Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sermon for Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

                                                                                                 Trinity 24
                                                                                                 Mt 9:18-26

            Have you had your flu shot yet?  If you haven’t, it’s definitely time for it.  I will confess that I have not yet.  However I will get it soon … but more on that in a moment.
            The flu shot is one of those things that is easy to put off and then overlook.  In the first place, most of us don’t like getting stuck with a needle. Many of us have not had a flu shot, then didn’t get the flu during that year, so that certainly provides disincentive.  And then there is also the fact that we know that the flu shot doesn’t always “get it right.”  We know that those who produce the flu shot are doing some educated guessing as they try to predict what strain of flu will be a threat in the coming year.
            Sometimes they miss – they guess wrong – and the flu shot doesn’t turn out to be very effective that year. However, my brother who is a family practice doctor will tell you that this doesn’t mean the flu shot isn’t important. In fact he told me of how a year the flu shot “missed” helped him understand how important it is.  The flue shot is especially important for those at risk – the very young and the elderly.  This point became clear to Matthew one year when the flu shot wasn’t very effective and he suddenly found himself having to admit to the hospital many children and elderly because of the flu.
            My reason for getting a flu shot is really far more simple than all of that.  Honestly, it has nothing to do with belief in the flu shot’s preventive power.  You see, a couple of years ago I didn’t get a flu shot.  I then proceeded to get a bad case of the flu – so bad that I was unable to do the services and Frank Glaub had to fill in for me.  I was down for the count and completely out of commission – which left Amy in the position of having to do everything at home.
            She knew that I had not received a flu shot. And as Amy worked to do everything for both of us, the nurse practitioner was not happy that I had failed to take a simple step that could have prevented this problem.  And so she delivered an ultimatum. She told me that in the future if I don’t get a flu shot, she will have absolutely no sympathy if I get the flu.  So I will be getting flu shot this year – not because I have great confidence in it - but because I don’t want to risk the loss of the comforting wife if I get the sick.
            How very different is the reason that the father and woman approach Jesus in our text this morning.  Both of them are facing tremendous challenges.  They both go to Jesus in the sure confidence that Jesus has the authority and power to help them. They both come with faith in Jesus, and in the results that they experience we learn that Jesus has the authority and power to help us.
            Jesus was in the midst of his ministry in Galilee – a time that Matthews Gospel’s summarizes in the following words: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
            Note the two things that Jesus is doing.  He is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom; and he is healing every disease and every affliction. These are really two sides of the same coin.  Jesus proclaimed the good news – the Gospel – that in him the reign of God now was present.  He declared that God’s end-time saving action was present in him. And so the miracles that Jesus did were the message. They were enacting the salvation and restoration that Jesus proclaimed he was bringing.
            Something new had arrived – and Jesus had just been making this point before the beginning of our text. The disciples of John the Baptist had asked why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast.  Our Lord told them that disciples didn’t fast because right now the bridegroom was with them. Then he went on to say, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” In Jesus the new wine of God’s end time salvation had arrived, and this meant that things were different.
            We learn in our text that there was father whose daughter had died.  He came to Jesus, knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”  The man had experienced the tragedy of his daughter’s death.  But in spite of her death that man had not given up hope.  He believed that Jesus was the One who could do something about it.  He believed that Jesus’ touch would bring her to life again.
            In our text we learn that as they made their way to the man’s house, there was another person present who was facing a great challenge.  She had a condition that caused some kind of regular vaginal bleeding or discharge over the course of twelve years.  In spite of all the hardships this caused her, she had not given up hope. Instead she had come to Jesus in the belief that he was the One who could do something about it.  In fact she told herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 
            We face the temptation to give up hope.  We see the continuing presence of sin in our life, as yet again we react in anger, instead of showing love and forgiveness; as yet again we are selfish, instead of serving others.  We see the chronic health problem that is not going away; we see the health problem that ultimately threatens our life.  In the face of these things there is the temptation to feel hopeless.
            The father and the woman put their hope in Jesus.  They went to him in the conviction that he had the authority and power to help them.  As she had planned, the woman did touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment.  Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was healed.
            Jesus and the disciples then accompanied the father to the house where his daughter’s body was lying.  When they arrived, the activities of mourning had already begun. But when he saw this Jesus said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.”  The people present there laughed at our Lord.  However, when the crowd had been cleared out he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she arose.  Jesus had restored her to life.
            As we think about the two miracles in our text, it is helpful to focus on the language used by Jesus’ statement to the woman.  Our texts translates it – accurately enough – as, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” Literally the verb her means “has saved you” just as the report about the healing says literally that “she was saved from that hour.”
            The translation is accurate, but this is one of those times when we see on display why the Lutheran church makes her pastors learn Greek.  The best translation in this context is “healed,” but if Matthew had wanted us to think only in terms of physical healing, he would have used the plain Greek verb for “heal.”
            Instead he uses a word that evokes far more.  When the angel announced to Jospeh that Mary was bearing a child conceived by the Holy Spirit, he commanded, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  The Son of God entered into this world in the incarnation in order to save us from our sins.  He came to save us from the way sin cuts us off from fellowship with the holy God.  And he came to save us from all of the ways that sin harms our life.
            On many occasions you have heard the words of Isaiah 53 applied to Jesus’ saving death for us.  You have heard that these words were fulfilled on Good Friday – in fact these words are in the Old Testament lesson for that service: “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.”
            Yet in the previous chapter, Matthew does something which at first glance seems to be surprising. After Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law we are told, “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”
            Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Matthew tells us that Jesus’ healing ministry was linked to his work to forgive sins.  And the reason for this is the fact that sin is the root cause of all that is wrong – both spiritually and physically.  Jesus came to save people from their sins – to save them from all of the ways sin afflicts their life.
            That is what Jesus is beginning to do as he heals the woman and raises the girl from the dead.  He shows that as the Son of God he has the authority and power to do this.  He shows that he is the One in whom we can hope. And then he did even more.
            Jesus’ work to save us from our sins – to bring the reign of God – culminated in his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  On the cross, our Lord received the wrath of God against our sins.  He gave himself as the ransom for many – as the suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter 53.  Yet then on the third day he rose from the dead.  By his resurrection he began the final result of his work – resurrected bodies that never can die again.  We learn that the healing and raising of the dead that we find in our text pointed forward to this restoration that began on Easter.
            In the present, our Gospel lesson calls us to the same faith as the father and the woman.  It calls us to trust that Jesus Christ is the One who possesses all power and authority.  It calls us to trust Jesus as the One who has already done something about the sin, sickness and death in this world. By his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead he has already won forgiveness for us – forgiveness that he gives to us through his Means of Grace. And it calls us to trust that he will yet do something about all that sin has done to us when he gives us a share in his resurrection on the Last Day.

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