  In this way, the Lord brings forgiveness to you.  This is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself.  For Jesus says, “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed—that is, forgiven—in heaven.” (Luther's Small Catechism; Ministry of the Keys, part 2)  Forgiveness, salvation, and God's love are yours because God has decreed them.
     Great faith takes the Lord at his word.  You have his “Because I said so,” and therefore it is so.  His word is greater than your feelings.  His word dispels your doubts.  His word puts an end to your fears.  His word even overrules the devil who tries to convince you that your sins are too great or your faith is not strong enough.  To that, Jesus says, “Nonsense!  I forgive you.  I have saved you.  I have marked you as children of the resurrection and heirs of the heavenly kingdom.  It is so, because I said so!”  And great faith takes the Lord at his word.
     
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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