[This sermon was preached at Blessed Sacrament Lutheran Church in Hayden, Idaho]
Audio of the sermon is here:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is easy for us to get things backwards. And often the reason we get things backwards is because we fear the wrong things—or at least, we fear the wrong things more than the right things. It goes to the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before Me. What does that mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We should fear, love, and trust in the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, whom we know to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet one God. Whenever we fear, love, or trust in anything or anyone more than in our God, then we start to get things backwards.
Three times in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells some person or a group of people to “take heart.” Be “enheartened,” be strengthened in your heart. Have courage. The word means to be firm or resolute in the face of adverse or dangerous circumstances. In the midst of this, take heart.
The first time He says it is in chapter nine, right at the beginning. Some people are bringing to Jesus on a bed a man who is paralyzed. Before they say anything or ask anything, Matthew tells us: Jesus saw their faith, and He said to the man, “Take heart, my child. Your sins are forgiven.” Take heart, your sins are forgiven. Now if we fear, love, or trust in anything besides God, we are going to get this backwards. We might well say, especially if we imagine ourselves in that paralyzed man’s position, that forgiveness of his sins doesn’t seem to be the thing he needs at the moment. His legs, his body, are not working, so that he has to be carried on a bed, and Jesus tells him to take heart, because his sins are forgiven.
The second time he tells someone to take heart, it is here in the reading we just heard, also in chapter nine. Jesus is following the ruler to his house, presumably to lay His hands on the young daughter and heal her. While they’re on the way, a woman comes up and touches just the tassel on the corner of Jesus’ garment. She has had this ongoing and debilitating hemorrhage. Matthew doesn’t say it, but Mark says she’s been dealing with this bleeding for 12 years. She says that if only she can touch the tassel on the corner of His garment, she will be saved. And Jesus turns and looks at her and says, “Take heart, daughter. Your faith has saved you.” And from that moment, she was saved. I know the English says “healed,” because clearly she is healed from her hemorrhage. But the word is “saved.” Now, if we fear, love, or trust in something other than God, we will get this backwards. We will think that she doesn’t need her soul saved; she needs relief from the slow death and the uncleanness of her bleeding.
The third time that Jesus says “take heart” is in chapter 14 when the disciples are on a boat and they are being beaten and driven by the wind and waves. Jesus comes to them walking on the water, and the disciples think He’s a ghost and they cry out in fear. Immediately, Jesus says to them, “Take heart; it is I. I am. Stop being afraid.” If we fear, love, or trust in something other than this God in flesh, we will get this backwards, as the disciples did. They don’t need Jesus! They need to get safely to the other side of the lake.
The things we fear the most determine how we react to these words of Jesus. Many people fear death the most. It is final; it is separation; it is the end. But some people fear other things more than death, like pain and suffering, so they find organizations or doctors who will give them the narcotics that will bring death before they have to suffer too much. They fear that more than death. A lot of people are terrified today. People are terrified of death, sickness, hospitals. People on either side of the political spectrum are terrified of what the other side of the spectrum will do if they have power. People are afraid of nearly everything except God.
There are a lot of fearful things in the world, in our families, in our lives. And we fear those things, and trust the opposite. We trust our health, we trust our lives, we trust the experts, we trust the government—well, some people do. And if we fear the loss of any of those things, then we’re going to have trouble with the assurances Jesus gives to these people. Forgiveness of sins, salvation, and Jesus Himself seem too flimsy, too unreal, too ethereal. We want concrete, physical health, things we can see.
But that’s not good enough for Jesus. It’s not enough to have a few more days, a few more years, a little more health. He has come to put an end to death altogether. And He gives to faith the sign that He has come to do exactly that, as He heals a daughter on the way to death and raises from the dead another daughter. Here are two pictures of faith, the faith of the ruler who seeks and worships Jesus, and the woman who knows that Jesus can heal her even if she touches only the tassel on the corner of His garment.
Do you know why God commanded the Israelites to put tassels on the corners of their garments? In the Book of Numbers, God tells them to put tassels on their garments so that they would look at them and remember God’s commandments and instructions, and believe them, rather than the desires of their own hearts and eyes. That is what the woman grabs hold of: God’s Word, the promise found in this Man, who is the end of death, and who is life itself. Take heart, daughter; your faith has saved you. And salvation is so much more than just our souls going to heaven when our bodies die. Salvation is wholeness, completeness, the fullness of God’s promises realized. It has to do not only with our souls, but with our bodies. It means that the forgiveness of sins includes the making whole of paralyzed bodies. It means that salvation includes the healing of a hemorrhage. It means that Jesus, the Son of God in flesh, is with you in the boat, in the midst of the storm.
Take heart, and hear the Word of God; stand firm in the midst of the dangers with which we are surrounded. Don’t believe the desires of your own hearts and eyes. Grab hold of the least tassel of the robe of God. Take heart, He is here. Take heart, and eat and drink. Take heart; whether He gives you a few more years or days here—and He certainly may—He will raise you up and give you eternal life, body and soul; wholeness, completeness, fullness of life forever. Take heart; the one who was crucified is alive forever. Take heart; your sins are forgiven, your faith in Christ has saved you; He is here with you forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/12/21