Epiphany 3 2006

Epiphany 3
Matthew 8:1-13

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

It is hard for me to drum up a lot of sympathy for this centurion. He asks Our Lord for help and Our Lord offers to come to his house and help. The centurion tells him not to bother, that His command, His Word will be enough. We’re supposed to be impressed by this faith that trusts the Word of Christ. But here is the thing: we don’t get the chance to walk up to Christ in the Flesh and ask for help. Nor do we ever get an offer from Him to come to our houses and heal our sick family and friends. We start where the centurion left off. All we’ve ever asked for is a command from heaven that will drive off the disease. We’ve long known that Jesus has the power and authority to do so. But we don’t get it. We’ve got doctors and drugs and modern equipment, but no miracles. And there are hosts of diseases and disorders they cannot cure. There are plenty of our loved ones in the ground or tormented by pain or enduring heartbreaking hardship.

How hard it is for flesh and blood to endure these mounting sorrows! How it weighs us down to pray and pray and never get what we ask. Is it any wonder that we are so tired? That we harbor our doubts? That we are afraid to get our hopes up? There are too many in the cemetery already, too many children in the hospital, too many divorces, too many wars, too many bullies, liars, and cheats! If only the politicians were confined to Washington, but no! They surround us at work, at the grocery store, at Church. If only we could go home and find peace! But there too the reality is less than the ideal. And how many times will we stand at the bedside of our loved ones and ask for a miracle, and though we are hoping, pining, longing, dreaming of a miracle, never really expecting that a miracle will come? We know the stories from the Bible, but we’ve never seen an actual miracle. The centurion believed and he got his miracle. The Lord was willing to heal the leper. But what about those in the cancer ward? What about diabetes and congestive heart failure, autism and alzheimer’s, down syndrome and cerebal palsy?

Dear Christian friends: repent. It is hard to live by faith. It is hard to go the narrow way. For the way of the cross is full of sorrow. At the proper time the centurion received a gift from God. His gifts are His to give as He pleases. Will your eye be evil because He is good? Would you take his servant back from him, or deny the leper his miracle because you didn’t get yours? Your heart aches and your tears fill your cup at night. You know the emptiness, the gnawing pain of jealousy and envy. Your mind has gone dark and stupid with anger and disappointment. You’ve been afraid to hope. But God loves you. He knows what troubles you. He has worn your skin, walked in your shoes, borne your burdens. He hears and answers your prayers. Your time will come.

You wouldn’t want to change places with the centurion anyway. There are lots of reasons why, but one of the most significant is that the centurion had no other place to turn but to Jesus. Ancient doctors were pretty worthless. They didn’t know much and had little in the way of medication, almost nothing that actually worked. It is not likely that either the servant or the centurion lived past 60. Their lives were hard. By our standards they lived in absolute poverty. They were no strangers to back breaking manual labor, to hunger, uncertainty, and fear. They had very little, if any, freedom. The servant was probably what we would call a slave. And the Centurion was a man under authority. His life was cheap to his masters. The word he got that day from Jesus was about all he had. For while he could have gone to the synagogue once a week and heard something from the prophets, even if he could read, which he probably couldn’t, he could not read the Bible. There weren’t many Bibles for one thing. There weren’t any printing presses and paper was expensive. But also he was a Gentile, an outsider. He wasn’t allowed to handle the sacred Word. On top of that, the Bible was even finished when he lived. So this single Word from Jesus was precious to him. Outside of it, he simply had to remember what he had heard on Saturday.

But not so you, O most blessed of all men. You have doctors that can do real good. You have hospitals and equipment and pharmaceuticals. Your life expectancy the longest the world has ever known in the generations following the flood. You are not a slave. You are not trapped in a society of slaves by other names. You are free. But best of all, you have the Word of God. Jesus is in your home. Any time you want you can pick up Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. You can read the Apostolic Word. You can hear the Words of Jesus and see them printed in red. Learn to read them. Learn to treasure them as you would treasure having Jesus walk through your door. There is more healing for those who read the Bible, more miracles, more comfort than you know.

That is no reason to stop praying for miracles, though. This authority and power does belong to Jesus. He has promised that whatever you ask in His Name He will give you. He may give it to you now. He may hold it for you in heaven. But He will give it. In the meantime you live by faith, you live by every Word that proceeds from His mouth. You rest in the forgiveness of sins and the hope to come, in things unseen. For what is hard for the flesh and blood was not revealed by flesh and blood, nor was it revealed to flesh and blood. Rather God’s Spirit has revealed Himself to your spirit by water and by Word. He has called you by name and fed you with His Holy Body and Blood. By that Holy Spirit you call Jesus “Lord.” You know Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, your Good Shepherd, the Door to Life. You wait for Him, believing that the redemption He obtained by His innocent suffering and death He has obtained for you, and you will be delivered on the last day. The dead will rise. This corruptible will put on the incorruptible. Every tear, every sorrow, and every pain will be removed. For Jesus did not die in vain. He died for you. His resurrection is no mere myth. It is the foundational reality of the entire universe. Jesus is Lord. He is your Lord by faith and He loves and forgives you. He will not forget you.

Let it also be unto you as you believe. Your day will come. You’ll have your miracles at last. You will not always be disappointed. You will know joy and laughter and peace. For you are the fulfillment of the prophecy. The Lord called you. He said: “Come.” and you came. You have come from the East and the West. You were no people. But now you are God’s people. You were Gentiles, the hostile nations that hated God’s people. But now you are Christians with God’s Name upon you. He says “Go” and you go, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them, bearing witness to who He is. You do this in quiet ways at home and work and by your offerings and sacrifices here and elsewhere. So it is that you, O Christian, beloved of the Father, with whom He is well-pleased, you will sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You will sit and eat and drink without cost and without money. You will sit with Namaan, this centurion, and his servant, with all the saints and bask in the wonderful grace that comes from the Lamb who was slain but who lives.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen

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