Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (January 28, 2007)
“Putting the World Back Together Again” (Luke 4:31-44)

Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

That’s not our sermon text this if I needed to tell you. That’s a nursery rhyme. I did an internet search to see if I could find out some hidden meaning behind that well-known children’s poem. I found many theories, but no firm answers. Our cracked-egg friend is found in many literary and cultural references in which he is a symbol of the decline and fall of societies and empires, which no matter how hard they try, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” can’t put them together again. Elsewhere, Humpty Dumpty is used as a symbol for the Fall of Mankind into sin. Indeed, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” could never put Humpty together again. Government is never the answer to solving the ills of society...the ills that are brought on because we live in a broken world.

A Broken World

In today’s Gospel lesson...which IS our sermon text today...we see instances where that brokenness is manifest. First, we see an example of demon possession. It seems as though Satan and all his evil angels kicked their campaign into high gear when the Son of God set foot on the earth. Their demonic insurgency was a sort of spiritual terrorism...invading the actual body of an individual and terrorizing them, their family, and their community. Ever since Jesus rose in victory over death and the devil, we don’t see Satan operating in quite the same way as he did in the Gospels. But he is still a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. His tactics involve more stealth and subterfuge, tempting us in subtle ways, causing us to rationalize our sinful behavior, making what is bad seem good or at least excusable in our own minds.

But there were also less supernatural goings-on, too...mothers-in-law with high fevers, others who were sick with various diseases. The brokenness of our world brings these problems to us, too, including broken hearts full of fear, depression, and anxiety over our circumstances. When you are sick, you think to yourself, “Will I ever get better?” And when you are well, you may think to yourself, “When am I going to come down with something?”

The influence of Satan is a result of the fall into sin. Adam and Eve listened to him and the human race has been listening to him ever since. Disease and death are a result of the fall into sin, and the human race has been suffering ever since.

Moreover, people have always wanted to see Jesus as only a healer of bodies and not primarily of souls. That’s not just a problem today, with all the kooky faith-healers on TV today. That appears to be a first-century problem, too. At the end of our text today, St. Luke writes “the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them.” You can probably assume that they wanted him to stick around and heal all their infirmities, sort of like the way that crowd of 5,000 wanted to make him king so that they could have a constant supply of bread. Is that all we are after? Are we sometimes tempted to see Jesus as only a healer? As someone who only gives me earthly goods? Is that the focus of our prayers? “Dear God, I need this and this and that...” without any thought of confession and thanksgiving? And are we tempted to get angry or give up on God if things don’t exactly go our way or we don’t get well right away?

The King Who Puts the World Back Together Again

Jesus proved that he was truly God in the flesh when he cast out demons and healed people of their afflictions. All of these things manifest to us that Jesus came to reverse the effects of the fall into sin. He came to make creation whole again. HE is the king who is truly able to put the world back together again. But his primary task was to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. That’s what he told the crowds when they sought to detain him, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And what is the good news of the kingdom? You know...the forgiveness of sins...the death of Christ for the sins of the world...his rising to life again to prove his power over death and the devil...becoming a part of that kingdom by baptism and by faith. Healing the sick and casting out demons were certainly one aspect of Christ’s loving work on behalf of the world. But forgiving sins is the most important thing he came to do. And preaching the forgiveness of sins is the most loving thing anyone can do, because that is what gives eternal life.

Jesus came to make creation whole again, but his work in Judea and Galilee of casting out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead will come to final fruition on the Last Day. In the meantime, all creation groans, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 8: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the whole creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23) The earth groans with earthquakes and tsunamis, with floods and foul weather. Christians are not immune to their effects. And Christians still get colds and the flu. Christians still get diabetes and cancer. But when Jesus returns as he promised, Satan and all his cohorts will be cast into the lake of fire once and for all. Believers in Christ will rise to eternal life, where there will be no more sin nor sickness nor sorrow. Our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, will be made manifest before all creation, as we stand right along with all the risen saints, including Job who said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26)

When we are well, we can remind ourselves who is responsible for our good health. Yes, we can take care of our bodies by a proper diet, exercise, letting go of unhealthy habits. Yet how many times have you been shocked to learn that a certain person who appeared so healthy has suddenly come down with cancer or had a heart attack. My mom was one of those people. She eats right. She exercises. She looks at least 10 years younger than her age. She forwards newsletters to me about what to do to avoid getting cancer. And what happened? She gets diagnosed with cancer. In spite of the many ways in which we try to take care of our bodies, it is really God who gives us good health. And for that, we can give proper thanks to our Creator. When we are sick, we can pray to be made well. God may not heal us miraculously. Then again, he might. But normally, he uses those whose vocations are in the healing professions, such as doctors, surgeons, nurses, manufacturers of medicine, pharmacists, and so on. Even if these people do not acknowledge it, God is still using their hands to serve us with his healing.

But even if we are not made well, we can know that our hearts have already been made well because the good news has been preached to us. Jesus may not heal our bodies in this life. But he will in the resurrection on the Last Day. In the meantime, whether you are afraid, depressed, anxious...or whether you are lying on your sick bed or your death can be assured that Christ is still present with his love and care because the good news of the forgiveness of sins has been preached to are a part of his kingdom by virture of your baptism and your faith in him, however weak that faith may be at any given moment for whatever reason...and he feeds you with his body and blood to preserve and strengthen you in both body and soul until your life’s end.

Before I close, I want you to notice one more thing. Notice how Jesus told the demons to shut up. He did not want them confessing that he was the Holy One of God. Not that it wasn’t true. It was and still is today. The thing is, Jesus didn’t want the demons confessing his Holy Name with fear and curses. They are hell-bound. It’s blasphemy for them to take the name of Jesus upon their lips. Instead, Jesus wants his Church to confess his Holy Name with faith and confidence. You and I are heaven-bound. It’s a blessing for us to take the name of Jesus upon our lips and to confess it to this broken world. He’s the king who puts things back together again...and you are the king’s men and women sent to preach the good news of the Cross of Christ that meets people in their brokenness and makes them whole again.

You may feel like Jeremiah at times. “Ah, Lord God!” he said. “Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Now, youth may not be your problem, but you certainly know how it feels: “I do not know how to speak.” But remember God’s promises to him, “I am with you to deliver you...I have put my words in your mouth.” That promise is for you, too. God is with you to give you strength to confess his name. His words are in our ears and in our mouths today in hymns and liturgy. Let those words assist you as you tell others the good news of the kingdom of God... “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”...”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”... “Jesus has come as the King of all glory! Heaven and earth, O declare his great pow’r, Capturing hearts with the heavenly story; Welcome him now in this fast fleeting hour! Ponder his love! Take the crown he has for you! Jesus has come! He, the king of all glory!”


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