14 October 2007

Homily - Trinity 19

(A little "sanitive lingo" for Pastor Weedon! :-)

Healing by Forgiving
Matthew 9:1-8

The Bible commentator F. Dale Brunner summed up our Gospel reading quite well. He said, “To forgive a person is to enable a person to move.” Today Jesus shows us how He forgives us and heals us from our paralysis of sin. That authority to forgive sins is given by God to His Son, and by Christ Jesus to His Church on earth. Yes, forgiveness of sins happens right here on earth, and God has given such authority to men.

As Jesus sits in a house teaching God’s Word, the crowd around Him packs the house, eagerly hearing His words. When four friends bring their paralyzed pal to hear Jesus and be healed by Him, they cannot get in to see Jesus. So they go up to the roof, tear a hole in the roof, and lower their friend on his cot right in front of Jesus. Remember, the paralyzed man cannot move. He cannot by his own reason or strength come to Jesus Christ.

But Jesus does notice the faith of the man’s four friends. They are the Church. They know that Jesus heals by forgiving, and they want Jesus to grant His forgiving healing to their friend. Now, that’s true evangelism! They bring another person paralyzed by sin into the presence of Jesus to be healed by His forgiveness. And Jesus does just that. He heals the man by saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” That’s it.

That’s it?! Where’s the actual healing? Doesn’t Jesus know that first you take care of the physical problem, and then, only after that, can you address the spiritual problem? Doesn’t He know that you can’t get too spiritual with people too quickly? Doesn’t He know that you have to lure people in by some other enticement, and then, only then, can you give them the real stuff about Jesus and His Gospel?

Actually, here’s what Jesus knows. He knows that any physical problem, any mental problem, any psychological, emotional, or social problems, are merely the symptoms. The real root disease is the paralysis of sin and death, the paralysis of being separated from God. Jesus also knows that His forgiveness is the only real cure for that paralysis. “To forgive a person is to enable a person to move.” Jesus knows that when you start with and focus on forgiving sins, that’s the best way to help and heal other people.

When Jesus freely and fully forgives the paralyzed man, the religious people have a fit. They grumble among themselves. “This man is blaspheming,” they say. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7). You see, all they could detect in Jesus was a mere Man. Oh, they were fine with God forgiving sins up in heaven. But here on earth? A human being actually forgiving and absolving another human being? Well, that was just out of the question! “Only God can forgive sins!” they would say.

That’s the way we work too, isn’t it? We look at our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church, and they practice that thing called “going to Confession.” We squirm at the notion of confessing our sins to another human being. We revolt at the notion of another human being saying, “I forgive you your sins,” especially in a private, person-to-person setting. But when we squirm and revolt, remember that we squirm and revolt against Jesus and His healing of forgiveness. When we squirm and revolt, we merely show our paralysis—our paralysis of sin, our paralysis of pride. We are so paralyzed by being curved in on ourselves that confessing our sins seems so repulsive.

When St. Augustine was near death, he begged one of his friends to paint on the wall opposite his bed the words of Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-2). Ah, there’s nothing more precious than clinging to God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus! Augustine knew it. The paralyzed man knew it too.

When Jesus forgives and heals the paralyzed man, His healing also sends a message. If the Son of Man can heal – and people knew He could – then it proves that He can also forgive sins on earth. God truly has given such authority to the Man Christ Jesus!

So Jesus asks the religious types: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? At first we might say that saying “Your sins are forgiven” is easier. After all, when we hear those words we don’t see any physical or social change. Perhaps we get used to hearing them, and we don’t treasure them. Perhaps we tune them out because we hear them so often. Truth be told, we’d rather see that other person shape up his/her act before we forgive yet again. That’s our paralysis. At least if someone says, “Rise and walk,” we can see if it works. If the man gets up and walks, then we know we have a great healer in our midst. If nothing happens, then we know we have a quack.

But is forgiveness really that easy? We might want to say, “Pastor, Jesus is God, and God can forgive.” But the religious types only saw a Man. Besides that, what really brings our forgiveness? Is it the fact that Jesus is true God? If so, then why did He choose to suffer and die such a bloody death? No, forgiveness is very hard! It comes at a great price. It cost Jesus His very life. He suffered rejection and torture. He suffered the paralysis of hanging lifeless on the Cross and lying dead in the tomb. That’s what brings forgiveness. God in Christ loved you, His neighbor, by dying for you to forgive you. And then, on the third day, He rose again to bring His life, His healing, His immortality to light.

