Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Matthew 9:1-8

What would you do to help a friend? What lengths would you go to for a loved one if you knew you could help them? In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is teaching and healing in the city of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He has just returned from the other side of the sea, where people told him to leave when he healed two demon-possessed men by driving the demons into a herd of pigs which ran off a cliff. Unlike that region, the people of Capernaum are clamoring for the healing Jesus brings.

St. Mark tells us that people were crowding all around the house where Jesus was healing. No doubt if you knew that there was a man come to town, or the next town over, who could heal anyone – the blind, the deaf, the lame, the sick – you would get your loved one there. That’s what the people are doing – bring your sick child and blind friend and deaf neighbor – Jesus is here and healing all of that!

So too these men who bring the paralyzed man. St. Mark tells us in much more detail that the crowd around the house was so great that the men had to climb on the roof, remove tiles, and lower down the man to get to Jesus. Here in St. Matthew’s gospel, we aren’t told all the trouble they went to. Jesus saw their faith. Faith was what made them bring the paralyzed man to Jesus. They trusted the report that Jesus could heal their paralyzed friend, and that faith was shown in their actions.

This is the faith which intercedes for others. Knowing what Jesus can do, you bring those you know to Jesus. Bringing someone to Jesus can happen in many ways. It could mean bringing someone to church to hear Jesus as the Word of God is preached, or speaking to them about Jesus in daily life. Or bringing your child to baptism to receive Jesus by the water and the word. Or bringing a friend or relative who can’t drive himself to receive the Lord’s body and blood. Most often, though, is bringing them to Jesus in prayer. Through prayer we request for the well-being of others, friends and enemies.

St. James tells us “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b). The Father promises to hear the faith which intercedes for others. We have many examples of this from scripture. Moses prayed for the children of Israel many times as they sinned, that God would not destroy them for their unfaithfulness. Abraham prayed to God to save the city of Sodom for ten righteous people. God granted Paul all who were shipwrecked with him on account of his prayers. Egypt was blessed on account of Joseph. Syria on account of Naaman. If God will answer these great requests, will he not also answer your requests for the soul of your friend or loved one or enemy? You have been given the Holy Spirit in your baptism who perfects all your prayers so they are acceptable to God. Like the men with the paralyzed man, you can bring people to God in your faith, expecting an answer.

Yet as the proverb goes, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Right? Our faith can bring people to Jesus, but we cannot save people by our own faith. No one can believe for another, everyone has to have their own trust in Christ. So what good does it do? Well, not all old proverbs are correct for the things of God. For just as it was with you, faith is not something you gain on your own. It is given to you by Christ. You see this most clearly in baptism of infants. The faith of the parents brings the baby to Jesus, but their faith does not save the baby. What does? The baby’s faith! But, you say, a baby isn’t able to make a decision like that. Correct! Faith is never something we gain on our own. It is created by Christ – by baptism, and by hearing the Word of God preached. So the paralytic, brought to Jesus by the faith of others, is given faith by Jesus through the words, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.

The Pharisees found these words to be blasphemous. How can a man forgive sins? In their eyes, Jesus is making God lower by taking on powers which belong to God alone. The Pharisees believed that sickness was directly related to sin, and sin could only be conquered by good works. There was no work this man had done to be forgiven, and their proof of the falseness of Jesus’ claim was right there – the man was still paralyzed! Being afflicted on account of his sin, this man wasn’t even able to do any good works as they did.

It is true that sickness and sin are related, but not in the way the Pharisees think. It is not as if there is a one-to-one correspondence between every sin and every sickness. Sickness and any bodily disease is a symptom of sin. It was brought into the world with sin when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and corrupts every man and woman from birth. Due to sin, we are subject to disease, decay, and even death. This sinful condition produces the sin we act out in the world, when you do not love your neighbor as yourself or love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

The paralytic was brought to Jesus to heal his symptoms, but Jesus heals more than symptoms. He gets to the very center and cause. And more disabling than the man’s physical paralysis was his spiritual paralysis. It was the paralysis we are all born with, where we are unable to do anything for ourselves to love or please God. We lay there helpless until someone brings us to Christ and his Word. And Christ’s Word is “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.”   Take heart, fear not, have courage -  all these words tell you that you do not have to lie there helpless. You have a firm place to stand. You have someone supporting you. You have a redeemer who is here to save you.

Even when you have no one else interceding for you, you have the greatest intercessor, Jesus. He is the one who has come in at the perfect moment to save you. For in his death and resurrection he has made peace between you and God. If the ruler of the universe is at peace with you, there is nothing to fear. If he has made peace with you by his own blood, you know He will not go back on his promises. So even though things on earth are not yet as they are in heaven, Jesus intercedes for you. Jesus strengthens you. Worldly suffering in Christ is only temporary and only serves to increase faith. To relieve physical suffering is the harder thing to say, but the easier to do. For even men can help physical suffering, but only one man – our Lord Jesus Christ, can forgive sins.

Therefore rejoice and glorify God with the people who saw the paralytic rise and walk. God wants to come to your aid. God wants to give good help to all your concerns. He answers your prayer when you intercede for others. Jesus prays for you to the Father even if no one else does. We see the faith that clings to Christ’s words, “take heart,” bloom into these prayers for others and ourselves. That faith will be vindicated by the one who has true authority over heaven and earth to forgive sins, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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