Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 21 – 2011

13 November 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 4:46-54

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the reasons the Christian faith has so much trouble in the current culture is that we discount faith for reason. In other words, in our world, if we can’t see it, touch it, measure it, analyze it, put it in our hands and send a text with it, eat it, drink it, weigh it, and put it up on YouTube – then it doesn’t exist. It might exist, but it certainly isn’t important. It might be important, but we have other priorities.

In our culture, we want things we can see and hold, and they had better do something for us right here and right now. There is no room for faith in the culture we live in. Faith is seen as primitive and superstitious, as unfit for life in this modern world.

But, dear friends, we exercise faith every time we turn on the power button of a gadget. For we expect something to happen. We don’t know for sure that it will – since we can’t see into the future. Sometimes things don’t work as they should. But our reason does give way to faith when we find it reasonable to believe that the light will turn on when we flip the switch.

We Christians put faith in God’s Word – both in what God says and who God is. For we find it reasonable to believe the One who created all things visible and invisible. We find it reasonable to conclude that the Word of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Word Made Flesh – is true and trustworthy. Moreover, we have reason to believe that the Word of God is powerful and effective: “Let there be light, and there was light.”

Science can analyze light, measure light, and even harness light as a means of energy. Technology can move light to where it needs to be to serve us. Business and commerce can make light available to the customer. A child can turn on a light switch and make a room bright.

But only God – by means of His Word – can make light.

The Maker of light has enlightened mankind by revealing Himself to us – especially by coming to us as one of us. “Jesus Christ is the light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome.” And in the darkness of sickness and death came an official whose little son was dying. And this father came to the Son of God, who in turn had come to Capernaum to bring light to those who dwelt in darkness. Our Gospel recalls this historic meeting in which the flint of this man’s need struck the steel of the living Christ.

The official knew – he believed – in the divine power of Jesus. He believed enough to seek out Jesus. He believed for the sake of his dying son whom He loved. He did not know that Jesus had just told Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” All he knew at this point is that he seeks to redeem the life of his own dying son. And he “asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”

In response, Jesus speaks to the crowd by addressing the official. He says: “Unless you (and this is the plural “you”),” that is to say: “Unless y’all see signs and wonders y’all will not believe.” Jesus had turned water into wine at Cana. It seems that word was getting out about His miraculous abilities – and people wanted to see the show.

Some things never change, dear friends. People want a freak-show religion. People love the lurid and ostentatious. The media radiate with stories of crooked filthy-rich TV-preachers, of snake-handling charlatans, of folks who claim a miraculous gift when all they are really doing is speaking nonsense words that mean nothing. People want to see the sideshow of staged miracles and healings – all carefully filmed at just the right angles to make for compelling TV. People still demand signs and wonders. People still want a Jesus that does tricks and entertains. Indeed, entertainment is the national religion of the United States.

But this official who came to Jesus is different. Of course Jesus knows this. The official calmly repeats his prayer: “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

Death is the wages of sin. Death is what we got when we coveted the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We know evil all too well, its bloody wages are shown when we die the death we deserve. But the One whose life-giving blood paid for all evil by His own undeserved death spoke to the official: “Go, your son will live.” The original Greek text is more blunt: “Your son lives.” He lives! He lives, and in Christ and by Christ he has conquered death. He lives because the Author of Life has said so. “Let there be life…”

At this point, the official could have demanded a sign, or dragged Jesus to come to confirm His Word. He could have scoffed at Jesus, or even gotten angry with him for scolding the people for their lack of faith without signs. He could have justified himself or picked a fight with Jesus. But instead, he “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” He believed. He had faith. In Christ and by Christ, he believed the Word.

And this belief, this faith, was manifested in his works. For after he believed, he went. He obeyed. He carried out the wishes of the Word made flesh whose Word gives life. He believed the Word.

At the very moment that the Lord spoke, the son’s fever left him and he recovered. “Let there be life.” This is what happens when we believe. We have life. We have forgiveness. We have healing. And the healing that Jesus gives is more than skin deep. For it is eternal. For even though we will die in the flesh, we will rise again in the flesh – according to the Word Made Flesh who Himself rose in the flesh.

And notice what happens to this Word. It is brought home by the official, now a witness and proclaimer of the Word. “And he himself believed, and all his household.”

The healing Word of life was not confined to the son, but also came to the father and the entire household. The Word gives faith. Faith brings forth healing. In healing there is life. And in this life, the Word goes forth again and again to do its healing work – like beams of light shattering the darkness.

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus has come as a beacon of light in our dark and sinful world to bring us light and life. He has come to bring healing and restoration, reconciliation and resurrection. He has come on a mission of mercy motivated by love, armed with the Word, and bearing the gifts of redemption and faith.

It is in this faith that we receive this faith, we are made new in body and spirit, we are brought again to life in a restored creation that will indeed once more be “very good.”

For we actually do have a faith that is rooted in what we can see and hold, a faith that does something for us right here and right now. It is not a “what” but a “who” – Jesus Christ. He has come into our world in the flesh and gives us life that has no end. He comes to us in His body and blood that we see and hold as bread and wine. He comes to us in His Word that we hear. It is a Word of hope and promise and life. The Word, Jesus, brings forgiveness and healing, and is both the source and the fulfillment of our faith.

I know my faith is founded
On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord
And this my faith confessing,
Unmoved I stand on His sure Word.
Our reason cannot fathom
The truth of God profound;
Who trusts in human wisdom
Relies on shifting ground.
God’s Word is all-sufficient,
It makes divinely sure;
And trusting in its wisdom,
My faith shall rest secure.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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