23 January 2017

Homily for Epiphany 3 - 2017

"Bringing Good from Ill"
Matthew 8:1-13

Listen here.

“Manifest in making whole
Palsied limbs and fainting soul;
Manifest in valiant fight,
Quelling all the devil’s might;
Manifest in gracious will,
Ever bringing good from ill;
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.” (LSB 394:3)

So we sing in that wonderful hymn that summarizes the whole story arc of the Epiphany season. When Jesus reveals Himself to be God-in-the-Flesh—our Rescuer from sin and death—He reveals Himself as the One—the only One—who brings good from ill.

Let’s put ourselves in the place of the poor leper who came to Jesus and knelt before Him. Let’s learn to live all of our lives pleading what that leper pleaded: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” No presumption. No demanding. No claiming any “rights and privileges.” Just a simple, humble request. “Lord, if you will it. Thy will, not my will, be done, Lord.” Then the leper says, “you can make me clean.” Let’s strengthen that. It’s more than a mere possibility, more than an uncertain wish. The original Greek indicates a bold statement: “You ARE ABLE to make me clean.” It’s a strong confession of faith, a firm conviction. Jesus—God in man made manifest—IS all-powerful, all-merciful, and can do, and does do, anything He wills. Of course He is able to make the leper clean! Of course He has the authority to heal and make whole! The real question—and the leper knows it, asks it, and reveals it—is this: does the Lord will it, at this time, in this place, to reveal Himself, to be received by faith?

Now, before we presume to know what the Lord wills, let’s consider the other leper we hear about today—Naaman, the Syrian army commander. He also sought healing from his illness. But he was presumptuous. He was prideful. He found out about the prophet in Israel. Then, like the rich and powerful in our day, he reallocated some of his vast wealth to pay for only the best medical care. And when he finally came to the prophet’s doorstep—with wealth in hand and prideful self-importance in high gear—Elisha did not even greet him. Instead, he sent an an assistant, an underling. What an insult for someone so self-important, so presumptuous! Naaman went away fuming. “How dare he not come out to me! How dare he not wave his hand and heal me right here, right now, on the spot, for all to see!” Presumption and pride will do that to you.

It took one of Naaman’s own underlings to whittle him down to size, to show him how to be a humble receiver of God’s mercy. “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it?” “Master, the prophet has told you how to be cleansed. He’s the one in charge here.” Then the Lord, not the prophet, brought good from Naaman’s ill. Naaman “dipped himself seven times in the Jordan…and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” The Lord did will it—on His terms, in His way, in His time, according to His Word and promise.

And that brings us back to the leper in our Gospel reading. The Lord did will it. “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will [it]; be [cleansed].” Jesus touches this unclean leper and takes that leprous uncleanness into Himself. Jesus makes Himself the unclean one. It’s sort of like a sponge soaking up an icky, messy spill. And in exchange, with that touch Jesus gave His very own cleanness to the leper. Wholeness and healing took the place of the itchy, mottled skin. Restoration to the community took the place of being isolated in the leper colony. God-in-man-made-manifest brought good out of this leper’s ill, and with only a simple touch.

Your Epiphany Lord does will to heal and cleanse you as well. He reaches out and touches you in your Baptism, soaking up your sin, your doubt, your pride, your presumption--all of it into Himself. And then He gives you His very own cleanness. He also touches you when He places His very Body and Blood on your tongue, again, cleansing you, making you whole, and strengthening you in body and soul. Not only is He able to do it; He truly wills to do it—“ever bringing good from ill.”

And now notice how our Epiphany Lord works with the Gentile centurion. The centurion knows he has no rights and privileges before Jesus. No presumption, no pride—all despite his high rank and his reputation for power and might. His sick servant reveals his powerlessness. Isn’t that the way it works for us too? Illness comes. We are powerless. We merely suffer it, endure it, wait for it to run its course, or submit ourselves to medications, therapies or treatments. So the centurion appeals to Jesus: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” We can almost hear and feel his angst seeping through the words. “And, Lord, I cannot do anything about it.”

Our English translations put Jesus’ words in the form of a statement: “I will come and heal him.” The Greek grammar actually lends itself to more of a question: “Shall I Myself come and heal him?” No, Jesus is not reluctant to heal the poor lad. After all, He had just brought good from the leper’s ill. But it would be quite unexpected for Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, to enter the home of a Gentile soldier. So the question behind Jesus’ question would be more like: “Are you, a Gentile, actually asking Me, the Messiah of Israel, to come to your house?” Jesus wants to peel back the outer skin of the centurion’s plea to see what fruit of faith lies underneath. After all, the Gentile centurion did call Him “Lord,” the name used of the God of Israel.

A little speech on knowing authority, and then Jesus marvels and smiles and goes into teaching mode. “I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” Translation: “This centurion—this Gentile—gets it!” This centurion has no authority before the Lord. The Lord Jesus has all the authority. This Gentile centurion needs the mercy and healing that only the God of Israel—only God-in-man-made-manifest—can give. And the Lord gives it! Authoritatively. Mercifully. Graciously. “Go; let it be done for you has you have believed.” That’s the way of our Epiphany Lord. “Ever bringing good from ill.”

Our “God-in-man-made-manifest” takes our sins, our sicknesses, our fears, our powerlessness into Himself. He Himself brings the greatest good from our greatest ill. Isaiah said it this way: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:4-5). That’s what the Lord came to do. His authority is most clearly revealed on a cross. His will was and is to come “from His home on high, in human flesh He came to die” (LSB 401:2). That’s what heals you and me and makes us clean. It is done as for us as we have believed. “For [the Gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

And this is great Good News on this 44th anniversary of the legalized holocaust we know as Roe v. Wade and abortion. What an ill that has been thrust upon our land! Well over 58,000,000 innocent lives snuffed out in those 44 years under the cloak of legality. Many of those mothers also suffering physically, emotionally and mentally as a result. But…yes, but…our Epiphany Lord still knows how to bring good from ill. The numbers of abortions each year are indeed dropping. That’s great news! Yes, even one aborted baby is one too many, but we can thank our Lord for the good trend. We can also plead to Him: “If You will it, You are able to heal this ill.”

We can also thank our Lord who brings good from ill for another trend that’s very much related. One headline this past week read, “Study finds skyrocketing rate of abstinence among Millennials.” The study focuses on young people in their early twenties; perhaps it’s also true of those in their upper twenties and even into their thirties. Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse was quoted: “I think a lot of them are watching the adults around them and concluding that sex without limits is not making people happy,” particularly “parents with multiple marriages and divorces.” Again, we can thank our Lord for this good trend. Again, let’s plead to our Lord: “If You will it, You are able to heal this as well.”

Living the way God designed us to live is the greatest good. We know we don’t, we know we can't, even we who humbly appeal to our Epiphany Lord for His healing and help. But the take-away for today is this: Our Lord Jesus IS able to cleanse and heal. Our Lord Jesus DOES come under our roof to restore and make whole, “ever bringing good from ill.” He alone has the authority, and He does will it. So we pray as we’re about to sing:

“Lord, once You came to earth’s domain
And, we believe, shall come again;
Be with us on the battlefield,
From ev’ry harm Your people shield.” (LSB 401:5)


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