Second Sunday after Pentecost
Second Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 4)
May 29, 2016
Text: Luke 7:1-10
It must be a high honor to have the Lord Jesus Christ marvel at your faith. I wouldn’t know. But this is an indication that there is something to learn here from the centurion. Jesus says of him, “I tell you, not even in Israel,” not even among the Jews, not even within the visible Church and that nation of God’s own people, “have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9; ESV). This man is a foreigner, a Gentile, and even worse, he works for the government. What is it about his faith that causes Jesus to marvel? More often than not, we probably interpret the text this way: What makes the centurion’s faith great is that he knows Jesus doesn’t even have to be present to heal. “Just speak the Word, Lord, and my servant will be healed.” That is certainly true, and that is part of it. The centurion does not regard Jesus simply as a magician or miracle worker or great healer. There is an implicit confession here that Jesus is God, or at least that He can harness the power of God, that He carries the authority of God. Just say the Word, give the order, and the sickness will obey. In this the centurion has us beat. We think it would be better to see Jesus. If we could just see a miracle. If we could just talk to Him face to face. Then we could know that He will rescue us. The centurion believes without seeing, which is more blessed. But there is even more to his faith than this. The Jews who come to Jesus on the centurion’s behalf plead for him on the basis of his worthiness: “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). “He’s a good guy, Jesus. He does good things. He deserves this.” That is the basis of the Jews’ faith: The goodness of the person, based upon the good things he does. But that is not the centurion’s faith. The centurion’s faith confesses this: I am not worthy. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof… But say the Word, and let my servant be healed” (vv. 6-7). By faith, the centurion recognizes that he has no worthiness, no righteousness, no goodness to plead before Jesus. But he believes in Jesus’ goodness. He believes in Jesus’ willingness and ability to help. And he confesses the power and authority of Jesus’ Word: “But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”
We learn what faith is from the centurion. Faith is simply trust in Jesus to save. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the affliction, whatever your background, whatever your sin. Faith does not look to the self and your own worthiness, righteousness, or goodness. Faith recognizes that you have no such thing before God, and so faith confesses your sins to God and clings to the Holy Absolution pronounced in the stead and by the command of Jesus. That is to say, faith clings to the goodness of Jesus, who saves you in spite of you, forgives you in spite of you, loves you in spite of you, heals you in spite of you. He does it because of Himself. And He does it by His Word. “Just say the Word and let your servant be healed, dear Jesus.” And He does: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.” Now, it is very important to recognize here that since this is true, that faith is not based on your worthiness, then it cannot in any way be your work. Faith does not come from you. It comes from God, as a free gift. Faith is not something you drum up within yourself, deep down in your heart (oh, it’s scary deep down there!). It comes from outside of you, from God, from the Holy Spirit, who bestows it on you in Baptism and preaching and the Sacrament of the Altar. Faith is not intellectual knowledge or understanding, nor is it the ability to confess, though it certainly seeks these things and grows into them by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. And so we baptize little babies, and we believe that they believe, because faith is the gift that God bestows on them. Just as baby believes in Mom, trusts Mom, looks to Mom for every good thing, even though baby doesn’t know the name “Mom” or have any ability to confess her goodness. Mom is pure gift to baby. And so is Jesus. Faith simply trusts. Faith simply receives.
So faith is not about some quality in you. Faith is all about Jesus. Luther often used faith and Jesus synonymously, because if you have faith, you have Jesus, and if you have Jesus, you have faith. Faith is all about the death and resurrection of Jesus for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Faith always looks to Jesus and His righteousness and life bestowed upon you freely. Whenever you’re looking at yourself, that isn’t faith. That’s navel gazing. That is being curved in on the self, incurvatus in se is the theological Latin. And it’s the very definition of sin, to no longer be looking to God, but looking at the self. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, who, after sinning, looked down upon themselves, and for the first time found that they were naked, exposed, and ashamed.
Well, needless to say, the devil has a lot of fun with this, always at our expense. And it goes something like this: Being the good Lutheran that you are, you know that you’re saved by faith alone. Faith alone, faith alone, faith alone, you’re always quoting the old Lutheran slogan, and I’m glad, because that means I’m doing my job as a pastor. But there is a danger here, and the devil knows it well. “What if you died tonight? How do you know you are saved?” the devil asks you. He’s very good at the old Kennedy Method of Evangelism. And, of course, the old slogan rings in your ears, “Sola fide! Faith alone!” And so you answer, “I know that I am saved because I believe. I have faith.” It sounds like the right answer to your Lutheran ears, doesn’t it? And I know what you mean, and so does every Lutheran in the building, and frankly, so does the devil, but that doesn’t stop him. “Ah, yes, faith alone!” he says. “You have faith. Or do you? Are you sure? Do you have the right kind of faith? Do you have enough faith? Is your faith strong enough? Because I have to tell you (I hate to bring it up), but I know what you’ve done, and I know who you are, and I know those deep, dark, dirty secrets you keep buried within you, the ones you never tell anyone, the ones you pretend not to remember, pretend God doesn’t know about. Yes, those. You see, that doesn’t look like faith to me. Christians don’t do those kinds of things, or think those kinds of thoughts. Maybe you’re not so full of faith, after all. Maybe you’re not really saved.”
Oh, he’s a tricky devil, isn’t he? But he’s right, in this sense: If you’re looking at yourself, you aren’t going to see a Christian. You aren’t going to see faith. If you do, you’re a Pharisee. Repent. But if you don’t, do not despair. Confess with the centurion. “Lord, I am not worthy. I am anything but worthy. I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. I am not worthy to have you hear my prayers or answer them. I am not worthy to have you love me or save me or heal me or heal those I love. I do not come to you on the basis of my worthiness. I am not worthy. But You are. And You promised. Say the Word, Lord. Say the Word that delivers Your sin-atoning death and life-giving resurrection. Say the Word that forgives my sins and washes me with Your Blood. Say the Word that bathes me and breathes life into me and feeds me with the fruits of Your cross. Say the Word. For you are God, the only-begotten Son of the Father, and You have all His authority. You say into the darkness, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1:3), and there is light. You say the centurion’s servant is healed, and so he is. You tell Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and so he does, alive and well (John 11). And so You say to me, ‘You are forgiven,’ and I am. You say of bread and wine, ‘This is my Body, this is My Blood,’ and so it is, and with it You feed me and heal me, take possession of me and save me. So just say the Word. I am not worthy. But You do all things well.”
Faith looks not upon itself. Faith looks always and only to Jesus. You can have faith without ever hearing the word, “faith.” Baptized babies are a case in point. When faith looks upon itself it is always uncertain. The devil knows that and he will exploit it. But when faith is synonymous with Jesus, it cannot be shaken. Beloved, rest in the sure things that are outside of you, the things of Jesus Christ. How do you know you are saved? Not because you believe, but because Jesus died for you, and Jesus is risen from the dead, and because He promised, and He cannot lie. You know you are saved because of Jesus. You know you are saved because you are baptized into Christ. You know you are saved because Jesus says so in His Word. You know you are saved because Jesus puts Himself into you in the Supper of His Body and Blood. He becomes one with you, and you are one with Him. You are not worthy, but Jesus is. And He has the authority. Jesus has spoken. He has said the Word. And it is so. You are saved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.