University Lutheran Chapel, Boulder, CO
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s Gospel comes right after Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Christ began that sermon teaching about faith, saying that He had come for the poor in Spirit—those like the leper and the centurion who have nothing but that confidence and trust that Christ is good and wills good for them. This is also how the sermon on the mount ends, that we that build our house, our faith, on the bedrock foundation of Christ’s word and promises because the rains, winds, and floodwaters will come and beat against us. Christ’s word alone is the lasting ground of faith and eternal life. All other ground is sinking sand. All men are liars, but Christ never lies but always tells me the truth. In between the beginning and the end of the sermon on the mount Christ taught how his disciples would strive to live as they live out this saving faith they have in his word. In sum, disciples of Jesus live lives of sacrificial, humble love which is the fruit of a faith that confidently trusts Christ and His word.
Faith and love. All Christianity in these two gifts. Faith makes us lords, love makes us servants. Faith makes us sons of God so that we lack nothing but have everything in Christ apart from our works, motives, or performance: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). Faith alone justifies. But faith is never alone. It produces the fruit of love. Faith sets our conscience free. But love binds our hands to love our neighbor according to the 10 Commandments. As St. Paul says in Gal. 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Here Paul says that through love we become servants and slaves, though before God we are free and saved by faith alone.
So also Christ, though he was free, took on the form of a servant to serve and save us in love. See how He willingly became slave and servant to the leper and the centurion. He obeys their request and heals the infirmity. He does not consider this too lowly a work.
Such is the humility to which you have been called. If Christ did not consider himself too high and holy to touch leprous flesh, then you are certainly not above calling home, taking out the trash, and doing the 1,000 other things your parents, professors, pastors, and governing authorities ask of you. Only unlike Christ, how you use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh to complain. This assignment is stupid. These taxes are nuts. My parents keep hovering over me and trying to hold my hand. Church is too long and boring. Repent.
Say all that were true (which I doubt). Say everything your neighbors and superiors ask of you were unjust. Are you above Christ? Is a servant above his Lord? Are you above suffering and the cross? Are you not free by faith to become slaves and servants through love? In fact, love makes us such servants that, as Paul reminded us in the epistle, we are even to seek the good of our enemies. God will give justice, in the life or the next. That’s not your job. You don’t have to fix CU, convert your family, or make people in Washing D.C. behave better. God will see to that and use you as he wills. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Through love serve one another. Speak the truth in love. And because you live by faith in the Son of God who loves you and gave himself up for you, you aren’t doing it to impress God or merit salvation.
What a blessed thing it is to be a Christian, to be child of God, born through water and the word. Only the Christian is free to love his neighbor for his neighbor’s sake and not some ulterior motive. Not that you don’t have ulterior motives, for which your repent, but you don’t need to turn serving your neighbor into a tool for making yourself feel better or for gaining street cred. By faith alone you are righteous before God, and that is enough.
And more than enough. Christ praises the faith of the centurion not because faith itself is a great work but because faith believes great things about Christ. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The great faith of this Gentile knows that salvation does not depend on anything but the Word of Christ. Not even the bodily, physical presence of Christ will help his servant apart from faith and the Word. The Roman soldiers that crucified Jesus were literally splattered with the blood of Jesus who died for them, but it did them little good because the benefits of Christ can only be received through faith and the Word.
This Gentile centurion is a model of faith even as Christ is our model for love. For he trusted in the Word of Jesus and so received the benefits of Christ through faith. There is good reason why this man’s words have been used as a traditional prayer before receiving Communion. The unbeliever and the godless may come here in deception and receive the same flesh and blood of Christ that we do, but apart from faith it will do them no good—in fact, says St. Paul, they eat to their judgment. Only by faith in the word and promises can we receive this heavenly food for our good, that we may learn to believe and be renewed to love.
And that is good news for you. You, who are commanded to love, are not required to love first before receiving the gifts of Christ. Here you are free by faith apart from works of the Law. You, who like the leper are of yourself unworthy to even approach Christ, may come before him nonetheless by faith alone in his Word. For that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and your servant will be healed.”
Come soon, Lord Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.