The 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
January 26, 2003 A+D
St. Matthew 8:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All decent Americans are against child abuse. A couple of years ago there was something in the papers about a toddler here in Fort Wayne whose step-father had burned a vulgar word into the child’s back with a cigarette, dot by painful dot. That was evil. It was wrong. I am not saying “I believe that was unfortunate” or “I think it was a poor choice” or, God forbid, “To each his own. Surely, the step-father was disturbed. He probably didn’t meant it and took good care of the blisters and scabbing on the 2 year old’s back.” NO! It was demonic, disgusting, despicable! Of that we must be quite dogmatic. There are no circumstances, no excuses for such wicked behavior.
We should be no less clear about the violent murder of babies that has been legalized by our own government and is carried out with cold, Nazi-like efficiency in clinics and hospitals. The mothers receive anaesthesia. There is no mercy for the babies. It is far more painful and traumatic than cigarette burns. It is evil. It is wrong. It is disgusting and disturbing. The devil is not chased away by philosophy but by dogma, by calling things what they are, by the Truth. All decent Americans are against murder, whether that be of babies, the mentally handicapped, or the elderly. All decent Americans must oppose this wherever they are able.
We live in a cruel, violent world. We do not make the laws. We are not in control. Neither was the Centurion. He served his government faithfully, even though it was a purveyor of abortion and murder, of ethnic cleansing and corruption, and of persecution of the Church. Rome was a terrible place. America is a far superior country not just in government and structure, but also in morality. You do what you can, what you have the authority to do. The Christian policeman can not arrest an abortionist for murder even though he is killing babies. Shamefully, it is not illegal. In fact, the policeman actually has to protect that man. But the policeman can vote. He can lobby. He can bring his influence to bear where he is able. He can exercise his constitutional rights as an American. No Christian, whether he be a policeman, a doctor, or a farmer, has the right to strike out with violence and hatred. That is not the way of Christ. Only the government, the Law, can wield the sword. You have heard it said: “You shall not abort.” But I say to you that anyone who has tired of his children, of the mess, the noise, the expense, anyone who has ever wished them away, is guilty of abortion in his heart. Repent. Evil is not overcome with evil, but with good, specifically the good of Good Friday. Jesus died also for abortionists and weak-willed politicians, for scared girls told it was okay by a seemingly knowledgeable nurse. The solution for all of our ills, social and otherwise, is the satisfaction of Justice in the cross of Jesus where He took the sins of all men upon Himself.
That is how the Centurion, that consummate man of violence, was overcome. I don’t know when or where. I just know that it is the way it always is. For we are not converted by the Law, by beauty, or by reason. Political rallies against something don’t make Christians. We are converted by forgiveness, by the loving intervention of God in our lives to cleanse and heal our fallen hearts. We are converted by being welcomed into the Father’s House for the sake of the Son in the gift of the Spirit. And in our conversion, the devil is defeated. His prize is snatched away.
Thus the Centurion came to Jesus in faith. He pleaded with our Lord, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And the compassionate Christ volunteered to come and heal him. Imagine such an offer! But centurions are ever rank-conscious. This centurion recognized the power of God’s grace for healing and forgiveness. He was not worthy. He only desired a Word – a Word is all it will take! For in the Word of Christ is power and authority. He only desired the same Word of power and authority which had cleansed his own heart and brought him into the kingdom. Thus the Centurion’s servant was healed, and he himself received a word of praise without equal for his faith. For his faith submitted to the authority and power of Jesus Christ.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In itself faith is really nothing. It is the paper where the words are written, the record where the music is recorded. Christianity is not about faith. It is, rather, about that which faith lays hold of, Christ our Lord. Faith is the means whereby Christ dwells in us. He is what we hope for, what we do not see, but whom we believe. Faith saves us by delivering to us Christ our Savior. Faith saves is an equivalent statement to the book reads. Thus: Abraham believed the LORD and it was counted unto him as righteousness. A verse so significant that it is directly quoted three times in the New Testament and alluded to at least once. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It hopes in Christ. Christ saves.
Thus Faith is the indwelling of Christ and saves. It is ever the state of the baptized. It recognizes, preeminently, as did the Centurion, that Jesus of Nazareth is God in our Flesh come to save us. When that is known nothing else matters. Or, more precisely, everything falls into place. For if God has come in our Flesh to save us how can He fail to give us all good things? Is He not wiser than our earthly fathers who know enough not to give us snakes when we ask for bread? If God has come in our Flesh to save us then how can His Word ever lead us astray? If God has come in our Flesh to save us then we are safe. Our pride and ambition lose their momentum. We are satisfied in His death and resurrection. We forget ourselves. We are fully His and perfectly innocent of all sins.
He chooses in His grace to come under our roof. Not just into our homes, or into our souls, but into our bodies. He enters our mouths to dwell in our hearts, to purify our souls, by means of the Holy Communion. The bread which we break is His Holy Body. The wine which we bless is His Holy Blood. It is given and shed for you for the remission of sins, for the strengthening of faith, for encouragement, for healing, for the sake of love. Thus he overcomes our violence, hatred, and cowardice. He speaks the Word and it is so. He says “Go” to the devil and he goes. He says “Come” to the Holy Spirit, and He comes. He says, “Let it be done for you as you have believed.” And it is! You are righteous before God. You will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana