Living from the Liturgy Daily Devotional (January 22 – 28)

The Third Sunday after Epiphany – Historic Lectionary – Matthew 8:1-13 – January 22, 2017

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When I was in grade school, it was always understood that the most sure fire way, the best way to win any argument about any particular topic, was found not in possessing words of eloquence and wit, not in deconstructing your 2nd grade classmate’s arguments, but rather, in being the first one to blurt out those invincible and undefeated words, “times infinity.”

I’m right, times infinity.
You’re wrong, times infinity.
What more could you say? What greater words could you possible add to infinity itself?

Behold the most magnificent words of 2nd grade. And so I learned early on, that the biggest words were always the best words.

Today in Matthew chapter 8, Jesus is astonished by the remarkable praise and faith in God confessed by the centurion. And from this event we learn a careful but important distinction.

Not all praise of God, no matter how big and boisterous it is, is worthy of praise.
And in the same way, not all faith confessed of God, is worthy to be called true faith.

This is what we so clearly in the reading from Matthew, as we witness the reaction of Jesus to the confession of the centurion.

For He is astonished and says of this Gentile, “Not even in all of Israel, have I found such faith.”

Not even in the Lord’s 12 disciples, not even in His mother and brothers, not even in the Jews, the Pharisees, the scribes and the whole host of Israel.

Not all praise and faith is the same.

We would do well to remember this, for it seems that presently in our church and in our world, we think nothing of it.

We think little of the actual words found in our liturgy and worship, and perhaps even less of the kinds of words that describe the Lord to our neighbor who is not of the faith.

We have in this way, forgotten what it means to be a priesthood of all believers.

That is, to live as the baptized, those who both face the altar and receive from the Lord His gifts and His true faith, and then in turn, leave this place to face the world, proclaiming His truth to a people still sitting in darkness.

We are not as the church, just to be about any praise and faith of God, but the true faith.

Take for example, the praise of God spoken by both Christians and non-Christians alike, found in the simple words, “God is love.”

These words are certainly a confession of faith, and even a proclamation of praise.

And when spoken by the baptized to one another within the faith, most likely are well received, as both faith and comfort.

But what about your neighbor who does not know Christ?

Is the phrase “God is love” readily understood? Does it tell your neighbor about the real kind of love that God has given? Does it express to the world, the true faith?

Indeed, I might ask, does God love me in the same way that I love chocolate pie?

That pie makes me feel good, and therefore I love it.

So then, is God’s love like that kind of love? Is it because I pray and praise and serve and obey Him, that He in turn extends to me His love?

Or does God love me the same way that I love my oblivious and enabling friends?

The friends who know when to turn a blind eye to all of my mistakes and misdeeds and imperfections?

Does God love us with such a blind eye? That he embraces our sins and tells us they don’t really matter?

Or does God give us a better word?

True faith always asks the question of How. How does God love us?

Indeed true faith is true precisely because it responds with God’s answer of How.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John that the Lord has loved us in this way, this kind of how answer, that He sent His Son, not because we have loved him, not because we have served him, or been faithful, but that He has sent His Son into our flesh, not to turn a blind eye to our sin or say that its ok, but to bury our death into His own body, to die for our sin, that we might receive not death, but eternal life.

True faith and true praise always answers with the How of God’s work.

Though we mumble through our Liturgy, we do so not without purpose and not without faith.

If it were true that all praise was equal, then we would surely wish to save time every Sunday and simply chant, “God is good, God is great, let us join hands and celebrate.”

But we don’t. And that is not because we like to draw things out, or sit longer than we should, but because we have a better word to receive.

During the Kyrie, we chant together the true faith of those How questions. How will the Lord bring peace to the whole world, How will He protect this holy house?

We sing together the true faith, Lord have mercy.

How? Not because we have something to give, not because of our faithfulness, or what we could possibly promise to give, but because the Lord is moved by mercy alone. True faith both speaks the truth, and rests in that truth.

Not all praise of God, no matter how big and boisterous it is, is worthy of praise.
Not all faith confessed of God, is worthy to be called true faith.
Today, what makes the centurion’s faith remarkable, is not that he lumps on compliments about God’s majesty, it is not that he piles on the praise of how big the Lord is, indeed it is not that he somehow says, God is great, times infinity.

What causes Jesus to be astonished by his confession, is quite simply, because it is true.

And by true, we don’t just mean a safe general statement, like ‘God is great’, but the truth of the matter, the heart of who God is, the Epiphany of His nature, His mercy and love.

In short, it is the confession of how the Lord loves, redeems and saves.

The How question, is always answered by true faith.

How will the Lord save the centurion’s servant?

Not simply by His greatness, not just because He is big and bold and infinite, but because, as the centurion confesses in true faith, because the Lord’s work is accomplished always through His spoken word.
That is the truth of the matter.

He opens His mouth and saves His people.

Indeed, this is the Epiphany of God’s mercy from Genesis to Revelation.
In the beginning the Lord spoke and said, “Let there be light” and so it was.

He spoke and breathed Adam into existence, He delivered His people Israel from death and slavery in Egypt through the mouth of His servant Moses, He sustained His sinful and wandering people in the wilderness through the promise of His word, and He gave hope to hopeless in captivity, suffering and despair through the lips of the prophets.

He is not just great, He is not just good, He is the answer to the How question, How will the Lord save His people? How will He have mercy on the sinner?

Through the Word made flesh, the One speaking life to the sick, the One preaching faith to the faithless, the One opening His mouth in the agony and suffering of His death and declaring, “It is finished.”

If there is any liturgical lesson that you should learn right from the start, it is perhaps the meaning and the immensity of the word, “Amen.”

Amen is not a light, casual word. It is not a throw away phrase.

Though it appears on almost every page of the liturgy of the Divine Service, it is perhaps the most significant word that comes out of your mouths every Sunday and throughout the week.

For it is the word spoken by true faith.
Faith that receives Christ as He has revealed Himself.
Amen is the faith of the centurion.

And it is the faith given to you, joined to you in Holy Baptism, and held to you through the giving of the Word made flesh into your ears and hearts.

Amen literally means, “Yes, Yes, it is as You have spoken.”

It is not a big word, it is not boisterous, it is not perhaps as impressive on the playground as “times infinity.”
But it is true.

When the Host and Chalice are lifted from the table, you hear the epiphany of Christ, as He proclaims, “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.”

And here, boisterous praise is not needed, longwinded faith and theology is not what’s required.

Rather, at the table of the Lord, at the place where the Word made flesh calls to you “Come”, come all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest, at the place where the Word made flesh proclaims to you “Go”, go in the peace of God.

So at the table, you the baptized, confess the true faith, you chant with centurion, Amen.
It is as you have spoken.

Here is the peace of God, here is the rest that my soul longs for, Here in body and blood of the Word Himself is the peace given for my troubled family and relationships, Here is the peace that sustains the persecuted Church in the face of death driven by those chanting God is great. Here is the healing for those who sick, and indeed, the very life of the world.

Here is the confidence that St. Paul can proclaim to the Corinthians, that he desires to know nothing but “Christ and him crucified.”

For that is the How answer to the How question.

How is God merciful? How is God love? How do I know that despite my suffering, the Lord has not abandoned me, that He will see me through to the end, and suffer with me in the present?

St. Paul’s confession is that How answer.

It is the confession of the baptized, it is the faith of the centurion.

Amen, you have said it. It is true. Your sins are forgiven, Your eternity is secure. The infinite has come to you, and He gives you rest, He will place soon into your mouths the true faith, the answer to the question of How, indeed God who is love, God who is great, Christ who is given for you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.