Thursday, October 2, 2014

In better, worse, wealth, poverty, sickness, health, from death into life...


A WHOLE BODY FOR YOU 

And behold, a woman who suffered from hemorrhaging for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the hem of His garment, for she kept saying to herself, "If I only touch His garment I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. Matthew 9:20-22

There is never a shortage of needs among sinners, and Jesus is the Savior who supplies them all. Only He who possesses all authority in heaven and earth is equal to the task, but before we consider His boundless mercy, let us first understand our endless need.

What we fail to comprehend is that illness and death are the direct result of sin. We don't want to believe that! If that is true then all the cures that men propose for the world's troubles are vain. If that is true then there is no hope for the utopia that men have dreamed of from time immemorial. Science can only probe so far. It can see the results of sin. It can diagnose disease and trace it back to its immediate cause; and in our day it has even learned how to alleviate much of it. Many hemorrhaging women have been made well, and many sons and daughters restored to health, but only those who have the spiritual wisdom St. Paul speaks of in our Epistle lesson can discern that the love of Christ is behind it all.

Human institutions, likewise, can only delve so deep. They can keep statistics of births and deaths, and do studies of illness and epidemic, but they cannot comprehend the invisible genesis of it all - how we have brought death and destruction down upon our own heads by playing with the fire of sin.

People, even Christians, will object! How can that be, they ask? How can bad things happen to good people? We all wonder about that, and those who work in vocations such as EMS, Fire, and the criminal justice system marvel even more. But the answer bites like a rabid dog. Ezekiel tells us, "The soul that sins will surely die." It isn't fair, we complain, but in God's economy it is perfectly fair; and everyone gets what he deserves: the son, the daughter, the woman, the grieving parents, we all die, day by day, hour by hour, until there is nothing left. However much we protest, it gives us no solace, but Jesus does. He relieves all of our troubles, now as He did then. His love comforts us and His mercy calms the storms of our lives.

This was God's plan from the beginning, one we can already see in today's Old Testament lesson from 1 Kings 17:7-24. He heard the grief-stricken outbursts of a poor woman and miraculously intervened. In order to help her, and to assure us of His mercy today, He brought the future of the Lord's resurrection into the present, and restored her son to life! By the light of the gospel we can see things here that Elijah could not. Like the woman's son, God's Son, too, became ill; ill with the sins of the world until "there was no breath left in Him." The woman asks Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!" But because of the death of God's Son, our sins are deleted and the Lord says through Jeremiah, "I will remember their sins no more." Now that is quite a statement when we consider the rushing torrent of our offenses which, like the angry waves of a hurricane, buffet the shores of God's holiness in order to wipe away every trace of His memory, so that each of us can enthrone himself as god in his own imaginary universe, however due to our Lord's death and victorious resurrection, God is gracious to us. He exercises mercy that is more than equal to human sin. St. Paul states that: where sin abounded, grace abounded even more. In simple terms that means that God's love always trumps human sin and all the twisted damage it leaves in its wake! How good for the woman, and how good for us! Upon receiving her son back to life this grateful woman says to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth." In the same way when the Woman, who is the church, beholds God's mercy she too confesses that Jesus is the Son of God who delivers our souls from death, and our feet from stumbling.

Now to the world this is all quite amusing, like a letter to Santa. As people laughed Jesus to scorn when He said, "the girl is not dead, but sleeping," even so people laugh at our Christian confession, but Jesus is not deterred! He continues to do His merciful work among us today. He fortifies us with His Spirit. He grants us much-needed endurance and He equips us to bear godly fruit day by day.



If there is one problem, it is that the church misses the lesson of the hemorrhaging woman. In the original Greek St. Matthew writes: she kept saying to herself over and over, "if only I can touch the hem of His garment I will be made well." By faith she grasped that the flesh of Jesus was her health and salvation, and that faith made her well. The same can be said of us. By faith in the Great Physician we too are made well. For us the garment is the Word and Sacraments. Jesus comes to us dressed in these. In holy baptism Jesus becomes our Lord and Savior who vows to care for us for time and eternity. That promise shall not be revoked! By absolution we are regularly cleansed of the ongoing offenses that the Sinful Nature perpetrates, and by it our passions are calmed. In these, and whenever the Gospel is taught in its truth and purity, we touch the hem of the Lord's garment and His blessing flows to us.

But in the Eucharist, around which all Christian worship in heaven and earth revolves, we obtain even more! We don't only touch the hem of His garment but are touched by the flesh of Jesus Himself. Then, like the woman, our bleeding stops! Then, like the daughter on whom He laid His nail-scarred hand, we become alive to all that is good, pure and holy. From His altar the rising Sun of Righteousness, the glorified, reigning and returning Lord, calls us away from sin, death, sadness and sorrow to Himself, to receive the fullness of joy and the knowledge of God. He touches us and we are made well! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Amen.


~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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