Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 10

12 Aug 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 19:41-48

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus, God in the flesh, is weeping over the City of Jerusalem. These are tears of profound sadness. What a great mystery the incarnation of God is! For Jesus is God, He is Almighty, He can change everything with the breath of a single word. And yet, He doesn’t.

He doesn’t use His divine power to force Jerusalem to be what He wants her to be. He doesn’t compel the people to be righteous for the sake of their salvation from their enemies. Instead, He cries like a powerless child – bewailing the inability of Jerusalem to recognize the “time of [their] visitation.”

Jesus has fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy. He has worked miracle after miracle for three years. He has made the blind to see, fed thousands with a few loaves of bread, and even raised people from the dead. He has preached and preached about the Kingdom of God with authority like no-one else. He has won every debate and argument put before Him. He has sent the mighty demons scurrying for cover like cockroaches in the sunshine. He would later walk out of His own grave in plain sight.

In spite of all of this, there are many who refuse to believe. And this lack of belief is what condemns them. For not even God will compel a person to believe in anything. If three years of signs, miracles, preaching, and the fulfillment of ancient prophecies are not enough to rouse faith, there is nothing more that God Himself will do. In spite of every desperate plea of our blessed Lord, the majority of His countrymen refuse to believe. They refuse to believe the preaching of John that the time is at hand. They refuse to believe the preaching of Jesus that today the Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing. They refuse to believe that God has visited them.

Instead, they continue to depend on the Temple rituals while overlooking the sacrificial Lamb to end all sacrificial lambs. Instead, they put their faith in commerce, turning a “house of prayer” into a “den of thieves.” Instead, they continue following the blind guides: the chief priests and scribes, the leaders of the people intent on destroying Jesus instead of intent on repenting of the sins that Jesus has come to destroy.

And Jesus, heartbroken, filled with a sadness born of frustration and unrequited love, weeps as Jerusalem comes into view on His final walk into the crown jewel of Israel, the City of David, before He was to be enthroned on a cross bearing the word “king” while wearing a crown of thorns. .

For our Lord knows exactly what is to come to pass precisely forty years after He is to become the one all-availing sacrifice for the life of the world. In 70 AD, the Temple will be utterly leveled, surrounded and mercilessly bombarded by the enemies of God and His people. The Romans will heartlessly and ruthlessly kill anyone in the way – including children yet to be born.

And yet, Jesus does not force history to conform to the will of God – not even to spare the holocaust to come forty years in the future about which He knows everything. But forty years before the fall of Jerusalem, shortly after the Lord Jesus’ impending entry into Jerusalem, the holocaust of holocausts is about to happen – the crucifixion of God in the flesh, the sacrifice of the Lamb for the sake of the flock. And notice that this Shepherd weeps not for Himself, the sacrificial Lamb, but rather sheds tears for those sheep who insist on straying into the very mouth of the lion.

As Paul proclaims in our epistle, Israel did not rely on the visitation of the Lord, did not seek salvation by the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus – but stubbornly clung to the law, deluded by the lie of their own righteousness. To them, Jesus had become a stumbling-block. For our Lord stands inconveniently in the way of all those who believe they need no visitation from God to make them righteous.

For it would be the Gentiles – the people who did not have the Old Testament and the prophets – who would not be too proud to accept the charity of God and admit their utter failure to obey the law. Notice that Paul, a Jew like his Lord Jesus, is also crushed in his spirit. His heart’s desire to the “God of Israel” is that “they may be saved.” He pleads with his fellow Israelites to submit to “God’s righteousness.” As Paul preaches, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

For again, belief, that is, faith, simply can’t be compelled. Faith is a humble submission to the unpleasant truth over and against our sinful desire to define the truth by a pleasant lie.

Again and again, prophets called Israel to repentance. In our Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah (who was also known as the “weeping prophet”) bewails the fact that evil has become so ordinary that people no longer even “know how to blush.” They have no shame – let alone a desire to repent. So deluded are they that they reject the word of the prophets – which is the Word of God. They “hold fast to deceit.”

But the good news today, dear brothers and sisters, is that we are part of the Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic assembly of believers, members of His very body by virtue of Holy Baptism. For we can take comfort that it is only by the Holy Spirit, by God Himself, that we can confess “Jesus is Lord.” Unlike the majority of our Lord’s countrymen, we know the “time of our visitation.” God has come in the flesh. And that flesh was crucified for us poor, miserable sinners. His blood was spilled as a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. That flesh and blood are given to us as a gift of life, made into a form we can eat and drink – precisely because we know who is visiting us, and why we need visited in the first place.

To come to this communion rail is to say to God before everyone in this congregation and before everyone in the world that you are unable to save yourself. You are admitting failure. You are accepting blame for your sins. When you kneel here, you are a beggar, a bum in search of a handout. You are telling your neighbor and yourself that you are not a good person. You are a sinner. But you are also a sinner who confesses the unpleasant truth and believes that here, in this church, God is visiting you. If you didn’t believe this, you wouldn’t humiliate yourself with the rest of us “poor miserable sinners” and bow and scrape for God’s charity.

Thanks be to God that we are willing to beg handouts, to plead for the crumbs that fall from the Lord’s table. For that is the kind of faith Jesus wishes with all of His heart that Jerusalem had. When we confess our sins, confess our faith in God’s grace, and confess Jesus as Lord, He who created all things visible and invisible weeps for us as well - tears of joy. Heaven itself rejoices over every sinner that repents. We sing the praises of the Lamb “with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven” every time faith impels us to seek Him who has come to us in His flesh and blood in this City of God, in this Jerusalem, this Salem, at this time of our visitation.

“For Christ is the end,” that is, the fulfillment “of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Amen.

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

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