Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Second Sunday after Pentecost


Second Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 4)
June 2, 2013
Text: Luke 7:1-10

            Okay, that was a difficult hymn to sing, I know (LSB 755: “In the Very Midst of Life”).  But these are the words we need on our lips and in our minds and hearts this morning.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m pastor to all of you, but with all the *stuff* so many of you are going through right now, it’s been a tough several weeks for our congregation.  If you haven’t noticed this, then thanks be to God.  Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Listen afresh to these words: “In the very midst of life Snares of death surround us” (v. 1).  We’ve had our share of death in this congregation over the last two weeks.  And the snares of death, those are the things that remind us how fleeting this earthly life is, which is to say, sickness, struggles, difficulties, heartaches, all the stuff that reminds us we live in a fallen world.  And we’ve had plenty of that to go around, too.  “Who will help us”?  That’s the question.  “Who will help us in the strife Lest the foe confound us?”  What does the devil do when we’re bearing a heavy cross?  He loads it up with temptations and accusations that make it even heavier.  He reminds us of our sins.  And he tells us that this is all because of some terrible thing we’ve done that cannot possibly be forgiven, that God’s out to get us, that there’s no saving us now.  He would have us despair, the liar.  But we believe him, unless we get some help from the outside.  And who is that help?  Again and again in the hymn we sing these words or words very similar: “Thou only, Lord, Thou only!”  Only the Lord God can help us.  Only the Lord God can cast out the devil.  Only the Lord God can give us the healing and relief we really need, the antidote to death: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, wrapped up and delivered in the flesh in the preaching of God’s Word, Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar.  Sin is at the root of everything we suffer.  Sin brought death into the world.  So here we mourn our sin, we confess it to God, and He saves us.  He washes our sin away in the Savior’s blood.  He gives us righteousness and life in the Savior’s resurrection.  He makes us new.  He has mercy.
            The centurion in our text (a Roman military officer), was in the same predicament we are.  In the very midst of life, he was surrounded by snares of death.  His servant whom he highly valued was sick and at the point of death (Luke 7:2).  Now, this centurion, he’s a Gentile, not one of God’s chosen people Israel.  But the Jewish elders plead his case.  He’s a good guy, they say.  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” (vv. 4-5; ESV).  He built a church, for pity’s sake!  But we know, as we just sang in the hymn, you can’t bargain with Jesus on the basis of your own worthiness.  You have none.  Why do snares of death surround us?  Our sins.  So much for worthiness.  Still, our Lord goes with them.  It’s exactly what He does for us.  He doesn’t wait around until we figure out we’re sinners before He comes to us.  He comes to us in the preaching of His Word, Law and Gospel, showing us our sin and then showing us our Savior.  He comes in compassion to save, first by wounding, like a surgeon who makes life-saving wounds in the body of his patient, and then by healing, by making us alive with the Good News of forgiveness of sins in Him. 
            But what is amazing in our text is what the centurion sends his friends to say to Jesus.  The centurion had already been a faithful hearer of God’s Word in the synagogue, what was known as a proselyte at the gate, a Gentile believer in the one true God.  And so he knew, contrary to what the Jewish elders said about him, that he was, in fact, not worthy.  I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,” he confesses (v. 6).  It is a confession of sin.  He’s a sinner, and he knows it.  He doesn’t hide it.  He mourns it.  He confesses it.  And he pleads for the Lord’s help, not on the basis of his own worthiness (of which he has none), but on the basis of the Lord’s mercy and by virtue of the Lord’s authority.  Just say the Word, Jesus… “say the word, and let my servant be healed” (v. 7).  For man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).  Man lives by the Word of the Lord.  Say the Word and the sickness will have to leave.  The centurion understands authority.  He is, after all, a man under authority, and he has authority over others.  He says to one go and he goes, to another come and he comes, to another do and he does (v. 8).  So if Jesus speaks a Word, the sickness must obey.  The centurion is confessing that Jesus is Lord.  The centurion is confessing that Jesus is his Lord, compassionate and merciful.  And Jesus tells us that even in Israel He has not found such faith (v. 9).   
            We poor sinners are utterly helpless.  We think we can help ourselves, but the truth is, we are completely dependent on God for our every breath, our every heartbeat.  We cannot provide these things for ourselves.  We’re sinners, and all we can do is sin.  As Christians, we recognize our sin for what it is.  We don’t hide it.  We mourn it.  We confess it to God.  We leave it at His feet to be dealt with.  And from His mouth we hear a gracious Word: I forgive you all your sins.  Just say the Word, O God, we plead.  And He does.  He speaks the healing and life-giving Word of the Gospel.  And He also hears our prayers for other things.  He hears them for Jesus' sake.  He hears our prayers for healing for ourselves and others.  He hears our prayers for the needs of this body and life.  He hears our prayers for consolation in the time of sorrow and for the Holy Spirt.  And He answers, graciously, according to His will and in His perfect wisdom.  Now, He doesn’t do this because we’re worthy.  This is not the kind of thing where we scratch God’s back and He scratches ours.  There is no bargaining with God.  We don’t make vows to do this and that if He does such and such.  To do that would be to make the claim the Jewish elders made on behalf of the centurion: Lord, I’m worthy to have you do this for me, or if not, then I’ll make myself worthy by performing a vow.  Rubbish.  Let’s have none of that.  We are not worthy.  Let’s just say so.  There’s no pussyfooting around it here in our Lord’s Church.  But God is merciful.  And for that reason we come in the Name of Christ and beg Him just to say the Word.  And He does, because He is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 
            Not only does He say the Word, He sends Him in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He sends His Son.  He sends His Son to become one with us, to suffer as we do and be tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).  He sends His Son to take our sins into Himself, our weaknesses, our sicknesses, our pains and heartaches, our death and condemnation into Himself, and to nail it in His flesh to the cross, to suffer and die in our place, for the forgiveness of our sins.  And He raises His Son in the flesh, that we might be justified (declared righteous) and have eternal life, that on the Last Day the risen Son of God may speak the Word to us, “Come out of the grave,” and we will do just that in our bodies, to live forever with Jesus.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).  Just say the Word, O God.  Just send the Word, O God.  And God does.  He sends His Son, who speaks to us gracious words of healing and life.  Jesus gives us life.
            And so, when snares of death surround us, when powers of hell o’ertake us, when our sins oppress us, who then shall help us?  “Thou only, Lord, Thou only!”  “Where shall we for refuge go, Where for grace to bless us?  To Thee, Lord Jesus, only!” (LSB 755).  We are not worthy of the Lord’s help, and we cannot help ourselves.  But Jesus Christ is worthy, and He helps us.  By the worthiness of Christ, God has mercy upon us.  He hears our prayers.  He speaks His Word.  The snares of death are coming to an end because the Lord just says the Word.  And He has the authority to end them.  They must obey His Word.  For He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

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