Monday, June 24, 2013

LSB Proper 7C Sermon - Luke 8:26-39

June 23, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met Him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before Him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.’”

The beginning of an account can tell you much with few words. The more famous first lines of novels possess the same quality. It is so in today’s Gospel Reading: “Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.” The Gospel Writer is concisely telling where Jesus and the Twelve went in their travels. They have sailed from the western shores of the Sea of Galilee to the eastern shore. The country of the Gerasenes lies opposite Galilee in direction. But there is a bit more to this; the country of the Gerasenes is “opposite” of Galilee in more ways than one. Jesus and His disciples have entered Gentile lands, a location where the way of the Lord was not followed. They have left the Holy Land and entered an unclean region. And what takes place after their arrival puts that fact on clear display.

When the boat reaches the shore, who serves as the greeting party? “When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met Him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.” Jesus beholds the epitome of uncleanliness. But this is more than a lack of hygiene, a failure to use soap and bleach. No, being unclean as it relates to God is a matter of lacking holiness—both in the sense of not having perfection, as well as not being set apart and belonging to the Lord. That’s what is seen in the country of the Gerasenes. With this demoniac, the unholiness reaches the highest level: living without clothing, dwelling among the corpses, being occupied by an unclean spirit.

That lack of holiness, that state of being unclean, leads to the question that flows out of the man’s mouth: “When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before Him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.’” A gap exists between that man and Jesus, even though they are right next to each other. Proximity has nothing to do with the matter. The gap is present because Jesus is the epitome of holiness; He is what the demoniac says about Him, “the Son of the Most High God.” And the man’s begging reveals an outcome that should be realized when Jesus’ divine holiness encounters the demonic uncleanliness: “I beg You, do not torment me.”

But what does Jesus do there on the shore? Does He torment the man? Does He destroy him? No, that is not what Jesus does. For that is not His role there. Jesus has come into the world to bring divine holiness to the unclean: “He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.” Jesus gives the man what no one in the country of the Gerasenes could provide. Remember how the Gospel Writer told you about their attempts to deal with the man: “For many a time [the unclean spirit] had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.” But Jesus’ command frees him. Legion is sent away: “Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.”

And what happens to the man after this? “[People] came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.” The man had been made clean. He was saved. The gap between him and Jesus was overcome. That is what Jesus did for him. It was a dramatic act, for sure. It caused fear. None of the people had ever seen this before. They had not been expecting someone to come and do that; these Gentiles had been given no prophetic promises about a Messiah coming to them. Jesus’ work confounded them greatly: “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” But what Jesus did in their land revealed His identity. He demonstrated what He was in the world to do—not to torment, but to save. And He gives the man the command: “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

What happens in the country of the Gerasenes summarizes Jesus’ work in the world, including His work that takes place today. The encounter between Son of the Most High God and all that is unclean and unholy continues in this age. It happens now. You must know how it has occurred in your lives. For that is how Jesus’ identity as your Redeemer is revealed.

Jesus has come to the land of the Pennsylvanians. The Eternal and Incarnate Word of God has caused His authoritative word to be present here. It has traveled through the centuries from the Holy Land to the region way opposite of it. And what does Jesus behold when He steps foot in this country? He encounters the same unholiness found in the country of the Gerasenes. He sees you who are naked and dwelling among the dead. That is the way the Scriptures describe your natural state. There is no righteousness and no life. You stand like Adam and Eve did in the Garden after their sin. All that is necessary to be in the presence of the Son of the Most High God is lacking. The unclean spirit dwells within you.

