28 October 2007

Homily - Trinity 21

Clinging to the Words of Christ
John 4:46-54 w/ Genesis 1:1-2:3 & Ephesians 6:10-17

This side of heaven the Church is always the Church militant, the Church “under siege.” Two weeks ago we heard about the paralysis of our unbelief. Last week we heard about the struggle of answering Jesus’ invitation. But the Lord Jesus Christ gives the victory. First, His forgiveness puts us in motion. Next, He persistently invites us to His wedding feast and gives us His perfect, pure, royal garment.

Today we hear about how we wrestle with trusting God’s words for our healing. When Jesus heals the official’s son, He teaches us to cling to His simple words. In our Gospel reading we see how one official, a community leader, simply trusted the Word—Jesus—in the face of death. This official had heard of Jesus, perhaps he had even heard Jesus preach. After Jesus’ first miracle—turning water into wine at Cana in Galilee—word of the Savior spread. The official may have heard the word of the Lord who turned water into wine. So, Jesus’ words and actions gave faith to this man.

This official then exercised his faith by imploring Jesus. Jesus returns to Cana, where He did His first sign. The official lives in Capernaum, about 12-15 miles away over mountainous terrain. But he doesn’t let the distance stop him. He seeks out Jesus for help, because his son is sick to the point of death. This is not just a stressful time. This is time for faith to go to work in prayer, in imploring the Lord for help. The great cry of faith always says, “Lord, have mercy!” So, the official trusted Jesus in the face of death.

Jesus also draws our attention to faith in His words and healing. But we fallen sinners want something else. We want spectacular signs and wonders. We want God to prove Himself on our terms. How we want Him to show that He loves us by making life easy and prosperous for us. That’s our sickness!

But Jesus seeks simple trust in His simple words. He does not rebuke the official, but He does rebuke the crowd for expecting miracles. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” In Luke 18, Jesus teaches on prayer and then asks, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” What matters to Jesus? Not what you might expect—not glorious buildings, not grand, trouble-free living, not multi-million dollar church bureaucracies, not even peace among nations. What matters to Jesus? FAITH—simply clinging to His simple words.

You see, Jesus’ words bring Jesus’ results. Remember what God said through Isaiah, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:10-11).

Today we see one result of Jesus’ words. The official’s son lived and his family believed in Christ. Jesus is true to His word, the lad lived, and the family believed not just in the miracle, but in Jesus’ healing. Faith always has an object. True faith trusts only Christ and His words and works.

Well, Jesus also makes you alive to believe His words. You may be tempted to take Jesus’ words lightly. You may not see them as that vital for every nook and cranny of your life. But let St. Paul remind you to “not [be] ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). When God makes you alive, He gives you faith to cling to His Word, Jesus. And clinging to Jesus means learning and growing in God’s grace.

Why should you cling to God’s Word in the flesh? Because He—Jesus—is living and active to make you alive. And His words do things. Do you remember that old childhood rhyme: “Sticks and stone can break my bones, but names can never hurt me”? Well, it’s just not true. Words can and do hurt, because words do things.

God’s words do great things. His words created the heavens and the earth. Each day of creation God said, “Let there be…” and it happened! On Day 1, He made light. On Day 2, He made the seas and sky. On Day 3, He spoke the dry land and plants into being. On Day 4 came the sun, moon, and stars. On Day 5 came fish and birds. And on Day 6 God made animals and, most importantly, humans. God speaks and things happen.

And never forget that God made everything out of nothing. We need materials before we can make something, but God doesn’t. He spoke, and He created everything out of nothing.

God recreates us in the same way—both by speaking and out of nothing. As the psalm says, “Create in me a clean heart.” God creates in you the heart to trust Him. He creates it out of nothing, out of no previous good disposition, out of no religious inclination. He creates in you a clean heart that clings to Him. Basically, God says, “Let there be a clean heart in you!”

You see, when you cling to Christ’s words, you really cling to Jesus Himself. He is the Word of God in the flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Jesus is God’s message of rescue in human form. He is true God and true Man. As perfect Man He lives the life that we could not live, and He dies in death so that we won’t die eternally. As perfect God He conquers sin, death, and the devil. Only God can give life. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).

Just as Jesus is both divine and human, so are His words. He speaks a divine message of love and forgiveness, and He uses ordinary human language to do it. He uses ordinary language, syntax, grammar, and history, and yet His message is perfect, makes you alive, and creates faith in you. You don’t need to look for signs and wonders. You don’t need to yearn for spiritual dreams or inner messages. Jesus’ Gospel words are exactly what you need. You can cling to Him for life.

So, let’s learn from the official. Jesus spoke simple words to the him: “You son lives.” It happened just as He said. You may also expect great things in simple gifts of Jesus’ words. Jesus’ words joined to simple water in Baptism actually make you God’s holy child. Jesus’ words joined to the pastor’s lips in Absolution actually give you a clean conscience. Jesus’ words joined to bread and wine in Communion actually forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. You can cling to Christ’s words because He uses them to make you holy.

Why else should you cling to Christ’s words? Because His words are your armor for spiritual battle. The official faced a spiritual dilemma in the sickness and imminent death of his son. Sickness and death are signs of our spiritual warfare. We live in a world of sin, a world fallen from God’s favor. St. Paul said it this way: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” It’s no small thing when we wrestle with trusting God’s words! Our wrestling has cosmic significance. When you cling to Christ, the Word made flesh, you have life. But if you don’t cling to Christ, all is lost.

So, Jesus gives you the battle armor to stand. You need to know how to put the armor on. You need to know the armor and the arsenal that protects you. What is that armor and arsenal? God’s Word! It does you no good just sitting off in the corner. No, you need to wear it and use it. That’s why coming to the Divine Service is so important. And so is Bible study. So are family times for prayer. It’s why we put the “Daily Prayer” guide in the bulletin—so you can use it. This armor of God’s Word helps you to STAND. Christ has already won the war. So, you and I get to defend Christ’s victory and stand strong.

As Jesus healed the official’s son, He also heals you simply by speaking His words. He teaches you to cling to His words and trust Him. “O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face; Absolve us through Your boundless grace. Be with us in our anguish still; Free us at last from ev’ry ill” (LSB, 615:5). Amen.

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