Monday, October 19, 2009

Sermon for St. Luke's Day, preached October 18, 2009

For generations poets have asked how many ways you can say “I love you.” Maybe you can remember Paul Simon singing about 50 ways to say good bye to the one you love. Today we face the question of how many ways God can say “Heal.” How many different ways can God speak to us the welcome of His grace that brings healing and life. How many ways can God say “save” or “The Kingdom has come near you.” Today we remember the life of a physician who learned from Jesus that healing is not a matter of fixing the body but fixing the person for eternal life. This physician become evangelist teaches us where the Kingdom of God comes near, there is the healing word that welcomes sinners, restores the broken, gives life to the dying and saves us.

We are conditioned to think only in medical terms, to frame healing in the context of that which repairs this body and lengthens this life. When we go to the doctor we expect a prescription or procedure that will make us feel better – that is the only healing we care about. But today God enlarges our understanding of healing and connects it to His Kingdom in Jesus Christ. He moves us to see healing the context of salvation. Where His Kingdom is, there is healing for all our ills, for sin, and even for death. Where His kingdom is proclaimed, forgiveness takes place, life stronger than death is bestowed, and we are made whole through the grace revealed in Jesus Christ. God gives us more than a band-aid to bind us through but the life that steals away our death so that we might live forevermore.

So how many ways can you say “Be healed... or Be forgiven...” Today we learn that healing comes to us through the Kingdom of God which has come near to us in Jesus Christ, to repair us for life now and to prepare us for life to come. And the great thing about it is that you and I not only hear this word of hope and promise, we actually become the speakers whose voices proclaim this hope and healing, forgiveness and redemption, life and life everlasting. We do this in word and action - as Jesus did when He brought this grace to us.

The good news we need to hear is that: “The Kingdom of God is come near you.” The Word that brings the Kingdom is the word that speaks of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Gospel Word is not some vague sentiment but the fact of Jesus suffering and death to bring us life and salvation. This Word accomplishes what it says. While some battle for the truthfulness of Scripture, the question remains what good is a word that is true but has no power to do what it says. Scripture is efficacious. That is a medical term. Medicine that relieves pain as it promises is efficacious. Well God’s Word is efficacious – it delivers what it promise and does what it says. So when we proclaim this Word, healing takes place, sins are forgiven, lives are reborn, and death is overcome.

In Word we hear not simply the message of the cross but receive the blessings of that cross applied to us even though they were earned by Jesus Christ. When we speak Jesus Christ and Him crucified, there the treasures He won for us are unleashed to work in us, among us, and through us. In Word we receive the new life that Christ won for us by paying the price of our old lives. In Word we hear the promise and pledge of God to be with us throughout this earthly journey and more. He stands at death’s door to open that which sin closed and to impart to us the life that sin and death cannot touch – the new and eternal life of heaven, which Jesus has prepared for us and which He gives to us freely and willingly - to all who believe.

When God brings His Kingdom near to us, He brings to us this healing Word of the cross that keeps its promises and does what it says to heal us from sin’s wounds and death and to impart to us His forgiveness and life. But the Word can also speak through actions. Just as Jesus formed some clay to open the ears of the deaf and touched the sick to heal them and even called the dead to life from their grace, so does God speaks to us through actions. We call these means of grace, where His Word is attached to the element – water in baptism and bread and wine in Holy Communion. In the waters of baptism He says “The Kingdom of God is come near you.” At the rail where we receive the body and blood of Christ, God says to us: “The Kingdom of God is near you...”

When the sick hear that Christ is present with them in their time of need and does not abandon us in our weakness, when we realize that illness is not God’s mark of personal displeasure against us but the fruit of our sinful and fallen world, and when God sustains the wounded and hurting with grace, that is healing.

When the tempted remain faithful despite the lure of temptation, when they seek the strength of Christ to stand firm in faith, and when they resist the enticement of the devil, the world, and the flesh with the Word of Christ, that is healing. When the poor, the needy, and the unloved feel the warm embrace of God’s working through His people, when they learn the Kingdom of God is not distant or remote but near and close, bringing love and care to lift them up, that is healing.

When sinners come with a load of guilt and hear absolution in Jesus’ name, where God unpacks the heavy weight of sin’s burden and takes its load upon Himself, that is healing. Where we speak to one another the healing word of absolution to rebuild our relationships just as it has rebuilt our relationship with our heavenly Father, that is healing.

St. Luke the Physician became St. Luke the Evangelist but his purpose remained the same. He exchanged one limited understanding of healing with the expansive understanding of Jesus, whose Word brings healing for the body, healing for sin, healing for life, and healing for death.

St. Luke’s Day is a traditional day to focus upon God’s healing acts in all their forms – those that take away our physical burdens, those that bring healing to our wounded spirits, those that heal our souls through forgiveness, and those that heal our death marked bodies for eternal life. They are not different graces but the one healing grace that flows from Christ and the power of His cross. In many and various ways God speaks healing to us, today we learn that where His Word and Sacraments are, there is His Kingdom come near to us, and there is our healing Lord at work in us and through us. Amen.

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