Our Balm in Gilead

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 2C, June 2nd, 2013

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Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored? [Jeremiah 8:22]

So speaks God through the prophet Jeremiah. Why don’t my people come to me when they are in need; why do they trust in other things, things of man but not the God who creates and sustains all things  created? Why can they not see that I, the God who creates them am the same God who sustains them?

Instead of trust in God, as our money says, we as Americans seem to trust in our own resourcefulness. We want to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, so to speak. We hear people say things like good  people practice religion, but they don’t take it too seriously. Welcome to Hypocrite Township, where science and positive thoughts sustain life and happiness!

But there isn’t a chance that we good Christians will go down that road, is there? I mean, Hypocrite Township is the home of those who look to all other forms of health and happiness but Jesus and His  means of grace. They don’t need, nor do they want handouts and giveaways. They work for what they need and want. They are proud that they earn their way in life; why they deserve what they have!

We Christians know that as a false gospel of prosperity; it’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all know that the gospel is a free gift of Christ sacrificially giving Himself to rescue and deliver  sinners like us from sin, death, and the devil, even this sinful age we live in. No sir, we’re going to steer clear of Hypocrite Township, because we know that the devil runs that territory.

Yes sir, we Christians follow Christ, because we love Him. We worship Him and we read and hear His Word. We don’t look for people’s approval but instead we are servants of Christ. You see, we Christians are a praying people. And we pray, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not like those other people who keep on moving to and living in Hypocrite Township. I thank you that you bless me, because I’ve got a strong faith; faith that you said can move mountains.”

Well, neighbor… welcome to Hypocrite Township. You’ll fit right in! Isn’t it amazing how easily we get there with all of the other hypocrites? Even when that is precisely where we don’t want to go. Who is responsible for our continued detour to Hypocrite Township? Is it the devil? Well sure, but that is just a tad to easy to blame it all on him; after all, you have a Savior who has promised you that He has defeated that ancient foe. So is it society, with its promises of health and happiness outside of what they say is an antiquated religion, that only divides people? Or maybe it is the phony word of faith and name it and claim it preachers that mix religion with the occult? Well sure they can preach a powerful message of false hope, but in the end, you’re the one who stopped to listen and then buy into what they were peddling. No, I’m afraid that you’re at fault; you’re the one who forgot about your true Balm in Gilead!

In the end, we Christians are the ones who convince ourselves that it is logical and obvious, that we don’t get something for nothing. Since we received something from God, namely forgiveness of sins and a relationship of love with Him through Christ, we think that it must be because we deserve it. Good is for the good and bad is for bad. That’s the white wash that we paint over our dark dirty grey casket, which contains the dead bones of our own righteousness. But what happens when God’s own righteousness rains down? What happens when our clean white illusion is washed away by God’s Word, and our own evil is revealed? We and the message of false prosperity and health we’ve been following are shown for what it is… and evil illusion! Our entire hypocritical motto is uncovered… “Look out for number one, and do unto others before they do unto you.”

Once God moves you to see this truth about who you really are without Him, you will then and only then turn to Him alone as not only your source of salvation, but also as your only source of happiness and health, peace and prosperity. Then and only then will you learn to be happy with what ever He gives to you, or allows to come your way.

It’s a matter of having spiritual eyes to recognize Christ’s authority and a trust or faith in His tender care.

The Centurion in our gospel lesson (Luke 7:1–10) was given both of these things from God. Somehow, we are told that He heard of Jesus; he heard the Word of God about the Son of God and He recognized Jesus for who He was; He was Lord! And that Centurion, a foreigner to God’s presence and providence desired to reach out to Jesus as God’s authority, as God’s means of salvation and health. So He sent a delegation of Jewish elders to plead with Jesus to heal His servant. And what happened next? Did the elders dismiss that request? No! God in His special providence moved the heart of these men to approach Jesus with the request of healing. And what of Jesus? Did Jesus tell them to let the Centurion know that He did not come to save gentiles but only the good “God fearing” Jews of the Land? No! In fact Jesus had them take Him directly to the home of the gentile, the unclean gentile’s home.

Amazing isn’t it? God’s love really is for all! But the most amazing part is what comes next. We learned that Jesus never made it to the home of the Centurion, instead the Centurion had another delegation meet Jesus before he arrived to his home, and they related this message: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Now that dear friends is faith. A kind of trust in Jesus authority that is real and alive. It cannot be bought and it cannot be obtained outside of the Word of God. It is solely a work of grace and it comes alive as God determines through the work of His Spirit. It is a kind of faith that simply lays down its request at the feet of Jesus and believes that the God of Creation and Salvation is also the God that determines ones fate. It is the kind of faith that accepts what ever Word Jesus gives. I am convinced that even if Jesus had not healed the servant’s body but healed the servant’s soul as He had obviously done for the Centurion, both would have rested peacefully in God’s gracious love and presence.

A poor middle-aged woman with poor health, a broken spirit, and a criminal record responds to an invitation to attend church with the comment, “Church is for good people, not people like me.” A young man, who many would call a hoodlum asks, “I’ve done some bad things. Can I still join your church?” A couple living together, but not married ask the pastor, “Can we get our child baptized even if we are not married?” All of these questions and many more are simply opportunities for us to step outside of the city limits of Hypocrite Township and begin a relationship of sharing God’s Word, Law and Gospel with strangers, people who are foreigners to God’s grace. Questions like these present opportunities for us to present Christ’s church not as a white washed mausoleum of saints, but as a hospital for sinners; a place where the very worst of us have found the balm of Gilead, and where they too can find forgiveness and healing.

Forgiveness is an unbelievable gift. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the Word, and let my servant be healed.” But the Lord did, and does put Himself to trouble, a whole lot of trouble. And He comes to live a long side of us, He says the Word and we are forgiven… we are healed of a sin sick soul. He initiates the new relationship of love and forgiveness by coming to us in His Word of Law which shows us our terrible sin of pride and self sufficiency, and when we have been destroyed by His displeasure, by His righteous anger, He speaks the Gospel Word of forgiveness and, by His stripes, we are healed; we are created into the very image of Christ!

The gospel of Christ is the message of His cross. It is a message about His sacrificial giving of Himself to rescue and deliver us from the power of this sinful and evil age. The gospel is the gift of a new relationship of love and forgiveness with God and each other. It is the entire message that is spoken to us in our worship: Jesus accepts foreigners. Jesus hears the prayers of sinners that seek His forgiving love. And Jesus desires to hear our prayers about others who need His intervening presence in their lives as well.

Jesus offers grace, powerful and wonderworking grace to all who see a need. For whom shall we pray for this week? For whom shall you intercede for and say, “He or she is worthy to have you come to them. They need your forgiving touch and then your touch of healing strength.” Who has God put in your life so that you can tell them about a Balm in Gilead? If you can not preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say He died for all” even a hypocrite like them and like you! AMEN!

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