Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sermon: Lent 5 - Judica - Baptism of Lila Kelly Franovich

29 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 8:42-59 (Gen 22:1-14, Heb 9:11-15)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Like most books, the Bible is a narrative, a story. And all stories are based on some kind of a conflict. In this narrative upon which all stories are based, we are drawn in, quite literally, into the most fundamental conflict of all: the war between good and evil.

And the conflict between Jesus and His detractors, revealed to us by St. John the Evangelist, is this very battle encapsulated.

For the Lord Jesus Christ, God Himself, has come into the flesh as a Man for one reason: to vindicate man before God. He has come to bury the hatchet, and to bury it into the neck of the father of lies. For even as the Latin name of this Sunday in Lent, Judica, bespeaks, our vindication at the hands of our Lord is also a judgment, and it will be Satan who is under that judgment.

And yet, the father of lies has so deluded the many that only the few follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, we still hear the kinds of attacks upon Christ today as St. John reported them twenty centuries ago. Notice the confusion between good and evil. Here, we see the One born to crush evil and bring man back to Paradise in perfect communion with God, but what do the people say? They say Jesus is Himself evil. And when Jesus Himself reveals that He is God, that He is the great “I AM” of the Old Testament, the sons of the devil seek to put Jesus to death.

But it was not His time yet to be the sacrifice.

This conflict sums up the most important question facing mankind. It is not about the environment, not about the economy, not about the political future of our world. The most important question in our own lives has nothing to do with where we will live or how prosperous and healthy we will be.

In the case of little Lila, the most pressing question of all, of most importance to her parents, is not where she will go to school, whom she will marry, or what she will do with her life. No indeed, all of these questions are of less importance than the big question: “What will Lila confess about Jesus.” For if she will confess with her mouth and believe with her heart that Christ is Lord, she will have eternal life.

And we know that Lila will likely grow up in a world increasingly hostile toward Christianity – which is why it is imperative that she be taught the catechism, taught to pray, and taught to confess Jesus. She must be brought to the Lord’s House to hear the Word, and she must see her parents back up what she will be taught with their own good confession of who Christ is, and what glorious gifts he offers in this place.

And Lila is not only off to a good start, she is off to the best start. For we heard her good confession this morning, articulated by her parents and sponsors in her name. Today, we all witnessed her being baptized into the name of the Most Holy Trinity, by water and the Spirit. She was sealed with the Holy Spirit, forgiven all her sins – her own and all those she inherited. And she was born again, crucified with Christ so that she might rise with Christ.

For as much as Lila’s parents love her, and would lay down their own lives for her – her Father loves her all the more, and has already given up His only begotten Son so that she might live.

If you have ever doubted whether or not God loved you, you need only look at a crucifix. For especially those of us who are parents cannot even imagine sacrificing our own dear child for someone else’s life. If you have ever wondered about God the Father’s love toward you, you have had that question answered by Moses this morning. For Abraham feared God to the point where he unflinchingly offered his only dear son, showing that he “[had] not withheld [his] son, his only son,” from God. And in that steadfastness, that “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” the Lord provided Abraham with a sacrificial lamb.

But the story of Abraham and Isaac is more than just a thrilling tale of suspense, it is the true story that prophetically waited for centuries to be fulfilled in Christ. For in Jesus, the roles are reversed. This time, God demonstrates that He withholds nothing, absolutely nothing, from His beloved people. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Just as Abraham could look into his son’s pleading eyes, and yet could sacrifice the one thing to him most dear – such is the love of our Father in heaven for us, dear friends. That is the love our Father has for dear Lila. The death of the Son means the eternal life of the daughter.

For Jesus is even greater than the miraculously supplied lamb that took Isaac’s place at the altar. Christ is the Victim who is also the High Priest. “He entered once for all into the holy places,” says the writer of Hebrews, “not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

This is the Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, the only begotten Son with whom the Father was well pleased, the one confessed by Lila’s earthly parents, by her sponsors, by all of you in this congregation, and indeed by the entire Church catholic of every time and place. It is this solemn and holy confession that sends the demons running for cover and wrecks every plan and plot of him who blinded those who refused to see that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Redeeming King and Priest, the Sacrifice, the one into whose name Lila and all Christians are baptized.

And yes, there will be people who will want to throw stones at Lila and at all Christians, even as they did our Lord. For today, Lila was marked by the crosshairs that make her a target of the evil one, but she was indeed marked by the cross of Jesus Christ that protects her from the father of lies.

This, dear friends, is why we baptize, why we catechize, and why we ask parents and sponsors to make a solemn vow that they will accept any burden and will fight to the death against any foe, human or demon, who would seek to harm their children. Our weapons in this battle are prayer, the Word of God, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Supper. For in the Supper, we drink the blood that truly saves us – not the blood of goats and bulls and heifers – but the very blood of Christ, and indeed, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

For indeed, we know how the story ends. We now who Jesus is. We believe it, confess it, and teach it. We bring all the baptized into this fellowship, and we arm them for the inevitable battle they will do against evil. And even though people can be duped into disbelief, the demons know who Christ is, and they fear Him. They know that He comes through baptism, and they loathe it. They know that God bears eternal life out of love, and they cannot withstand this reminder of their defeat.

Dear brothers and sisters, even in this somber time of Lent, we rejoice in what God has done to give Lila a second birth, to call her, to name her, to place her under His holy jurisdiction, and, motivated by nothing other than love, grace, mercy, and unmerited justification, has delivered and made good on the “promised eternal inheritance” won by Him whom Lila will confess as her Master and Savior, and to whom we all pray: “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For You are the God of my strength.” Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

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