So what is Jesus to do? Has He come to torment? Has He come to punish? No, that is not His role here. Even now, the divine holiness has come into the world to bring remedy to the unclean. That is what Jesus does here. He speaks and commands the unclean spirit to come out of you. In fact, that is why the traditional baptismal rites—even the Lutheran ones—include the statement spoken by the minister: “Depart unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!” Jesus removes the nakedness by giving you His righteousness. So you heard about what happens to you in baptism: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Or a bit more literally, “have been clothed with Christ.” And Jesus does not leave you as citizens of an unholy nation; instead, you are adopted into the Father’s household: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

That is the work of Jesus in this world. That is what He has done for you. This is how Jesus has become your Redeemer. Through baptism He applies His great work of bringing holiness into the world on a personal level. You are united to His being put to death and rising to life again. That was His role: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” He incorporates you and others into His chosen company of disciples, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. All the baptized are one in Christ Jesus.

But Jesus did go away from this world, just as He sailed from the country of the Gerasenes back to the land of Galilee. And like the healed demoniac in the Gospel Reading, your desire is to be where Jesus is, since you still live in a land that is unclean and unholy. The “elementary principles of the world”—the powers of evil and darkness—are still present here. They are seen in the unrighteous and sinful acts daily committed, even your actions that are not consistent with the Lord’s will. But Jesus tells you that you cannot now come with Him. Instead, Jesus tells you several things as He departs: first, that He and His power are present in this land; second, that you are to go home with a purpose; third, that He will return.

These statements of Jesus govern what you do as His redeemed people. Jesus’ presence is among you wherever His Gospel and His Sacraments are found. That means that if you want to receive His healing and forgiveness, you must be present where you hear of Jesus’ identity and work. But when you are sent home after gathering around Jesus’ Gospel and Sacraments, you have a task. You are to declare how much He has done for you. And as you remain in this country, you live in expectation of His return. But when Jesus comes again, His role will be different. When He returns, Jesus will bring judgment and cast out all the unclean into the abyss. But what is reserved for you, “the heirs according to the promise,” is the entry into resurrection where you dwell eternally with Him: “I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and from Judah possessors of My mountains; My chosen shall possess it, and My servants shall dwell there.”

That is what Jesus is for you as His holiness has encountered your uncleanliness. The Son of the Most High God has set you free. He is your Redeemer who does not torment, but who heals and saves. He has put His Spirit in you, making you holy people who belong to Him. So may you believe this about His identity. And so may you speak about how much He has done for you.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

LSB Proper 6C Sermon - Luke 7:36--8:3

June 16, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And [Jesus] said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”

Crashing a party is a hazardous enterprise. Even the movies get that right. A large enough event provides a good possibility of entry with the right clothes, right attitude, and right moves. Most times, the danger isn’t all that great: you get thrown out of a house or hotel, but that’s about it. Perhaps the police are called; it’s not a preferable outcome, but probably a misdemeanor only. Crashing a party of thugs or felons—or a wedding party in a Philadelphia hotel—could end up a bit more problematic. Regardless of the outcome, there’s a bit of risk.

Today’s Gospel Reading talks about a party crasher. First, you need to remember what the event was: “One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” This is a dinner party at a prominent man’s home. Simon the Pharisee has plenty of status: he is a teacher of the Torah, an upstanding citizen. Most of his friends would be very similar: the upper class of Israelite society. But then the Gospel Writer mentions the party crasher: “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that [Jesus] was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

That’s hardly the way to blend in! Everything she does is visible, and it’s a bit outlandish. What the woman does will be her ticket out the door. At some point, one of the Pharisee’s companions will pick her up and lead her out. The thoughts bouncing around Simon’s head show what he thought about it: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited [Jesus] saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this Man were a prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’” The hearts and minds of the other guests would have been quite similar: a show of disgust and despising.

But why does this woman do these things? She doesn’t crash the party to partake of the Pharisee’s hospitality. She isn’t trying to be seen among the elites, trying to enter their social circle. She isn’t there for an evening of enjoyment on someone else’s dime; no, as a “sinner” she had plenty of those before. This woman is present because of what she believes concerning Jesus’ identity and work. She has engaged in a hazardous enterprise of crashing the Pharisee’s party and publicly abasing herself as an audacious act of worshiping Jesus. Jesus’ parable and explanation spoken to the Pharisee tells why she did it: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And Jesus’ statement to the woman recognizes her act: “And He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”

