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quod pro nobis traditum est

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sitting Down in the Kingdom - a homily

Epiphany 3, Matthew 8:1-13

What a great honor and privilege it is to be a member of the Church and on this day, the Church’s celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, to be able to hear the Lord’s teaching and come to the table where the Lord Himself serves His baptized believers with forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We know that God is omnipresent, present in all places and hears the prayers of His people but nowhere else is Christ Jesus present in the flesh to teach and heal. In other words, God is everywhere but only in the Church is Christ Jesus present with His authority and mercy to give people salvation, as He does in the proclamation of the Word and in the holy sacraments.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus had just finished His well-known teaching on the Mount and come down the mountain. The holy Scriptures record that “The people were astonished at His teaching” “and great multitudes followed Him.” “He taught as one having authority, and not as the” religious leaders. The Church remembers that before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told the Apostles that He had received all authority in heaven and on earth and that they were to go and make disciples of all nations through the teaching He gave them and baptism in the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As we enter the church building we are reminded of our baptism into Christ when we see the font, a reminder of God’s gracious gift of bringing us into new life, through Christ’s death and resurrection, and into His Church.

It is therefore a great honor and privilege for the Church, throughout the world ,and the Church, in this place, to gather in God’s name on this day. For this gathering is nothing less than God’s doing through faith. For this reason, believers are traditionally known as “the faithful.” This could also be understood as being full of Christ and being drawn by Him to worship Him. Of course, we know that we are sinners and that, by our sinful nature, we would rather be somewhere else. Sin leads us away from God. The devil attacks us in our weakness and leads us to doubt God’s mercy for us and the teaching and forgiveness, or healing, that we so need to be able to come into His presence. The world has little time for the Church. People are accustomed to being entertained. They have little time for God. So it is more than an honor and privilege to be here, it is a surprise that we are even here and maybe even a miracle. Once again, we would not be here except for faith, thanks to God’s grace and mercy in Christ.

This is the attitude toward Christ Jesus presented in today’s Gospel by the leper and the centurion. The kingdom of heaven is near. First, in the teaching on the Mount and now in the healing of the leper and of the centurion’s servant. The leper comes to Jesus and worships Him. He prays a prayer of faith, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” He leaves everything up to the Lord’s will and He trusts that Jesus has the power to cleanse him. Jesus touches him and with the words, “I am willing; be cleansed” he is healed. The centurion pleads to Jesus for his paralyzed servant in torment. The centurion has authority, he has soldiers under him, yet he says to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus said to those who followed him. “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” He said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. Jesus heals both by His word alone and by His word and touch.

Jesus’ teaching and healing draws people to Himself. The leper and the centurion have faith, not in themselves, nor in faith itself, but in the Lord who stands before them. This is a real faith that divides them from those, who are “sons of the kingdom” who do not have faith in Jesus and who “will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” These are those who are not content to be in the kingdom of God. They do not receive the kingdom that Jesus brings. The kingdom that Jesus brings means that he will suffer at the hands of man and handed over to be crucified. So He suffers and dies on the cross. Here He touches our sin and says, “It is finished.” He has fulfilled His work of fulfilling the law in our place and bearing our infirmities and sicknesses. He has crushed the serpent’s head. Now He is raised gloriously from the dead in the body and reigns at the right hand of the Father. His kingdom is near to His people even today even in the hearing of His word and in His Body and Blood that touches the roofs of our mouths. He brings His kingdom of forgiveness to us in person and the faithful are healed and strengthened in the eternal life they have received.

What great faith to be here this morning when everything else calls you to be somewhere else. We are not worthy to be here. We deserve nothing less than God’s eternal punishment for our sin. Yet He calls us here to teach us and heal us. He gives us His very self, in holy Baptism, in holy Absolution, in the proclamation of His holy Word, and in this holy Mass we are gathered at the altar to receive the touch of His salvation and the taste of His kingdom. He says, “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

This great High Priest in human flesh
Was icon of God’s righteousness.
His hallowed touch brought sanctity;
His hand removed impurity. (LSB 624:2)

God grant that through the Lord Jesus Christ we are given humble faith and receive this glorious kingdom together with those in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church on earth. God grant that we be united with those of His Church in heaven who eat and drink of the eternal wedding banquet in endless praise and glory to the one true God

To You, O Lord, all glory be
For this Your blest epiphany;
To God, whom all His hosts adore,
And Holy Spirit evermore. (LSB 401:6)

Amen.

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