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Sermon: Faith Alone

Grace and mercy to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

          How many blind men are there in our Gospel lesson for today? One? Or is it twelve? For while Bartameus may not see with the eyes of his flesh, it is the disciples who have darkened the eyes of their own souls. For Christ says that he is going to Jerusalem and that he will suffer, die and rise again. He could not have spoken more plainly. But the blind disciples refuse to see. For how could this happen to Jesus? He has no reason to die! He has done nothing wrong – so he must not really mean it when he says he is going up to die. It must be a metaphor or something.

          O blind disciples! Like all men you are so quick to see faults in others – arguing about who is greatest in the kingdom, holding back snot-nosed children from Jesus, pushing beggars away - but you are so conveniently blind to your own sins. Yes: Jesus has done no wrong. He goes to Jerusalem not to suffer for himself and his own sins, but for you and yours. But you didn't think of that did you? You did not stop to ponder how it was that Jesus could dine with sinners and prostitutes: that is, with you. For she who sells her flesh for a coin is not the only sort of prostitute. Men have sold much more for much less.

          Integrity and honesty have been sold by many a man for the small price of a compliment from a boss or friend. Marriages have been sold for a moment's pleasure. Friendships have been sold for the opportunity to gossip. Every sinner has his price – and it is always embarrassingly low.

          So repent. When Jesus says that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, do not closethe eyes of your heart. But look on him who was bruised for your iniquity. Look at the cross and learn the horror of sin. For every sin has his price: and this is it. This is the wages of sin: death, separation from God, hell. That is what Jesus suffered on the cross. That is why he is setting his face toward Jerusalem, marching to Golgotha. He is on his way to pay for the sins of the world and for your sins too. This is their price. This is what the Law demands. Look on the cross and shudder in amazement at the weight of sin: for it even took God in the flesh down to death.

          Open your eyes and look to the cross, shudder in amazement, but then do not despair. For Jesus does this for you. It is his love for you that leads him to Golgotha. The punishment that brings you peace was laid upon him. With this death, your sins are paid for. For he is merciful and kind and desires not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn away from his sin and have faith in the Lord.

          This is what the blind man believed. And in this he was much less blind than the prideful disciples. For the blind man admitted that he needed help and that only Jesus, the Son of David could give it. He trusted that Jesus was merciful and kind: and so he cries out in the words of the liturgy: Lord, have mercy! Son of David, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

          No amount of reproach from the crowds can keep this blind man away – for he knows that Christ is his only hope. He is not ashamed to keep shouting. He is not embarrassed to plead. He is not too proud to beg. This blind man knows his Lord and he trusts his mercy and grace.

          And such faith saves him. Not in and of itself – faith, trust, belief is no great thing in itself. I'm sure that Osama bin Laden has more faith in his little finger than I have in my whole body. I'm sure he trusts Muhammed's god with a depth of belief that I could never hope to hold. But such faith will not save him. For faith in and of itself is nothing. Faith is merely trust – and trust is worth only as much as the thing trusted. Faith is merely hands open to receive – and if I open my hand to receive from a false god, then salvation I shall not receive. No, faith does not save because it is any good work, or has any greatness or merit in and of itself. Rather, faith saves only because it is faith in Christ and his promise.

          Christ saves with his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. That is God's promise: that this work of Christ brings forgiveness, life and salvation. The blind man trusted this promise, had faith in it, believed it to be true and trusted that it counted for him: and so he received the promise. A promise made elicits either faith or unfaith. And so God is the promising God, the God who is faithful to his promises and so draws faith out of us.

          He promises you: repent and be baptized and you shall receive the forgiveness of your sins and gift of the Holy Spirit; he who is born again of water and the spirit has entered the kingdom of God, and has but on Christ, and is forgiven and free. For Baptism now saves you – He promises that.

          He says to his disciples and those who bear their office: Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you retain his sins, they are retained. And so God promises you: if you have heard Christ's called and ordained servant say to you, “I forgive you all your sins...” then these sins are really forgiven. That forgiveness is just as valid, even in heaven, as if Christ had appeared in a burning bush! Holy Absolution brings forgiveness – Christ promises that.

          He promises you: “Take, eat, this is my body....Take, drink this is my blood: give and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him and I shall raise him up on the last day.” The Lord's Supper gives you life and salvation. Christ promises that.

          These promises are for you. You have what they promise. So rejoice, dear Christians. Focus on God's promises and gifts. That is what the impending season of Lent wants to help you do: to focus on what God has promised by taking your eyes off yourself. For the more you look to yourself the more blind you become. The more you try to earn your place with God, the more you fail. But take your eyes off yourself and look to Jesus and what he promises you and you will receive new sight. Receive what Christ gives and you will receive a strength that comes from outside of you to make you fit for a holy life.

          It is all in the promises of God in Christ. This is where your Life is. This is what Lent is about. God has promised you life and salvation. He delivers these promises to you in his Word and Sacraments. That is not just a slogan: Word and Sacraments. It is a summary of the Christian life: for it is a summary of Christ's promises to you. He baptizes you and says, “You are mine.” He absolves you and says, “You are loved.” He feeds you his own body and blood and says, “I am yours.”

          In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.