That forgiveness heals your paralysis. And now Jesus gives you, His Church, that authority to forgive sins. “To forgive a person is to enable a person to move.” Jesus authorizes you, His healed, forgiven people, to heal others by proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness to them.

And just how does Jesus dispense His cross-won forgiveness? The same way He did for the paralyzed man. He speaks His words of Absolution. Many people think that Lutherans don’t “believe in” Confession and Absolution. Actually, I say it’s the best-kept secret among Lutherans. Yes, we Lutherans actually do teach and prize “going to Confession.” You see, when you go to Confession, you receive the precious treasure and healing of Jesus’ cross-won forgiveness.

The Small Catechism (V:1) says it this way: “What is Confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Our Augsburg Confession (XI:1) says it this way: “It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse.”

So, when was the last time you went to Confession? When was the last time you sought out your pastor to hear your confession and to pronounce Christ’s forgiveness to you? I know, you can certainly confess your sins privately at home. That’s true, but what do you hear in response? Remember, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The paralyzed man did not just imagine himself healed. He heard the words of Jesus. Those words forgave and healed him. Such is the authority that Jesus gives to His Church and her ministers. As the hymn says,

“The words which absolution give
Are His who died that we might live;
The minister whom Christ has sent
Is but His humble instrument.

"When ministers lay on their hands
Absolved by Christ the sinner stands;
He who by grace the Word believes
The purchase of His blood receives.” (LSB 614:5-6). Amen.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed this new blog, a good friend mentioned it to me. Lots of good stuff to think about. Now this sermon has me thinking. It puts a wonderful emphasis on the forgiveness of sins but in eagerness to uphold private confession have the other means of God's Grace been minimized or excluded?

< "And just how does Jesus dispense His cross-won forgiveness? The same way He did for the paralyzed man. He speaks His words of Absolution. Many people think that Lutherans don’t “believe in” Confession and Absolution. Actually, I say it’s the best-kept secret among Lutherans. Yes, we Lutherans actually do teach and prize “going to Confession.” You see, when you go to Confession, you receive the precious treasure and healing of Jesus’ cross-won forgiveness." >

Here's my questions: What about Holy Baptism? What about the Lord's Supper? What about the Absolution spoken in the liturgy? Are these not also ways that God dispenses His forgiveness? Is not the Word preached from a Pastor's lips in the pulpit also dispensing "the prize, the precious treasure and healing of Jesus’ cross-won forgiveness?"

Does God's Word say that if one does not privately confess their sin they are paralyzed by it? The parlytic spoke no confession, and the absolution from Jesus appears quite public.

Somewhere I was told that the practice of private confession before a pastor or priest was a practice not of the Biblical or Early Church but something begun in the 12th century. I don't know if that is correct information.

To be sure, I am not against the 'retaining' of private confession but struggle when I see it held up over the other means, which in my mind are more clearly instituted and prescribed in Scripture by our Lord.

Private confession with the words of God's absolution for specific sins is surely the balm of Gilead for a troubled soul.

Yet Luther tells us to daily remember our Baptism and the Lord's Supper is offered to us for the "foregiveness of sins."

Can one be fully forgiven and trust that forgiveness without ever privately confessing?

My comments are sincere, born out of a ongoing struggle that both cause me to want to run to confession and at the same time flee it because modern proponents of it in our church body single it out, and seem to guilt people into the confessional.

I cannot find in Scripture any clear passage or Words of Jesus that require private confession of the penitent sinner. In fact, often before a sinner could speak Jesus offered forgiveness. Other times the cry was simply, "Lord have mercy." Is that not what the liturgy guides God's people in doing each week?

Where is the power, in my going to private confession or in God's forgiving my sins? Does God need me to list my sins before He can forgive me? I know the answer and I hope you don't think me disrespectful, but these things are troubling to me.

I enjoy reading what different Lutheran pastors have to say about private confession and absolution, it seems to be a topic of discussion in some parts of the church today. It makes me glad because I think it really is a wonderful gift that truly can bring healing to a sick soul. Thanks for holding it up and encouraging it. Wish more pastors would follow suit.

Diana said...

I really appreciate these questions. I have heard these same questions in my church but regarding the Lord's Supper - i.e. if we have it every week, we are not trusting in our Baptism. I don't have any answers, but wish I did.

