Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sermon: Wednesday of Reminiscere (Lent 2)

7 March 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, LA
Text: The Passion Narrative (Gethsemane) and the Apostles Creed

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christians are not “either/or” people, but rather “both/and” people. To say that something is both one thing and another at the same time is a matter of faith. For we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, we measure, we poke, we prod, we weigh, and we scope things out on sophisticated technological equipment to find out just exactly what something is. But with the eyes of faith, we conclude something different, sometimes even opposite, of what our senses tell us. Then we say both are true at the same time.

Jesus is a human being. We hear in the passion account that he suffers. He is ridden with anxiety. He sweats blood in his flesh. He prays to God that he doesn’t want to do what His Father asks of Him. Jesus does not want to be in pain, and He doesn’t want to die. Jesus is completely human.

In the Creed, we confess that Jesus was conceived, born, suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. These are all completely human things. Jesus is completely human.

In fact, skeptics agree with us that Jesus is completely human. So much so that they are dying to “prove” that Jesus’ body can be found in an ossuary in Israel. Of course, even the most world-renowned non-Christian scholars reject such silly claims made by hacks and showmen. Sadly, we Christians can tell these people exactly where the body of Jesus can be found – on our altars – but they choose to stop up their ears and believe in fairy tales instead.

We, along with the skeptics, confess the completely human Jesus: Jesus the teacher, Jesus the preacher, Jesus the pastor, Jesus the son of Mary, Jesus the stepson of the carpenter Joseph, Jesus who thirsts and hungers, Jesus who is tempted, Jesus who weeps, Jesus the Man of Sorrows, Jesus who is nearly stoned by a mob, Jesus who is unjustly tried and condemned by corrupt men for a corrupt world, Jesus who is flogged and crucified, and Jesus who dies and is entombed.

These are all historic facts, are attested to by eyewitnesses, and are hardly controversial.

But our Creed doesn’t stop there: for we Christians confess that Jesus descended into hell to proclaim His victory over death and Satan, He rose on the third day, He ascended into heaven to take His place alongside God the Father as ruler and judge of the universe, and He will come back again to execute judgment, to give eternal glory to those baptized into His name, to restore corrupted bodies back to incorruptible glory. He does this through the forgiveness of sins, and this bodily resurrection is part and parcel of everlasting life.

In other words, Jesus is completely divine. He is, in the words of the longer Nicene Creed, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. As our passion account testifies, Jesus, though His human nature is appalled at the cup He must drink, His divine nature embraces the will of the Father. Even though the man Jesus knows exactly who His betrayer is, the Lord Jesus refuses to save Himself from Judas’s treachery. Though Jesus faces His own impending death, He still preaches and prophesies, showing love and devotion to the disciples who were going to abandon Him. Jesus is completely divine.

Jesus goes to His own arrest without resisting, determined to carry out the mission of His Father’s will. Even during His arrest, He takes the time to work a miraculous healing of the ear of Malchus the servant. He tells Peter to sheath his sword, reminding him that He, Jesus, has command of legions of angels. Jesus is completely divine.

Jesus is both completely human and completely divine.

This is how Christians can eat what is both bread and the Body of Christ. This is how we drink what is both wine and the Blood of Christ. This is how we are to live in the world, but not be of the world. And it is truly how we poor miserable sinners are at the same time saints.

The Christian faith is indeed a both/and faith, because, once again, Jesus is both completely human and completely divine.

But it is the divinity of Jesus that scandalizes the world. It is the divine atoning death of the Man Jesus on the cross that pays for the sins of the world, that the world Jesus came to save, rejects. It is the supernatural element of Jesus that is a stumbling block to skeptics the world over. For divinity cannot be measured. It can’t be hooked up to a meter and be proven by data on a computer printout. It cannot be ascertained by eyes and ears, but is something that is believed. It is a matter of faith that Jesus is divine in addition to His being human.

This is why the Creed is a confession. To speak these ancient words that summarize the catholic faith that has been handed down to us by the apostles and by generations of Christians is to express belief, faith in something that simply cannot be measured. For though there were thousands of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miracles and actions in His divine nature, accepting this divine nature still boils down to a matter of faith. Faith which is a gift of God. Faith that is known without empirical proof. Faith that is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

This faith in Christ, this faith of Christ, this justifying faith, this faith by which the just shall live, this faith through which we are saved, this faith of which Jesus is the “author and perfecter” is, in the words of another Creed, the Athanasian Creed, “the catholic faith” – that is to say, the universal faith clung to, believed, and confessed, by Christians in every time and place.

And furthermore, “whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.” The catholic faith is indeed a both/and faith. It embraces Jesus, the Man, the one who is conceived and born in the flesh, who teaches, preaches, suffers and dies. It also embraces Christ the Lord God, who rises from the dead, who commands all things in the universe, visible and invisible, who forgives our sins, who recreates all things anew, who defeats Satan, and who will indeed destroy evil for all eternity.

This faith is also our confession. We do indeed hold the catholic faith in our hearts, and we confess it with our mouths. And it is most certainly a faith, a belief. It is knowledge without proof. It is hope borne of that knowledge. And it is life borne of that hope.

We all believe in Jesus Christ
His own Son, our Lord
Possessing an equal Godhead, throne and might,
Source of every grace and blessing;
Born of Mary virgin mother,
By the power of the Spirit,
Word made flesh, our elder brother;
That the lost might life inherit,
Was crucified for all our sin
And raised by God to life again. Amen.

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

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