Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sermon: Quinquagesima and Baptism of Megan Elizabeth Smith

22 February 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 18:31-43 (Isa 35:3-7, 1 Cor 13:1-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Luke gives us not just one, but two accounts of blindness. The most obvious is the blind man on the road. He is a beggar. He hears the commotion, and upon learning that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, the blind man cries out with a prayer that we repeat nearly every time we gather for divine service: “Have mercy on me!” He addresses Jesus as “Son of David,” thus appealing to Jesus as no mere commoner, but as a Lord, a man of royal blood.

We repeat this prayer when we sing: “Lord, have mercy upon us” in our liturgy.

To the dismay of many, the blind beggar refuses to be silent. He continues to pray for mercy. He continues to confess Jesus as “Son of David.” He continues to forcefully ask for the attention of the Lord.

And he gets it!

“What do you want me to do for you?” asks the merciful Son of David. “Lord,” he replies, “let me recover my sight.” The Lord commands it to be done, saying: “your faith has made you well.”

Thus sight replaces blindness, wholeness replaces brokenness, health replaces infirmity – all given by the Word and physical presence of Jesus, all received by the man’s faith.

But this isn’t the only example of blindness.

Just before, the Lord Jesus takes the twelve aside and speaks His Word to them, plainly without parables, straight talk without symbolism, speaking of Himself, He says: “For he will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But the disciples cannot understand what He is saying. The simple meaning of His blunt words were “hidden from them.” They were themselves blinded to what He was telling them.

Just as the faith of the beggar made him well and gave him sight, the lack of faith of the disciples left them in the dark, blinding them to the prophetic utterance of our Blessed Lord.

Often, the Lord rebukes the disciples as “you of little faith.” He is often frustrated, if not outright flabbergasted at their spiritual blindness. And yet, He continues to love them.

He patiently and kindly continues to preach to them in spite of their weak faith. He does not boast or lord over them, nor arrogantly or rudely hold His divine nature over their heads. Though He is “the Way,” He does not force the disciples or compel them – in fact, one of them would leave the Way by his own fallen free will. Jesus is not irritable or resentful, nor does He rejoice when His disciples behave foolishly and childishly. Rather, our Lord Jesus always rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, even being delivered to His enemies to be mocked, spat upon, flogged, and killed. He believes all things, never abandoning His Father’s will though His body and soul are utterly agonized by the cup He must drink. Our Lord Jesus Christ endures to the end, and even then beyond, to the blessed hope of the resurrection.

His love never ends.

For He promises to hold even those of weak faith in the palms of His battered and bloodied hands, imprinted with nails, and yet raised in blessing over those of little faith. He promises that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.”

And what a great joy and blessing this is to us today, dear brothers and sisters. For we are not only like the blind beggar crying out: “Son of David, have mercy on me,” as we cry out in our private prayers and public liturgy to our Lord who draws near to hear us. Even as He proclaims: “your faith has made you well,” we are also like the disciples, weak of faith, and at times perplexed by the simple and direct Word of God.

How little faith we display! How often are we shocked when the Lord answers our prayers? How often are we amazed at the report of a miracle? How often do we pray thinking that the Lord will never grant what we ask? When we behave in this way, we are more like the disciples who are weak in faith than we resemble the blind beggar whose faith made him well.

For faith is belief. If we truly believe, we should never marvel at miracles. We should never pray out of despair, but always out of hope. We should never take God’s grace for granted, or ever see anything as more important than being in the miraculous presence of God in the divine service.

But we are blinded by our weak faith. We who don’t flinch at spending hours in front of a TV or at a movie or at a sporting event will fidget and fuss if the service “takes too long.” We have plenty of faith in pledging to pay a mortgage and a car note, but balk at committing even a small amount to support the work of our congregation. We who would never miss a day of work are quick not to pray. We who wouldn’t think of missing a meal at a nice restaurant think nothing about missing the Lord’s Supper if church attendance becomes inconvenient.

But there is hope for all of us of little faith, just as there was indeed hope for the disciples. Hear the prophet again, who was told to “strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees.” He tells us as the Lord commanded him: “Be strong; fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

He has indeed come to save us: from sin, death, and hell, from the grave, from mourning and frustration, from the devil, from our sinful flesh, and from our weak faith.

Hear the prophet Isaiah yet again: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

The Lord accomplishes this through His Word and by His Sacraments. He draws us into His own faith by His own command and through His own death and resurrection. Just as little Megan was born again today by water and the Word, every Christian can and must cling to the promise our Lord made as he washed us in the waters of regeneration: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”

This, dear friends, is why we, the baptized (and unworthy) children of God, come back week after week to this place, to where baptismal water flows, where forgiving words resonate, where the miraculous presence of the Lord Jesus Himself in His Holy Supper strengthen our faith and deliver the promise of sins forgiven. We Christians gather here not because we are strong in faith, but because we are weak. The well need no physician. The perfect need no Savior. Those with impeccable faith do not need the Holy Word and the Holy Sacraments.

And that is exactly why He gives us eyes to see and faith to believe. He makes us well by the very faith He imparts to us. And we beggars can plead and cry out in faith – even faith that is at times like a dimly burning wick. We are indeed weak and blind. We certainly need a Savior.

And though we are like the disciples of little faith, we are also like the blind beggar crying out to the Lord Jesus Christ for help, again and again, week after week, year after year: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And again and again, week after week, year after year, we hear our Lord answer this prayer: “Recover your sight. Your faith has made you well.” Amen.

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

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