Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The healing of grace. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 17A, preached on Sunday, September 1, 2019.

    The man in the Gospel today was literally dying of water.  Dropsy was a generic term for what we call congestive heart failure, fluid on the lungs, and edema or swelling of the extremities.  The man was literally drowning on dry land.  It is a heart problem.  The heart was not pumping as it should and so the fluid was not moving through his body as it is supposed to.  Slowly he was drowning in his own fluid.  He had been to doctors and they all saw the problem but no one could find a cure.  He was sent away simply to wait for death.

    Like anyone who received a death sentence from those who were supposed to heal him, he left the medical experts and began to seek out those who worked in the domain of miracle healings.  He ended up where he did not belong, in the home of Pharisees, to stand before Jesus, his last resort.  If Jesus could not heal him, the man would look to Jesus help him deal with the prospect of his death and of the fearful prospect of standing before the judgment seat of the most high God.  And he had picked the wrong day for it was the Sabbath and no work was to be done on the Lord’s day.  Talk about troubles.

    But maybe it was not the wrong day after all.  Jesus asks the obvious question.  Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?  Now this was not the first time Jesus had asked this question.  It is, in fact, the third time.  The first time the Lord healed on the Sabbath the Pharisees were shocked into outrage that our Lord would dare to do such a thing.  The second time Jesus healed on the Sabbath they stood convicted by their own weakness and shamed before the Lord.  This time, they were outwardly silent but in the weeks to come would end up bribing Judas to betray Jesus.  They needed no more convincing to see that Jesus was trouble and so they said nothing.

    Jesus knew all of this, of course.  We might be preoccupied with such a future if we knew it was coming but Jesus does nothing to stop them or even challenge them.  He does not change what He says or does one bit.  Jesus asks not because He expected them to answer or even because He wanted them to try and give an answer.  Jesus knew what He was going to do and was prepared to do it even if it was one more step in their grand plan to silence Him with an innocent death.  Jesus has come for just such things.

    Jesus asked them if they would save a son or an ox who fell into a well even if it was a Sabbath day.  In other words, if it were not an act of mercy for someone else, but a self-serving act to preserve family or fortune, would you bend the rules of the Sabbath to save the son or the ox.  But this was not about answers to hard questions, Jesus was talking to them of what He had come to accomplish for Pharisees, sinners, and the sick.
    The Lord knew that these Pharisees had been watching Him carefully but He had been watching them as well.  He knew how they enjoyed prominence and how they worked to put themselves forward in just the right moment and in just the right light.  The people did not hate the Pharisees but marveled at their righteousness and wanted to be as holy as they obviously were.  The world judged these Pharisees to be the first, the cream of the crop, and those worthy of the highest place.  They were worth saving.

    But Jesus has not come for the righteous who need no saving or the well who need no physician.  He has come for sinners who deserve nothing of His kindness and for the sick who wear death so obviously that no one wants to look at them.  He has come for those who were last, least, and lost.  Yet He has not come to impose salvation upon them but to visit them with grace that invites faith, to speak to them the Word of life in which the Spirit works to teach the heart to believe, and to touch them with the hand of God that will exchange their sins for His righteousness, their wounds for His healing, their death for His life.

    And the most interesting turn here is the dropsy.  The man was drowning in the water of his own body.  Water was killing him.  He was like a man who had fallen into a well and was drowning.  Water and deliverance seem to go together.  The flood killed many but it saved Noah and his family, eight souls in all.  Moses was rescued by water and delivered from death.  The children of Israel passed through the water of the Red Sea as on dry land.  Does this sound like baptism to you?  It does to me.

    Here it all becomes more personal for us.  For though baptism is surely about cleansing, it is also about death and life.  By baptism you died.  You died by being baptized into Christ’s death.  You died to sin.  You died the fearful death that causes  fear.  You died because Christ literally killed you.  Taking you down into the water so that the old life under the dominion of sin and marked with death would be no more.  As Christ was buried in the tomb, you were buried in the water of baptism as you tomb.  And as the grave could not hold him, so Christ does not leave you dead but raises you up in Him to new and everlasting life.  The life you live now you live in Christ.  You are not your own but were bought with a price.  You belong to Him.  The last have been made first by God’s power and according to His saving will and purpose.

    The man with dropsy was dying, literally drowning in his own water.  You are dying in sin but Christ has killed the life that was already marked with death so that He might bring forth in you the life death cannot touch.  By water, the Lord delivers from death by water.  By His dying and rising again, our Lord has brought salvation to us and by dying and rising in Christ we are made new, as His beloved children forevermore.

    So is it lawful to do this on the Sabbath?  It is not an irrelevant question nor is it a foolish one.  In fact, this is the question that begs the answer of faith.  Yes, it is lawful. Yes, it is good.  Yes, it is right.  Yes, it is the will of God.  For the Law was not given by a naive God who believed we could save ourselves but by the God who had always intended to become His people’s Savior by delivering up His Son to fulfill perfectly the Law, to offer the perfect sacrifice for sin, and to die in our place the fearful death so that we might be raised to new and everlasting life.  They Pharisees were silent before this question not because they agreed with Jesus but because they rejected mercy.  They clung to the foolish and damnable lie that sin was no big deal and they did not need a Savior, they needed a rabbi to teach them how to save themselves.
    Do not fall into the same trap.  God has not become flesh and blood to teach you how to do it but to do for you what you cannot do for yourselves.  He has come to be not your rabbi but your Savior, your Messiah, your Christ.  He has come not to argue the finer points of the Law but to fulfill it.  He has come for those whose life is killing them so that He might raise them up to new life, to everlasting life.  He has come for this saving purpose, to do the will of the Father.  Is this lawful?  This is the whole point of the Law and the Gospel, to bring us such glorious salvation, to rescue us from ourselves, and to deliver us to the life which is stronger than death.

    So are you on the side of mercy or sacrifice?  The devil insists that sinners get what they deserve but Jesus insists that mercy triumph.  Yet God will not force you.  He opens your heart so that you may believe but He does not compel this belief.  The question remains.  What is the point of the Law and the Gospel?  They testify of Christ and Christ has brought the salvation of God.  It comes as gift to the unworthy, life to the dying, forgiveness to the sinner, and holiness to the unholy.  Come through the humility of repentance and through the gift of faith and the Lord will exalt you to the place you never deserved but He has prepared for you in Christ.   Amen.

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