This is the final sermon I preach as Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Momence, IL.
Only say the word.
If anyone knows the authority of a word, it is a centurion. He tells Jesus I too am a man 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. When authority is given to you, you are able to say the word and things happen.
You’ve seen this happen many times in your life. Sometimes it’s for good. You think something is impossible and then, someone says a word and the impossible becomes possible. Sometimes it’s for bad. We all know what “clouting” means. Mike Royko made it a household word in the 1960s when he described how knowing the right person in the Chicago political machine opens doors for opportunity, authority, power, and money. Someone had to “clout” for you to get it done.
It’s the good kind of authority that Saint Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, focuses on in Matthew chapter eight. No one needs to clout for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t even need to go to the centurion’s home to heal his paralyzed servant. The centurion says to Jesus: Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.
The centurion’s authority is earth bound. Even though his words have authority, his authority only goes so far. He is not able to heal. He believes, however, that Jesus’ authority is not earth bound. Jesus’ words are the heavenly Father’s words. They have an out of this world authority.
When Jesus heard what the centurion says, Saint Matthew tells us He marveled. Let’s consider who the centurion is in order to see why Jesus marveled. The centurion is a Gentile, a Roman citizen, considered by others perhaps to be pagan, and yet He believes that Jesus has the authority to heal his paralyzed servant. All these factors line up for Jesus to marvel at what the centurion says. It can’t be possible. But it is possible because the centurion believes Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing He has life in His name.
Not only does Jesus marvel, He adds, truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Ouch! That’s quite a dig against our Lord’s own people. Yet many indeed will come from east and west and recline at table with the patriarchs. That’s the blessed promise of eternal life for the Gentiles, not by might, nor by power, nor even by blood, but by the Holy Spirit working in the Word proclaimed to the centurion.
For nearly fifteen years I have stood in this pulpit and done what the Lord has told me to do when I was set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands: preach the Gospel. You called me here for one reason: only say the word. Someone has to stand in this chancel and say the word that is given him to say. Of the many choices placed before you fifteen years ago this month, the Lord saw fit that you chose me.
When Pastor Koeppen, then circuit visitor, called me that Thursday night in January of 2007 to tell me I was called to serve as your pastor, I was afraid. Kankakee County was a long way from home. There were a lot of questions and not many answers. Yet in that process of discerning whether I should stay or I should go, I saw the Lord’s hand at work in that process. We couldn’t afford a home in Momence. You bent over backward to make the parsonage into a home again. Our family quickly outgrew the parsonage. You found a way to make our growing family fit in it. When there were financial problems, they were quickly solved. When we closed our doors for a time during the pandemic, the ministry of the Gospel continued and you supported it.
Do I say these things because you need to pat yourselves on the back? No. I say these things because you responded to the word that was preached in your midst. It’s been my privilege to stand here and only say the word. Everything else is the Lord at work in you, taking care of my family and making sure the Gospel continues to be proclaimed in Momence. Next weekend, Pastor Stein will stand here and only say the word. Sins will be forgiven. Forgiveness and eternal life will be given out in the Gifts. Perhaps this summer you’ll have a new shepherd of the Good Shepherd’s flock who will only say the word. As you have filled me with joy in your response to the Gospel, so I know you will do the same for him.
One more thing. The good news of the Gospel is that no goodbye is final. My Uncle Loren believed that when he insisted we never say goodbye in his presence. Instead we said, “See you at the next meeting.” Even if I never get to see you again this side of Paradise, the sure and certain hope we have because of Jesus Christ is that I will see you again at the next meeting. Maybe it’ll be this summer during the Gladiolus Festival. Maybe it’ll be on Judgment Day. The circle will never be unbroken for us Christians. Jesus has said the word and, like the centurion, we believe it because our Savior is the God-man with authority. His authority is to forgive our sins and raise us on the Last Day. Only say the word, dear Lord, and we, too, shall be healed. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.