This party-crashing woman knows two things well: that she has committed great sin in her adulterous life and that Jesus has come with a message of forgiveness for her great sins and even worse ones. She believes the good news of the kingdom of God that has flowed from Jesus’ mouth. She recognizes its application for her life. Her guilt was no secret. But now she has heard of One who doesn’t stick that recognized guilt right back in her face, like those who were in the Pharisee’s house. Her ears have heard the gracious words that speak about cancelling guilt and forgiving sin. And though it happens in a completely socially inappropriate way, this woman actually fulfills the Scriptures, the words of the psalm: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to You at a time when You may be found….” Jesus can be found at that house, so the woman goes there, offering her physical prayer to Him. She touches Him because she knows who and what sort of Man Jesus is.

So what type of act do you perform? And what motivates what you do? Those questions arise from hearing about this event in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ parable told to Simon the Pharisee is meant for you to hear: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” The main point of the parable is not to compare the two levels of debt. The real point of the parable is to recognize that you have a debt that cannot be repaid, but has been forgiven. Your guilt has been cancelled. It is what Jesus has done for you. And that is to drive the love for the One who cancels it.

But do you recognize that? Do you have knowledge of your guilt? Is your conscience stricken? Do the words of Scripture describe you: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” Have your ears heard the Lord’s statement of displeasure, the indictment and condemnation against your unrighteousness: “You are the man!” Have you understood the futility of your acts: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” Those words are meant for you to hear and know well. They are spoken to show you the reality of your guilt, so that you aren’t like a Pharisee who thinks there is nothing owed. But these words also show you that Jesus has dealt with the debt which you cannot repay. What Jesus brought to the world is meant for you: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

So the exhortation is given to you: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to You at a time when You may be found….” The psalmist’s actions are placed before you to become your own: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Salvation is offered to you: “we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” But you don’t have to crash a party to get it. Instead, Jesus holds a dinner party and invites you to attend. He summons you here and says, “Come and receive the benefits that I have to provide for you. Come and have your curse lifted. Come and be forgiven.”

You come to Jesus’ presence and receive what He gives because you believe in His work done for you. He says to you: “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Receiving what Jesus offers motivates your actions. As you have your many sins forgiven, then you love Jesus much. That love takes the shape of that woman’s acts in the Pharisee’s house and the other women who were mentioned in the Gospel Reading: “And the twelve were with [Jesus], and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” The pouring of ointment on Jesus’ feet and the giving of financial assistance to Jesus and His apostles are physical acts of prayer. They are prayers of thanksgiving and adoration offered to Jesus for all that He has done.

These physical prayers of thanksgiving and adoration are offered because of the true understanding and belief in Jesus. They are offered by those who recognize just what sort of big deal it was to have Jesus act for their benefit, those who know that the guilt-debt of sin cannot be repaid and that there are greater enemies than can be overcome by human effort. This is where Jesus’ words are shown to be true: “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” When the thoughts are present that your sins aren’t all that bad, that the righteous judgment of God is a trivial matter, that there is no such thing as a debt that can’t be repaid, that Jesus really isn’t a redeemer, then those prayers of adoration and thanksgiving either won’t be offered or they won’t be much. But when the bone-crushing guilt is removed, when a new status of blessedness is provided by having sin covered with righteousness, when divine assistance is given and received, when the putting away of the curse is fully realized, then the thanksgiving and adoration comes flowing out. It is shown in what you say about Jesus: “You are a hiding place for me; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with shouts of deliverance.” And it is also shown in what you do for Jesus, the offering of support from your own means.

That is what this incident in Jesus’ life shows. He is the redeemer. He speaks graciously to those who recognize their guilt and turn to Him for aid. He does not chase away the penitent, but welcomes them. He forgives sins. He puts away the curse of eternal death. And those who believe that about Jesus come to where He is found. They hear His verdict: “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And those who hear this will fall down at His feet and offer their praise and gratitude to Him. May His words about such people be the true description about you: “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.”

