Sunday, September 9, 2012

Astounded Beyond Measure at Jesus

September 9, 2012
Pentecost XV
Fr. Philip Eberhart



Have you ever looked at someone and said, “Man, would that person make a great Christian!” Because of their position or their gifts in the world, we have a tendency to “size people up” – in effect, to pre-judge them – as to their capabilities for the Kingdom of God!  Likewise the obverse is true, we see someone who is down on their luck and we “judge” that they are somehow unworthy of the Gospel of Jesus.

 This was the state of things in the early church as well, because its “human” nature; not the good kind of nature, by the way.  It’s the old nature and system of thinking that moves us to “size people up” – to classify them according to dress, or car, or talents, jobs or skills.

 Jesus, on the other hand, was quite the opposite.  His story of the sower of the seed shows us just how liberally the sower did his work.  Seed fell on all kinds of soil!  As a farmer, or the son of a farmer, I know that you only put seed in the soil that has been properly prepared for it, not in rocky, thorny or shallow soil, but in soil that has been turned and weeded and has had the rocks taken out!  And you never sow seed on hard pack or concrete – its all the same.  But the sower in Jesus parable pays no never mind to the types of soil, he just scatters the Word liberally.

And so we see Jesus in our reading this morning healing those with faith, both the gentile woman and the deaf man who could not speak.  Both of those people were people who were “under judgement” by the regular religious establishment. The one because of her station in life and the other because of his particular disease.

 In the first case of the Gentile woman, Jesus is hesitant to heal.  Why?  Because He was mindful of his mission from the Father, to go to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.  To “give the children’s bread to the dogs” isn’t a remark about the woman, but about his mission and focus on Israel.  BUT… what turns his head?  FAITH – Faith that will not take NO for an answer.  And the argument that she mounts  accepts his mission as legitimate and her position as “outside” of it – but still clings to an unwavering faith in His love and power.  And her faith wins!  Is Jesus won over?  Did he change his mind.  I think not – what changed was his perception of her, not as one on the outside, but because of her faith, as one on the inside.

As we see in Paul’s writings in Romans, the scope of the Gospel extends to all those who “by faith” have come to God, and this is a case-in-point illustration from the very ministry and works of Jesus!


 I want to look at the next section and then examine the issue of faith in these readings for a few moments.

In the man who was deaf, we don’t see any indication of his faith, but of those who brought him to Jesus.  Jesus didn’t question the man about his faith.  He simply took him into a private place – put his fingers in his ears, spat and touched his tongue and said a word that even deaf people can hear, because the word is very easily “lip read” – Eph-pha-tha, which is the word of command, “Be opened!” And it was so!  That simple!   Whose faith?  Not his faith, but their faith.  Those who brought him to Jesus.

Now let’s turn to James for a few minutes – the last paragraph of our reading:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

These words almost got the book of James thrown out of the canon!  Paul’s contention in Ephesians 2: 8ff is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one can boast.”

For centuries these passages have been taken as being in opposition to one another, but I want to contend that they are saying exactly the same thing!  The point that Paul is making is not a point of relative importance, but of priority and order.  The key word here is the word “result” – in the Greek it is the simple preposition that denotes origins – “EK” =  out of, from, by, away from (a primary preposition denoting origin [the point whence action or motion proceeds]).  In other words, Paul says that faith is not “out of” works – that works cannot have the priority, faith does.  In fact, if you take James alongside Paul, what you have is this:

by grace you have been saved through faith;…not as a result of works, so that no one can boast.” [but] what good is it if you say you have faith, but do not have works? Can [that kind of] faith save you? [NO!] Faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead!”

Friends, its not a question of faith OR works, it is a question of which comes first!

It is always faith AND works, in every situation, - even the thief on the cross, did the “work” of repenting publicly and asking Jesus to remember Him in glory.  Our faith, our belief is internal – a matter of the heart – but it cannot simply remain there!  James later says that even the demons “believe” and tremble!  Our belief must take action – the matter of the heart must become the heart of the MATTER!  Its just sacramental theology.

What do we say about the sacraments?  That they are “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace!

So our work for the Lord is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that Paul calls “faith.”  Remember, he said “by grace, you have been saved through faith; and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God…”

In the sentence structure of Paul’s greek sentence in Ephesians, the words “not as a result of works” actually modify and refer back to the words “you have been saved.”

In other words, “you have been saved, not as a result of works, but through faith, and even that [faith] is a gift of God!”


 So let’s turn back to James for a moment and ask the question, “What works?”

 "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

Once again James is the ever practical pastor!  In the Jerusalem community this was a matter of community identity and common practice, but elsewhere in the “diaspora” – away from the central community in Jerusalem, it had become less a matter of community life.  The dispersed Jewish community had taken on more of the form of the world – “every man for himself.”

Let me remind you of the norm in Jerusalem – from our target passage for our life together:  Acts 2:42-47:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 Let’s look at the “works” that followed their faith in Acts 2:

Continual devotion to

            Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer

 Wonders and signs performed
      (did you note the lists in our readings from Isaiah and our psalm for today?) 

            The eyes of the blind shall see
            The ears of the deaf unstopped
            Lame shall leap like a deer
            Tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
            Gives justice to those who are oppressed
            And food to those who hunger.
            Sets the prisoners free
            (again) opens the eyes of the blind
            Lifts up those who are bowed down
            Loves the righteous
            Cares for the stranger
            Sustains the orphan and widow!

 Back to ACTS:

Living together with all things held in common, selling property & possessions

Sharing them with all, according to need

Daily fellowship in the temple and from house to house

Eating together

Praising God & enjoying His favor!

And what was the result:
             “The Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved!”

What are the “works” that God is calling you to, you who believe and who say with the psalmist:

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!  Whose hope is in the Lord their God; who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever;

If that is your confession, your “boast”, as it should be, then what are you DOING
about it?

What is the issue – what is coming forth “out of” your faith?  If someone says, “show me your faith” what will they see?  Can people see our faith, without the work that comes from it?  NO.  In the very next verse, after our reading stops, James goes on to say, “… I will show you my faith by my works.”

Faith and work are two sides of the same coin, my friends.  To see the complete image of salvation we must look at both sides.  Faith first and then the work which comes from it.

We’ve talked about the list already – the list of needs is long and the opportunities for ministry come to us every day.  The question is one of willingness and of availability and of obedience.

“Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Shall we pray…

O Lord Jesus Christ, you became poor for our sake, so that we might be made rich through your poverty: Guide and sanctify, we pray, all those whom you call to follow you.  Uphold us with a willing spirit, help us to see your hand at work and to be available to you every moment of every day and obedient to your voice when you speak to us, that by our prayers and works of service we may enrich your Church, and by our life and worship we may glorify your Name before the world; for you reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

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