This past year I have thought a lot about private confession and finally went last lent. After confessing, the pastor said, "Don't you think you are being too hard on yourself?" I don't know what that means. I am pretty sure I confessed true sin based on the ten commandments. It has been plaguing me ever since. I am not very anxious to go back.

Diana

Anonymous said...

Diana, I understand what you are saying. I see God as vast and all embracing with His love and mercy toward us. He gives means of His grace knowing our sinful weaknesses, knowing that there are times the Supper may not be available to us or no pastor available to hear our confession and yet our Baptism speaks clearly and resoundingly, that we are forgiven completely because of Christ our Lord.

The renewed emphasis on private confession and every Sunday Communion is best communicated when it is offered to God's people as part of the rich mercy and gifts that our loving Heavenly Father wants to give us and surround us with. How wonderful that we can daily remember our Baptism and that weekly we may partake of the Lord's Supper and that there is at the ready a minister of God who will hear us confess sin that we can't let go of, sin that troubles and haunts us and he will speak directly to us concerning that sin, offering as from God true and complete forgiveness. It's a feast! Lots of good things to feed our soul, laid out before us that we may partak and be fed for life.

I think there are pastors who are themselves not comfortable with hearing private confession. It is something that had been all but lost in our church for many years. Though they are God's servants they are like the rest of us, sinner/saints and will stumble and er and our Lord forgives them as He does us and He blesses us through their humble service.

You were baptized and are blessed to have the Lord's Supper offered weekly to you. Wonderful! It's not an either or, its both and. At least that's how it seems to me. Would it be that all men everywhere have such a feast laid before them! And yet, any of the means by themselves give the child of God full and free forgiveness. That's the beauty of it - one gift is not inadequate, for it gives God's grace. But, who among us would choose to eat from a meal with only one type of food when equally available to us is a feast with many wonderful foods to eat?

God gives graciously, and abundantly to us.

Diana said...

Anonymous,

If you are still reading this post, thank you for your words. They have been helpful in pointing out that even when I don't have all I want or think I need (in regard to weekly Lord's Supper and Confession), God is still in us and with us filling all our needs.

Thanks again,
Diana

Randy Asburry said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for your comments and questions about Private Confession and Absolution. Please remember that just because a pastor focuses on one thing in a brief 12-15 minute homily, that does not mean that he excludes or denies other things from God's revealed Truth (after all, he can't possible preach the whole counsel of God in one homily! ;-). That is, just because I focused on Private Confession in this homily, I do not mean to say that the other Sacraments are of little or less importance. Not at all!

Besides, it sounds like you already treasure the other Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. So, I would ask in return, Why not treasure yet a third of God's gifts, especially by partaking of it?

As for the other questions that, honestly, do seem to lessen, or at least question, the importance of Private Confession, I would simply quote Luther himself from the Large Catechism: "Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian." In other words, we can certainly urge and invite without coercing. The inviting and urging that I do from the pulpit is carefully worded so as not to give the message of coercion. (Although I do not deny that some may hear it that way, just because for them it is new and different!) I would also urge you to examine Article XI of the Augsburg Confession, which extols Private Confession as a part of our "doctrinal articles" in the Lutheran Church.

So, if you are "not against" Private Confession and Absolution per se, then I do encourage you to seek out your pastor, at whatever church you attend, and partake of the rich treasure of God's forgiveness for your specific sins. Just as it works with the Lord's Supper, the best way to confess that you are "not against" it is to partake of it! :-)

Randy Asburry said...

Diana,

Thanks for your comments. I'm a bit saddened to hear of your first experience at Confession. I hope that your pastor continues to learn more about being a Father Confessor (as I also want to keep learning!). Perhaps the next time you go to Confession and hear something like that, you can say in faithful, repentant honest, "No, I'm not being too hard on myself! I'm being quite truthful, and that's why I need God's truth of forgiveness in the Absolution!"

So, please don't let that one experience make you stay away from the Lord's gift of the Absolution. In fact, you can help your pastor learn how Confession and Absolution is meant to work! :-)

As for having all that you need, as you mention in your second comment, yes, you have it. The Lord gives it to you in all of His "means of grace." That's why we don't want to put them in competition with each other, but rather embrace them all and partake of them all in actual practice.

God bless you! (And may He grant you a growing and healthy desire to receive His Absolution from your pastor!)