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

Sunday, June 9, 2013

LSB Proper 5C Sermon - Luke 7:11-17

June 9, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

“Do not weep.” Jesus gives that command to the widow who trudges out of Nain. She has all the reason to weep, mourn, and cry. That reason was made clear in the Gospel Writer’s description of events: “As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” What else should be expected in that situation? Why wouldn’t this widow be drenched with her own tears? Her only son was dead and his burial was about to take place.

But Jesus says to her: “Do not weep.” Why would He give such a command to her? Is Jesus ignorant of what is taking place at the gates of Nain? Is Jesus a great adherent of Stoicism that demands a mastery over emotions? Is He making some bumbling attempt at comforting her? Or is it simply that Jesus is from Mars and this widow is from Venus—a matter of the different makeup of male and female? No, these are not why He tells her: “Do not weep.” The reason is much, much different.

Note well how Jesus is described when He speaks this command: “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to hear, ‘Do not weep.’” This reveals the reason for Jesus’ words. Compassion drives Jesus’ actions in Nain, including the command that He speaks to the widow. The pathetic sight of the funeral procession going through the gates of Nain moves Jesus. The Only Son of God and of His Mother understands quite well what is taking place. He knows what this widow is facing—the tragic finality of death and the calamity that it would cause in her life from that day forward. So Jesus gives the command to her: “Do not weep.”

That command comes from Jesus’ mouth because He is going to remove the cause of the widow’s weeping. His compassion moves Him to do so. In that village, Jesus is about to demonstrate His authority, even over the power of death. And when He displays that authority, it will bring the widow’s weeping to an end: “Then Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Another command is spoken, a command that can only come from the One who is the Author of life. When Jesus speaks that command for the young man to arise, the time for weeping ends—not that the culturally prescribed morning period draws to a close, but that weeping no longer has any valid reason to be done. The dead has risen; the son has been returned to his mother; death’s power has been overcome; burial has turned to rebirth. With that, the reason for mourning is ended.

This same dynamic is found today. Even now, Jesus speaks the same command: “Do not weep.” He speaks it to you. Why does He do so? For the same reasons that existed in the ancient village of Nain. Jesus knows quite well what drives your mourning. There are so many causes for your weeping. You suffer pain of body. Hurt emotions are not unknown to you. Witnessing the pathetic sights of calamity broadcast from places like Moore, OK, in the past weeks brings sorrow. Broken relationships and the severed bonds of friendship wreak their havoc. You lament over your sinful acts. And last, but certainly not least, there is the path that you trudge, just as the considerable crowd did at Nain, bearing the body of the deceased to be buried. These all bring forth weeping and wailing.

But Jesus says to you: “Do not weep.” He does so because compassion has driven Him to act for you. Compassion has led Him to do something drastic to put an end to these causes of your weeping. The drastic action is this: the Only Son of God and of His Mother dies and is carried out of the gates of Jerusalem to a borrowed tomb for His own burial. But that drastic action also includes the Only Son of God and His Mother being raised from that tomb, standing alive again, and showing that He has broken the power of death.

This drastic action that Jesus does is the answer to all the causes for weeping. By resurrection, He addresses the reasons for tears to flow. They are done away with. Physical suffering is brought to an end. The restoration and renewing of creation has begun. Harmony between God and man is established and from that reconciliation flows the same between people. The guilt of your trespasses is paid. And last, but not least, death is swallowed up and replaced with life everlasting. This is what Jesus does for you. The acts are driven by His compassion and pity. He knows well what drives your mourning, but He also knows what He has done to overcome it. And so He says to you: “Do not weep.” Why? Because this is all for you.

But when the weeping is ended, when that command is obeyed, there is not just a remainder of silence. The village of Nain, including its widow, did not remain quiet. Yes, the weeping was ended. But there was more: “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited His people!’” Jesus’ drastic action of raising the widow’s son elicited the testimony of belief about Him. It is the same reaction that came in Zarephath when Elijah raised the widow’s child: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” This joyful confession of faith replaces the weeping. The wailing mouths turn to worshiping mouths. The sorrowing soul turns to celebratory spirit. Heavy hearts experience hilarity. That is what Jesus’ drastic actions bring forth in the people.

