13 October 2008

Homily - Trinity 21

Do We Really Believe God’s Word?
John 4:46-54

It’s very hard to believe God’s Word, and I mean really believe it. Just ask the nobleman from Capernaum. He had heard about Jesus turning water into wine at Cana. He had heard about Jesus miraculously healing other people, and he wanted just such a miracle. His son was feverish and almost to the point of death. But would he really believe God’s Word?

Or would the nobleman believe the miracle over the Word? Jesus had to call him to the carpet for his trust in “signs and wonders.” “Unless you see signs and wonders,” He told the nobleman and us, “you will not believe.” You see, “signs and wonders” are for the weak in faith, for those whose faith can handle only milk but not meat. Yet Jesus still wants to help the nobleman, and us, grow in believing Him, the Word of God in the flesh.

It’s amazing how a personal tragedy or hardship in life turns us to the Word who is Jesus. But do we really believe God’s Word in the flesh? Perhaps we are like the nobleman, who needed proof before he could believe.

Perhaps we are like Thomas, who needed to see Jesus and put His fingers into Jesus’ wounds before he would believe. Every year on the Sunday after Easter we get to hear about Thomas. Jesus first appeared to ten of His disciples, but Thomas was absent. And he would not believe the Word that the others later proclaimed to him until he saw and touched Jesus in the flesh. The next Sunday, Jesus did appear to Thomas of the weak faith, and He did grant Thomas his request. Then Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).

Or perhaps we are like Elijah, who expected to see and hear God in the loud wind, or in the earthquake, or in the raging fire. But God was not in those things. No, Elijah heard God in the “still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:12). Sure, God certainly allows and sends natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, so that we might turn from our self-centered thoughts and ways. He even allows and sends economic downturns so that we might repent and trust Him for every need. But He speaks to us in the still small voice of His Word, especially in the Word made flesh, Jesus the Son of God.

Do we really believe God’s Word? Or would we rather look for things that are much more monumental or tangible? Would we rather seek God’s love for us in what looks good and successful? Perhaps preaching the Gospel and giving out the Holy Sacraments don’t seem to do their job anymore. Perhaps we’d rather see the capacity crowds and even standing room only in the church. Perhaps we’d rather see the “faith healer” do his or her work to the applause of cheering and adoring crowds.

But if we want these things, we’ll have to be ready for the consequences. When we need the healing and don’t get it, we’ll be told, “Well, you don’t have enough faith. You need to read your Bible more and pray harder. Come back when you have enough faith, and then we’ll see what we can do for you.”

Notice that the nobleman’s faith grows beyond wanting mere signs and wonders. He persists. He says, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” He wanted more than a miracle; he wanted the Lord Jesus to help him. He knew and trusted that only the Word of God in human flesh could give life. But would he really believe this Word? It seems that he would not be satisfied until Jesus dropped what He was doing and made a personal visit to Capernaum.

Again, you and I are like this nobleman. Perhaps we get past the immature need for “signs and wonders,” but we still want to tell God how to do His job of being God. Perhaps we think that God must immediately heal us of the disease or injury that we have. Doesn’t He know how it will get in the way of daily life? Perhaps we try to convince God to remove the family trial that we’re going through. Doesn’t He know that it’s torture? Perhaps we think that God must immediately rescue us from our economic downturn. Doesn’t He know that we desperately need that wealth?

But Jesus will not be dethroned from His place as God’s eternal Word of love and life for us. The nobleman begs for Jesus to come to his home, but Jesus says, “I’ll do something even better. I won’t come to your home, but I will heal and give life back to your son.” “Go your way; your son lives.” That’s it! Just a word. It’s all the nobleman had to go on. As one preacher once said, “The nobleman went home with only a word in his pocket.” Would he really believe that Word?

As the nobleman went home, his servants met him on the way. They told him that his son had recovered. He asked, “At what time?” They said, “Yesterday at about 1 PM.” The nobleman knew that was the time that Jesus had said, “Your son lives.” So, really, two people are cured here—the young lad who was sick and almost dead, and his father who fought the disease of unbelief. “He himself believed, and all his household.”

Do we really believe God’s Word? Do we really trust this Man who brings life into this world of death? You see, Jesus comes to heal us here today. If we’re honest, we really don’t trust the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, at least not as we should. Truth be told, we want to add all kinds of “signs and wonders”—whether they are outward signs of success or inward wonderful feelings. Somehow, we think, that will give the Spirit a nudge.

But Jesus knows how to heal and give life. You see, God does not hate us or His creation. In fact, He longs to be in communion with us. Even though we are sick in our sin, sick to the point of death—like the nobleman’s son—He still loves us and wants to heal us. That’s why He sends His only-begotten Son into the flesh. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). Jesus took our sickness of sin and death upon Himself. He took upon Himself the punishment and wrath that we deserved. And when He died on the cross, He trampled death to death. When He came forth from the grave victorious, He burst a big hole in death’s belly. Now sickness and death have no more dominion over us. Oh, sure, we’re all bound to catch a virus now and then, sometimes even contract a deadly disease. But those things cannot separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Now we get to live!

That’s the Word that we get to hear over and over again. Just as Jesus told the nobleman, “Your son lives,” He also tells us: “You now live.” And notice how Jesus tells us this—through His Word. So, do we really believe His Word? In the face of our daily struggles, we can certainly believe the Word that comes to us here in the Divine Service. We can certainly believe what Jesus says to us through Holy Scripture, through the Word read from the lectern and proclaimed from the pulpit. As Jesus said, “Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (Jn. 5:24).

And this same Jesus, this same Word in the flesh, also says: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:53-54). Let that be the Word in our pocket, the Word that we can truly believe, the Word that says, “You live, because you eat and drink Me!”

No, we don’t need to look for signs and wonders of a man-made variety. We have the divine wonders of Jesus the Word. We have His signs called Sacraments. When times get rough, when illness and death strike, these gifts from God sustain us and strengthen us. After all, Jesus comes to tell us, “You now live.” And, yes, we can really believe it. Amen.

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