Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sermon: Trinity 10

20 August 2006 at Christ L.C., Chalmette, LA
Text: Luke 19:41-48 (Jer 8:4-12, Rom 9:30-10:4) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is certainly not the first nor the last to weep over Jerusalem. Jerusalem means “city of peace” and yet to this day, she is one of the most controverted and least peaceful places on the planet.

Jews in modern day Israel greet one another with the word “shalom” and Arabs in modern day Lebanon say hello with the greeting “Salaam.” Both are wishes of peace in related languages, and yet for all of the greetings of “peace, peace,” there is no peace.

Peace has indeed been next to impossible to find in this world since the day when Adam and Eve declared war against God by disobeying his command, by seeking to place themselves above God (instead of in submission to him), and in listening to the lies of the clever creature, the Serpent, instead of the truths of the loving Creator. This act of rebellion spawned the murder of Abel and the rampant lawlessness that led to the flood.

In spite of our ways of violence and bloodshed, the Lord has been merciful to us. He provided a way for violence and bloodshed of innocent creatures to cover the sins of his beloved chosen people Israel. These sacrifices were a preview of the one great sacrifice to come, the unthinkable sacrifice of the Son of God as a ransom for the life of the world.

And as the time for that sacrifice comes close, Jesus draws near to Jerusalem, the holy city, the city of David, the place of the habitation of the Lord – and he weeps. For he knows that the children of Israel will reject him, will reject God, and will reject the gift of eternal life. It has been foretold in the prophets and in the parables of Jesus – and yet the realization of this tragedy brings God himself to tears.

Jerusalem, he says, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

The children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are blinded. Jesus prophesies of the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the annihilation of the holy temple – as well as the holocaust against the Jews by the Roman Empire. And this all happened “because you did not know the time of your visitation.” For God has visited and redeemed his people as Zechariah sang 30 years before. But his own people knew him not. They foolishly rejected the protection against evil that the Lord had provided them – and Jesus weeps at the destruction to come, which was so preventable.

In considering Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem and his stern warnings of judgment against the unbelieving Jews, we must avoid falling into the anti-semitic trap of blaming Jews for killing the Christ. For Jesus absolved those who murdered him on the cross: Jews and Romans alike. “father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Indeed, the blood of the Lamb “takest away the sin of the world,” and so God does not judge them for their sin of crucifying him. We are as much “Christ killers” as any Jewish person, ancient or modern, for by our sins we too have blood-guilt.

There is another error we must avoid: the Neo-evangelical error of treating modern unbelieving Jews as “God’s chosen people.” For look at Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord… therefore I will give their wives to others, and their fields to those who will inherit them.” As Jesus prophesied many times, the children of Israel would reject him, while other adopted sons of Abraham would be grafted onto the tree. Jeremiah’s words are harsh: “Therefore, they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their punishment they shall be cast down.”

In rejecting Jesus, in not knowing the time of their divine visitation, they have rejected the one antidote to their sins. They have refused to take the pill, they have spurned the cure. And in so doing, they destroy themselves – which is why the Lord weeps. God wants nothing but life and redemption for all of his creation. Purely by abundant grace the offer is there, hanging like low fruit literally dropping unaided into our mouths. And yet, not even God will force and coerce anyone to believe. Judgment doesn’t come upon anyone because God hates them or has rejected them. To the contrary, the lost, the judged, the damned have condemned themselves by “not knowing the time of their visitation” by rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.

And so the Lord begins his housecleaning by cleaning his own house. He drives out the arrogant, the ones Paul says in our epistle who have “stumbled at the stumbling stone,” the ones Jeremiah in our Old Testament lesson describes as the operators of “the false pen of the scribe.” Jesus clears out the unholy from the holy space while quoting the word of God: “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” The buying and selling have reduced the holy temple – where the blood of millions of innocent creatures have been offered as a sacrifice for sin (looking forward to the sin of the One True Sacrifice) – to the level of a two-bit flea market where junk and trinkets are sold.

Jesus not only judges the temple-defilers with his violent act of expelling them, he is quoting Isaiah 56:7. The rest of this passage is telling, for the prophet speaks of a time when the temple would not be for Jews only, but rather “a house of prayer for all nations” – which in the Hebrew means: “gentiles.” The Lord is putting on notice the merchants, the scribes, the Pharisees, the high priest, and Herod himself that the time is coming when the gentiles would receive the kingdom. Their own lack of repentance is bringing judgment upon them, and the Lord’s patience is being tried. And this was the last straw, as St. Luke testifies: “the chief priests, scribes, and leaders of the people sought to destroy him.”

Instead of repenting of their sins, instead of heeding the word of the Lord, the self-righteous and faithless children of Israel find their hearts hardened, much like that of the Pharaoh who oppressed them nearly two thousand years before. Instead of repentance, instead of seeking peace with God, these inhabitants of the City of Peace seek violence and bloodshed.

As Jeremiah preached: “From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely.” They cry out “‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush.” Their hearts have grown so hard that the law no longer stings them. They will not repent. They will not make peace.

And yet, God is merciful. Again and again, he gives us poor miserable sinners grace that we don’t deserve. For not every child of Israel followed the chief priests and scribes into hell. The Jewish followers of Jesus became the trunk of a New Israel, upon which were grafted the limbs of gentile believers. This New and Greater Israel is the Church. And we see this Church in our Gospel text. For amid all the judgment, destruction, doom, and devastation is the glimmer of hope shining like the rainbow that proclaimed mercy and forgiveness to Noah. The last verse of our text reads: “For all the people were very attentive to hear him.”

In spite of their misguided political and religious leaders, in spite of the scorn of the scribe and the strong-arming of the Pharisee, the rank and file of the children of Israel heard Jesus preaching the kingdom into their hearts. Literally in the Greek text, they “hung on” every word uttered by the Word of God himself.

This, my dear brothers and sisters, is our only hope, the only way we have a part in the Kingdom of God. We do not reject Jesus as the Christ, but confess him. And that confession includes listening to him. We poor miserable sinners who hang on every word of our Lord Jesus Christ do indeed know the time of our visitation. And this is the source of true peace. The Word of God, the proclamation of the Gospel places us into the true and eternal City of Peace.

Immediately after the bread and wine are consecrated, the pastor holds up the body and blood of Jesus for all to see, and Jesus says something to us. And like these first Christians, we must hang on every word, cling to them, embrace them, and be attentive to them. For as the pastor holds the consecrated elements aloft, Jesus speaks through the pastor to say: “The peace of the Lord be with you always!” This is not the pastor wishing you good luck. This is not the Church saying “hope all goes well for you.” Rather this is a declaration from Christ that the war is over. Jesus has called off the dogs of death and has declared a permanent armistice between God and his beloved people. And you, dearly beloved children of God, will reply by singing “Amen!” You are saying “It is so! We have peace!”

And this is not a false peace, an imposed cease fire, a “peace” in which the former combatants are plotting for revenge in a future battle, no indeed, this is true peace, cosmic peace, the peace which the world cannot give. It is the peace of God that passes all understanding.

And that peace which does indeed pass all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

1 comment:

E said...

It's late. I've a sick child sleeping with mom upstairs and the baby at the foot of the bed. I've spent my evening trying to find that "peace" to help with some significant changes coming for our family in the coming year. I want to thank-you for allowing God to speak so eloquently through you so that someone like me 2000 miles away from you could be touched by your much so that I am now able to crawl into bed and sleep well surrounded by the peace of God.

Blessings to you and your family Larry...

Renaissance Blogger

P.S. After a second read of your sermon I do intend to revisit it tomorrow and see what else I can glean from your writing.