Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sermon: Quinquagesima

3 February 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 18: 31-43 (1 Samuel 16:1-13, 1 Cor 13:1-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Gospel puts together two different readings that seem to have nothing to do with one another. First, Jesus speaks bluntly with the twelve, telling them what is going to happen: they are going to Jerusalem, Jesus will be arrested and handed over to the Romans, He will be abused and tortured, He will be executed – and He will rise from the dead. “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them.” It’s as though they were blinded to the plain truth given them from the very mouth of Jesus. They just didn’t get it.

Immediately thereafter, Jesus and His followers encounter a blind beggar who cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” He continues to repeat this prayer – just as we do in our liturgy: “Lord, have mercy upon us!” This is what peasants would cry out when the king went by in a parade, bearing gifts. The king would throw coins or goodies toward his subjects in response. This blind beggar, unlike the twelve, gets it. He understands that Jesus is the King who stands in the train of King David. This king tosses more than coins and baubles – but rather He dispenses life and healing.

Jesus responds to the man’s request for gifts, this blind man’s cry of “Throw me something mister!” by stopping and speaking to Him. He asks, “What do you want?” The man, though blind, is not blinded to the reality that this King can work miracles. He asks: “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Our Lord uses His words to heal him: “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”

Whereas the twelve were blinded to our Lord’s plain words, their faith being small – blinded by what they saw with their eyes, hidden by their own expectations and desires, this blind beggar saw by faith that this King could recreate His broken body and make him whole. This man came in hope and faith. He expected to receive gifts from the King, mercy and loving-kindness, and He believed that the King could, and would, deliver.

In our Old Testament reading, Samuel was seeking the royal ancestor of Jesus, the replacement for King Saul. The Lord chose the smallest, youngest, and least likely-looking king to rule Israel. Samuel was commanded to anoint this unlikely David as king. In the Greek language, Samuel was commanded to “Christ” him with oil. For God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one who establishes the Kingdom. It is a Kingdom that defies our expectations and refuses to conform to what our fallen sinful eyes expect, and even demand, to see.

Apart from the eyes of faith, Samuel could not have envisioned David to have been the great king of Israel. Apart from the eyes of faith, the twelve could not understand that the Kingdom of God would be ushered in by the Lord’s cross and passion, by His death and resurrection. Apart from the eyes of faith, the blind beggar would have been unable to see that this unlikely descendant of the unlikely king David would be able to do the work that only God Himself could do.

For from this faith is born hope. And as Paul tells us in our epistle, “we see in a mirror, dimly.” We look in the mirror and see a poor, miserable sinner.

But with the eyes of faith, we the sinful, we who have confronted our sins, we who have been turned into beggars by the law, we the baptized, we the forgiven, we who cry out in faith and hope “Lord, have mercy” – we who confess our sins and know to where we must go to receive restoration and healing – we pray to him in hope and by faith. This is the same faith that made the blind beggar well.

But St. Paul tells us that there is even something greater and more powerful than this hope that leads us to Jesus, and this faith that believes in Jesus – and that is love. For the beggar reached out in faith and hope, and His King reached back to Him in love – the same love that causes God the Father in mercy to send His Son. And in love and mercy, the Son dies for his beloved creation, freely giving them eyes of faith, restoration, reason to hope and something in which to have faith. The Holy Spirit too rests upon the Anointed One, the Christ, and upon those who have been given His name in holy baptism.

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Lord, have mercy, have love for us, throw us your gifts, restore our sight, increase our faith, give us hope, forgive us our sins, grant us everlasting life!

For look at what our Lord promises and gives, by His Word, to the blind beggar who prays with us the Kyrie, the blind man who begs for mercy over and over. Jesus says: “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And look what happens! “Immediately, he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”

The blind beggar has become a disciple, a man whose sight has been restored, whose flesh has been cured, who retains his faith in the one who showed him mercy and showered him with His gifts. He follows Jesus, and he glorifies God.

The people around, whose eyes have seen this great wonder, are strengthened in their faith. They too place their hope in Him who has given the blind beggar not only his sight but the riches of the Kingdom. The people join the former blind beggar in giving praise to God. We continue to join them in their praise, in their hope, and in their faith – as we continue to join with the prayer “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.”

And the Lord continues to give out His mercy to every soul who raises his hands heavenward crying out for some of His gifts to be thrown to them.

The annual ritual of Carnival is a symbol of the Christian life. For we beggars stand on the side of the street as our Lord and King is raised up before us. We cry out to Him for mercy with hopeful and expectant hands raised. Our King delivers. He casts His gifts from heaven lovingly toward us, giving us His mercy, knowing that our faith has made us well, by the grace of our King, our Rex.

When you see a crucifix, you may see four letters on top: “INRI.” This is an abbreviation of the Latin inscription on our Lord’s cross. The third letter “R” stands for Rex. For Jesus is the King, the Son of David, the Ruler of the Universe, the one by whose cross we share in the Kingdom of Heaven.

And like parade-goers, no-one whose hands are raised up in faith and hope goes home empty-handed. The Lord’s mercy endures forever. This Rex is a true Rex, the King of all Creation, the Son of God and the Son of Man. He who gives sight to the blind gives hope and faith to His beloved people.

No-one who cries out in faith and hope: “Lord, have mercy” will go away without treasures. And these treasures are not of this world, where rust and moth and flood waters destroy, but rather this Anointed Son of David, our Christus Rex, flings to us heavenly treasures – tossed to us in love and mercy, bestowed upon us by His holy Word and by His holy sacraments.

May we see Him with eyes of faith, never too proud to beg, never in arrogance so as to miss the point of His Kingdom, but rather with humble hands outstretched in hope and faith, receiving His love and mercy and storing up treasures in heaven in a Kingdom that has no end. Amen.

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

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