Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sermon for 02 June 2013, Proper 4C

Rev. Paul J Cain
Luke 7:1-10
Second Sunday After Pentecost, 02 June 2013, Proper 4C
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Are you worthy? There’s a temptation to fall into an “Aw, shucks, I’m not really…” false humility when asked that question. That’s one ditch along the side of the road. The other ditch is this: “Of course not. I’m not worthy. Even God couldn’t forgive me for all that I’ve done.” We also hear a spiritual problem in that person’s words. Forgiveness is a gift. The second person doesn’t believe that the kind of forgiveness we preach from God’s Word is actually possible. The first person likely doesn’t take what God’s Word says about sin seriously enough.
Dr. Luther quotes from today’s text three times in the English language edition of his Works. Once is in an explanation of and commentary on the medieval Roman Mass. It was and is still common for Christians to recite verses six and seven of Luke Chapter 7 before communing: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. But say the word, and let me be healed” (Adapted from ESV). How can we prepare to receive the Sacrament of the Altar today, humbly, in faith, without falling into hypocrisy, apathy, or despair? Let’s meet a faithful, repentant centurion.

After he [Jesus] had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “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.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

A Roman centurion appeals to Jesus to help a servant of his. Gentiles like typically don’t ask average Jewish rabbis for such assistance. Nor is the centurion merely acting as a military man does. Jesus proves this by saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Jesus commends the faith of a gentile, a sinner, someone very much like us. And how does the account end? They found the servant well. Healed. By Jesus. From a distance. On account of the faith of another, the servant’s master, a Roman centurion who loved the nation of Israel, build Capernaum a synagogue, knew the one true God, and had faith—humble, yet bold faith—that Jesus could do what he asked him to do.

Are you worthy? Are you this worthy? Luther himself struggled with this kind of worthiness. Hear what he writes as a fellow sinner in need of the same grace of God in Christ as us:
[Seventh,] when a man has [this] hunger and so is prepared for the sacrament, he must carefully avoid receiving it while trusting in his own worthiness. Nor must he merely pray, as some do, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but say only a word, and my soul will be healed” [Matt. 8:8]. I am not rejecting that prayer, but one should be aware of something else. I am referring to the words Christ spoke when he instituted the mass: “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Take, drink, all of you; for it is the cup of the new and eternal testament in my blood, poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins” [Matt. 26:26–28].
Although the priest utters these words softly during mass (would to God that he would shout them loudly so that all could hear them clearly, and, moreover, in the German language), every Christian should have these words close to himself and put his mind on them above all others. For just as they are meant for us all, so they are spoken by the priest in the stead of Christ to all who stand around him. We should take all of these words to heart, placing our trust in them and not doubting that with these the Lord invites us to be his guests at this abundant meal.[1]

Is it any wonder then, that the final question in the Catechism’s section on Holy Communion asks a question that provides pastoral comfort? Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily? Answer: Fasting and bodily preparation are, indeed, fine outward training. But a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given … and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit. For the words “for you” require hearts that truly believe.[2]

Elsewhere, Luther concludes his comments on Luke 7:6-7 as a pre-Communion prayer: For this reason I still insist and warn everyone to give God the honor, and not trust that his sins are forgiven because of his own contrition. No contrition is sufficient in God’s sight. Forgiveness is the result of the sheer mercy of God. He wants us to honor, praise, and love him as one who is gracious to us unworthy and undeserving men. [Beware of this bull and of those who teach such doctrine.][3]

Are you worthy? No. Not on your own. And never because of your own prayers, piety, or thoughts, words, or deeds. Only by faith in Christ are you worthy. And faith is God’s work in you by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. Faith avoids the ditch of apathy, hypocrisy, and the ditch of despair and hopelessness. Yes, only in Christ you are worthy. Why? How?
 About the Cover: Christ died for you; through faith, His promises are for you. But make no mistake—the grace given to you is a grace He extends to all. Yes, even to a hardened Roman soldier, the very image of earthly power, who humbly beseeches his Lord, “I am not worthy” (Luke 7:6). We share in that faith, trusting in the power of our Lord. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 42: Luther's works, vol. 42: Devotional Writings I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (173). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
[2] Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (P. T. McCain, Ed.) (343). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
[3] Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 32: Luther's works, vol. 32: Career of the Reformer II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (48–49). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.