Monday, June 3, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 2: "The Unworthy Declared Worthy"

+  2nd Sunday after Pentecost – June 2, 2013 +
Redeemer, HB
Series C: 1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29, 41-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

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

 Luke 7 is full of one remarkable, ironic surprise after another. First, Jewish leaders are sent by a Roman centurion to a Jewish teacher, Jesus. And even though the Jewish leaders consider the centurion to be worthy because of his love and works…this Gentile centurion acknowledges himself unworthy of Jesus’ presence in his own home. And then the most remarkable thing of all: God marveled at a human being.

 But what exactly was so marvelous about this Roman centurion? Was it because he was a man of wealth? Commander of 100 Roman soldiers? Because he was virtuous and of exemplary character. Because He had love and works to show for? If you listen to the Jewish elders in this reading, you might be tempted to think that too. This man is worthy to have his servant healed. He’s earned it. Look at all he’s done.  He loves our nation…he’s done some great work in the community rebuilding synagogues…he’s an officer and a gentlemen.  If faith in Christ was like the TV show, The Bachelorette, that Roman centurion would’ve been a shoe-in.

However, none of these things made this centurion marvelous in God’s eyes.
So, what did Jesus marvel at then? Simple words like this: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” The centurion confesses his own unworthiness. And what Solomon prays for in the temple in 1 Kings 8 is fulfilled. A foreigner, a Gentile, a Roman soldier no less, confesses faith in Christ. He finds favor before the Lord. “Only say the word and let my servant be healed.”

“And turning to the crowd that followed him, Jesus said, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith."

 What a strange thing…that our Lord praises this man’s faith. What credit did he deserve for that? His faith wasn’t his own.

And that’s the whole point. The centurion doesn’t get credit. His faith was a gift, just like yours is.  This is the central doctrine of the Christian faith: the Father gives credit to us for works performed by the Son and the Son takes the punishment of our sin.  For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The Lord gives the centurion faith and then praises him for it.  And so he deals with you.
We too confess our own unworthiness. This is a trustworthy saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly.”  Christ died for you. 

The strength of that centurion’s faith was Christ. Christ was the foundation, the walls, the frame and the whole house of this man’s faith. The centurion makes us ask the question: what – or who – is the foundation of your faith? Jesus or you? Rock or sand?
It is the way of this fallen world and this sinful flesh of ours to focus on ourselves, our love, our works instead of Christ’s love and Christ’s work for us. That’s what the Jewish elders wanted Jesus to look at: this man’s love and works. That was the “other Gospel” Paul warned the Galatians not to follow. Many had been bewitched into believing, Jesus Crucified + works = salvation.

But it’s a lie, not truth. Slavery, not freedom. Death, not life. The emphasis is on the wrong syllable. It is not your love and works that save…but Christ’s love manifested on the cross for you. Christ’s work in life and death and resurrection for you. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, that faith is credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Or as Paul writes later in Galatians: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law through faith in Jesus Christ…” 

That’s why we join the Roman centurion in looking not to ourselves, to our own words, or our love but to Christ and his words and his love. Cling to His authority to cleanse, heal, forgive sin, and even raise the dead. The power of Jesus’ spoken Word still creates what it says and the faith to receive it.  That’s the two-fold emphasis in our reading today: the faith of the centurion and the power of Christ’s spoken word. You can’t have one without the other. No Word, no faith. Wherever Christ’s word is, there He creates faith. Christ is the strength of your faith as well.
Rejoice! Like the centurion, Christ declares you who were unworthy worthy. You are worthy by the blood of the Lamb, worthy by his death and resurrection, worthy in baptism, worthy to receive His supper. Jesus says the word and you are worthy.

For Jesus was also a man under authority. The Father says, “Go.” And he goes to be born of a Virgin, born under the Law – that Law that the centurion and you and I cannot keep – to redeem us from the Law. To give us adoption as sons. The Father says do my will, suffer on the cross, die for their sins. So, Jesus does the Father’s will – for you. Jesus goes – for you. Jesus is under direct orders to invade our fallen world. Seek and destroy our enemy, Satan. To take captive our sin and death. To rescue you. To win victory for you and all sinners.

Jesus does all of this for you and gives you the credit, just like the centurion.

And just like the centurion, you come before Christ on behalf of your neighbor’s well being in prayer requests or with a helping hand. Say the word, Lord, and bring mercy to those in need. Say the word, Lord, and help me share the gospel with my friends, family, and neighbors. Say the word, Lord, and make us good stewards of the financial and physical gifts you have given us at church and home.
Christ our Lord says the word and we who were unworthy are declared worthy. Christ says the word and your faith is declared great. It’s like Genesis all over again…let there be faith in Christ! And behold, it is very good.

Jesus continues to speak His remarkable, astonishing, abundant Word of life upon you just as He did for that Centurion. And what a joy it is that God also marvels at you through His Son, Christ Crucified.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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