Unlikely Faith

Text: 1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29, 41-43
Date: Pentecost II + Proper 4 + 5/29/16

After the flood of God’s judgment against the increasing wickedness and sin of every person, God made a covenant through Noah with the whole world that He would never again destroy the earth by water. That’s God’s promise to everyone whether they believe or not. But the central covenant promise of God to everyone was of a Savior from sin and death for eternal life. This promise however can be rejected, ignored, cast aside, for it becomes effective only in those who receive it by faith, who believe it. First to Abraham God promised that through his descendant “all the nations will be blessed.” The promise is to all nations, every person. But it comes through Abraham’s line, God’s chosen people Israel. Yet it comes to all like it did to Abraham, namely, by faith.

In today’s Gospel we hear of one of the many Gentiles during Jesus’ ministry coming to faith in Him. In fact, it was so remarkable that Jesus “marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith’” (Luke 7:9). It is in this connection that our reading from First Kings was chosen to be heard along with this story, Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication of the Temple. For in his prayer for different sorts of people in need, that God would graciously hear and answer their prayer, there is a prayer even for Gentiles. “When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel…comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you” (1 Kings 8:41-43). Today we proclaim how saving faith is a gift of God given by means of His Word, to all who hear it, when and where it pleases God. If Jesus marveled at the Roman centurion’s faith how much more can we marvel with Him when you and I and any sinner is drawn to believe in Jesus? We too often miss the miracle and take faith for granted.

That God’s promise of salvation is for all people is repeated throughout the Old
Testament from the very beginning. After His promise to Abraham, Moses himself allowed the foreigners living among the Israelites to offer sacrifice at the temple. Listen to his amazing words. “And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do.” Now listen to this! “For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you” (Num 15:14-16). So perfectly clear is God’s will and plan to bring salvation through the Jews to all the world.

Of primary concern is to note how it is that a foreigner, a Gentile ever comes to believe and to pray. The statement in parenthesis explains that “they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm.” All people are to take notice of God’s promise as it worked through His mighty deliverance and guidance of His people. Deuteronomy 4:33-35 says this, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.”

Have people today listened, heard or taken notice of God’s word and will to save? Our synod has increased the number of missionaries world-wide in recent years to number presently 112 career missionaries.[1] I thought there were more! And together we are planning for more. They however are not sent in order to make people to believe but only to preach, teach and proclaim God’s good and gracious will of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. God is the one and only “force” if you will working through His Word in the hearts and minds of anyone and everyone who will hear. And that goes for Jews and Gentiles alike.

As these foreigners “hear” of God’s great name and mighty acts and it is through what they hear that they are brought to faith, so the Roman centurion in today’s Gospel. “When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him…asking him to come and heal his servant.” Solomon’s prayer was answered again, for Jesus immediately responded.

Of course faith reaches out in what we might call bold humility. We ask because we believe. But we believe with the gift of God, namely faith. It is here that the Church has adopted the centurion’s prayer as the prayer of humble access prayed just before receiving the Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…. But say the word, and let your servant be healed.” Again it is but the Word of Jesus alone that inspires faith and has power to heal. It is, after all, also only because of His words pronounced over the elements set apart for this use that the bread and wine become what He says!

As we say with St. Paul, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Therefore, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God will hear your prayer and answer in His grace. Prayer at all times, especially as King Solomon said, pray for the forgiveness of sins (8:31-32), pray for protection from all enemies (8:33-34), pray for good weather (8:35-36), pray in times of famine, pestilence, and blight for good crops (8:37-40), pray when you feel like a foreigner (8:41-43), pray that you may be a witness making known God’s saving name. Who knows? Faith may show up in the most unlikely people.

[1] LCMS 2016 Convention Workbook, p. 41.