And so it is today. The resurrection song flows out of your mouths. You join with the psalmist: “O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit…. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed the sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent.” You cannot speak such words unless the Lord has removed the cause for your weeping. But that is what He has done. As you have received the gospel of Jesus—the testimony about His dying and rising for your salvation—those joyous words become yours to speak.

Those words of joy are yours to speak because Jesus has died and risen to bring you a blessed end. That same Risen Jesus says to you, “Do not weep.” And His command is followed up with the other words that He says to you, the words that you have heard from Jesus during this past Easter Season: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy…. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world…. Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades…. Behold, I am making all things new.”

Remember that these are not the words spoken by someone who is ignorant of what you experience. These are not words spoken by someone who was just trying to push emotions out of the way. No, these are words spoken to you by One who was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He has borne that Himself for you. So your Lord Jesus says: “Do not weep.” And His works show why that command can be obeyed. The same Jesus not only tells you that the reason for your mourning is at an end; He also speaks and calls you to arise and share in the everlasting life that He has won for you.

That is your hope and your faith. This is the testimony that you carry. This is the report that you spread about Jesus through the surrounding country, into the world that suffers, so that the resurrection song can become theirs. Then they can say with you: “Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning…. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever!”

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

Sunday, June 2, 2013

LSB Proper 4C Sermon - Luke 7:1-10

June 2, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When Jesus was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him: ‘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.’”

“We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” That’s more than just a phrase spoken by Wayne and Garth to rock stars who show up for their fictitious public access TV show broadcast from their basement. It’s humorous when they say it and bow down at their guests. But while that is just a comedy sketch, there is a great truth is behind their statement. In real life we compare ourselves to those who come into our presence. There is recognition of rank. When someone much greater appears, we are quick to say statements that reflect a lack of worthiness: “It’s been a great honor to have you with us. I never imagined that I would have someone like you in my home. It’s been an absolute privilege to have your business.”

The question of worthiness is a key issue in the event recorded in the Gospel Reading for this morning. You heard of a centurion who happened to be in Galilee: “Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.” The centurion commanded respect based on his status. He was an officer in the Roman Army. With that rank came privilege, including much higher pay. The centurion’s prowess as a soldier would be recognized by those under his command and commended by his superiors.

But what type of worthiness does the centurion have before God? What worthiness does he possess that Jesus should come to his house and heal his slave? The emissaries whom the centurion sends points out his worthiness: “When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to Him elders of the Jews, asking Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, ‘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.’” The elders point out the centurion’s qualities. But these aren’t statements about his military rank or his great valor. Instead, the elders point out the acts that have flowed out of the centurion’s heart and mind: he loves Israel and has provided a place where the Lord’s people can gather and hear the divine words of the Law and the Prophets. This is why Jesus should come and heal his slave.

But when Jesus comes near to the centurion’s home, there is a much different statement about his worthiness. The centurion speaks about himself through another set of messengers: “When Jesus was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him: ‘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.’” How different this sounds compared to the elders’ testimony concerning the centurion! They spoke of all the acts that should show his worthiness. But the centurion admits that he really is not worthy to have Jesus in his presence. Even his love of the nation and his building a synagogue—actions that flowed from his belief in the Lord—did not bring him to a level that deserved to have Jesus do anything for him.

And yet, there is a worthiness that the centurion possesses. It is not found in his acts. Rather, the worthiness comes from what he has received and what he clings onto. He is made worthy through what he has heard about Jesus and come to believe about Him. What the centurion has heard about Jesus has been revealed in his statement given through his friends: “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.” The centurion shows what he believes concerning Jesus: that He has been sent with authority, so that what He says will come to pass, even the healing of a slave who is deathly ill. And how does Jesus respond? “When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed Him, said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”

The centurion is correct: he is not worthy to have Jesus heal his slave because of all the things that he has done for the believers in his Galilean town. But he is made worthy because he has heard about Jesus. Worthiness is bestowed to the centurion through belief in what he has heard about Jesus. He is worthy because he knows Jesus’ authority. The centurion is worthy because he believes all that Jesus has been saying about Himself in the synagogues of Nazareth, Capernaum, and the other villages. He believes that Jesus has the Spirit of the Lord upon Him, that Jesus has been anointed and sent to speak good news and perform miracles that bring restoration. This is what the centurion has received from Jesus’ word and what he clings onto. The centurion’s belief is why he sends for Jesus to bring healing to his slave.

What is seen in this event is the way the gospel works. The centurion hears about Jesus and believes. That belief is expressed in his confession about Jesus. His faith is in who Jesus is and what Jesus does, just as St. Paul will speak of in his letter to the Galatians: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.” His belief in Jesus’ identity and work then drives him to call for Jesus to help him and his slave, despite the fact that they are Gentiles. He does what Solomon foretold when he dedicated the Temple: “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they shall hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You….” And so Jesus heals the centurion’s slave; He grants the request that is rooted in true belief about Him.

So how does this event speak about you? It shows you how the gospel works for you. The question of worthiness is not inapplicable to your lives. Are you worthy to stand before the presence of God? Are you of a rank that can demand anything of Him? The answer to that question should be a resounding “No.” The matter is put starkly in the Christian Questions and Answers in the catechism: “4. What have you deserved from God because of your sins? His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation.” There’s the description about your natural worthiness: worthy to have the Lord’s anger directed at you, worthy to die, worthy of condemnation. Those are the privileges of your rank as chief sinner.

But why is all this not poured out on you? Why do you have the exact opposite given to you? Because you have been made worthy. What makes you worthy? Not what you have done, but what has been done for you. Not what you have acquired for yourself, but what has been bestowed to you. Again to the Christian Questions and Answers: “9. What has Christ done for you that you trust in Him? He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.” That is what you have heard about Jesus: “11. How do you know this? From the Holy Gospel, from the words instituting the Sacrament, and by His body and blood given me as a pledge in the Sacrament.

So what makes you worthy? The gospel you have heard—the testimony about who Jesus is and what He has done—is what makes you worthy. You are made worthy through what you have heard about Jesus, as the apostles handed it down, and then making that your confession of Him. You believe that Jesus has been sent from the Father with His authority to perform a great act of salvation for you. You believe that He has died and has risen from death and that this was done for your benefit. You believe that Jesus speaks with authority, that His words are true and they deliver what they promise. You are worthy and well prepared as you believe what Jesus has promised to you in Baptism, Absolution, and Eucharist.

As you have heard, so you have believed. You make the same confession as the centurion did: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof.” Your admission goes even further: “Lord, I am most definitely not worthy to come to Your house.” But your statement of belief is in Jesus’ words, just as the centurion believed: “But say the word, and let my servant be healed.” Your belief in Jesus’ word that summons you to His gracious throne leads you to dare to enter His presence, not just asking for a slave to be healed, but for yourselves to be saved from the point of everlasting death. Your faith is in the Lord’s mighty hand and outstretched arm that have brought about salvation and in the promises that this same Lord makes to you. That belief drives you to this place where the Lord has said: “My name shall be there.” As foreigners who have been brought into the Lord’s household, you ask for His promises to be fulfilled, and the Lord does so.

We’re not worthy of any of this. But worthiness is given to us, so that we can do so. The status of worthiness is now ours because of what Jesus has done for us. The privilege to call on Him to save and to enter His presence is ours, as we have heard about Him and have believed. That same status will be given to other foreigners who hear the same about Jesus’ identity and work and are then brought to the same faith about Him: “who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” They are added to the company of believers who receive benefit from the Lord. This is what the healing of the centurion’s servant shows us. Let it be that Jesus will marvel at our trust and belief in His words and works, so that He says about us what He said concerning the centurion: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

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