Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sermon: Commemoration of St. Anselm

21 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:11-16 (Ez 34:11-16, 1 Pet 2:21-25)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Everything we need to know about Jesus is recorded in the Bible.

And yet, the Lord raises up preachers and teachers in every generation who can articulate the Holy Scriptures and proclaim the Gospel in ways that help us to understand God. Such teachers do not add to the Word of God, but rather explain and provide the Church with clarity.

St. Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who died on this date in 1109, exactly 901 years ago, was one such preacher and teacher. All over the world today, Christians are thanking God for his ministry and witness of our Lord Jesus Christ and his preaching of the the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross as a payment for our sins.

Bishop Anselm wrote a classic book called Why God Became Man. He wrestled with the idea of God taking on human flesh, and taught with great clarity that our Lord became incarnate in order to die, that He died as a sacrifice, and that His sacrifice appeased God’s wrath and satisfied the Lord’s demand for blood as a payment for sin.

St. Anselm taught very clearly what we call today the “substitutionary atonement,” the idea that Jesus died in our place, taking our sins vicariously to the cross, and winning salvation for us as our “all availing sacrifice.”

This idea is hardly new. But sometimes these simple, biblical ideas need to be rediscovered by the Church.

St. Paul teaches us as much when he points out that the consequence of our justification by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peace doesn’t happen by chance. Peace is the end of strife, and as we sang on Easter, “the strife is o’er, the battle done.” Jesus has won the war and secured the peace. The devil has been conquered, and the price paid to God for sin - the wage that the law demands - has been satisfied. And this is what our Lord meant when He cried as He breathed His last on the cross: “it is finished.”

For “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That “for us” means “in our place.” Just as the innocent Christ died to set free the guilty Barabbas, our Lord is the bloody sacrificial “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

This past Sunday, the Lord was described as the Good Shepherd. Today, He is cast as the Condemned Sheep, the Scapegoat who bears our sins so that we don’t have to. For as St. Paul explains: “Since, therefore, we have been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.”

His blood, like the blood of the Passover Lamb, turns away the angel of death. His blood, however, is even better than the "blood of goats and calves," for it is His own blood, the blood of our perfect and holy High Priest, God in the flesh who lays down His flesh, who redeems our flesh, who rises in His flesh, and who makes our flesh clean and immortal.

Our enmity with God is ended. The war is over. “It is finished!” Peace has broken out. And Jesus is the Prince of Peace. “For if we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.”

This reconciliation took place at the cross. This once-for-all sacrifice, given to us as a gift, delivered to us in Word and Sacrament, and pleading for us at the judgment, at the end of our lives on this side of the grave, and at the end of time itself – is what St. Anselm preached, taught, wrote, and proclaimed – from the pulpit and in the lecture hall, through episcopal letters to His diocese, and in theological texts studied by theologians.

Anselm taught what Paul teaches, what Jesus does, and what we have been charged to confess before the whole world: that Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh, that He died a sacrificial death as a substitution, dying in our place, enduring the wrath we deserve, and rolling back millennia of strife between our righteous Creator and his mutinous creatures.

And like the troubled monk Martin Luther who struggled with his sinful nature, but who was comforted by his father in Christ, Dr. Staupitz, who quoted to Luther the Psalm we heard anew: “I am Yours, save me,” we too “have obtained access by faith” to pray this little prayer of trust to our heavenly Father: “I am Yours, save me.”

For our God is not just our Creator. He is not just the Righteous One against whom our sinful flesh rebels. He is not just the almighty, omnipotent, and omniscient judge whom we will face at the end of our lives and at the end of time. Indeed, our God is our Savior. He rescues us. He pulls us out of the pit. He endures the cross so we don’t have to. He preserves us from all evil and gives us eternal life. This is the Good News, the Gospel of the Christian faith. And without the atonement, the price paid by Jesus in full, our faith would be just one more failed attempt to keep the law perfectly. That is how we can pray with the Psalmist, with Dr. Staupitz, with Dr. Luther, with St. Anselm, and with myriads of saints of every age: “I am Yours, save me.”

St. Anselm taught us that Christianity is not a system to reach up to God, but rather the reception of a gift through faith – the bloody gift of the sacrificial death of Jesus for us.

This simple idea is not always clear – not even to scholars and churchmen. For even as our Lord prays: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” He taught us that the kingdom belongs to such as these little ones. He called upon us to turn and be like children. And He implored us to let the little ones come to Him.

We have been brought to Him in Holy Baptism, bathed not in the “blood of goats and calves,” but rather cleansed by the “washing of regeneration,” born again “by water and the Spirit.” The Father reveals Himself in His Son through the Holy Spirit, and He bids us: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The Lord Jesus has done all the heavy lifting of securing our salvation through the cross, by His blood, by virtue of His death as a sacrifice, all delivered to us in Word and Sacrament. All that is left for us to do is to receive the gifts in faith. The Lord’s yoke laid upon Him at Golgotha was burdensome. We cannot even begin to imagine what our blessed Lord suffered and endured on our behalf. But listen to what He has secured for us, hear the Good News again, brothers and sisters of our risen Christ, listen to Him anew, as He says: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Thanks be to God for teachers like St. Anselm, the archbishop of Canterbury, doctor of the Church, and confessor of the simple Gospel of Jesus. And what’s more, thanks be to God for our Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, the One who has secured our salvation and given us life that will have no end. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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


Peter said...

Amen on Anselm!

Past Elder said...

Let us not forget that Anselm was one of the grand and glorious, great and uproarious, Order of St Benedict.

Or that satisfaction is not entirely the same as substitution.

Or that he was rather gifted in dealing with the secular powers that ruled the "church".

Handle with care.

Tim said...

I admit this-
while I do not deny Substitutionary Atonement, I have come to see that it is not the only way to describe Christ's work on the Cross. It know bothers me that Substitutionary Atonement is taught to the extent of what is now popularly called the "Christus Victor" theory being excluded.

Of course, I could blame it on my reading of Church History.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Tim:

I know substitutionary atonement is outright denied by some Christian groups, and Lutherans are sometimes accused of denying the Christus Victor motif, but our liturgy, hymns, and Book of Concord are replete with examples of both.

What I find instead (among Lutherans) is an overemphasis on justification to the detriment of sanctification - which we "ought to have done, without neglecting" the former (paraphrasing Matt 23:23).

I think these theories of the atonement are both/and rather than either/or matters.

Tim said...

I too think that it is a "both/and" situation.

I also see quite an overemphasis on justification in Lutheranism, to the neglect of santification. Of course, in my experience, Lutherans have quite a difficult time explaining sanctification in any way.

Which leads me to my next question, something I've been pondering:
Is there a difference (if only to human eyes) between Justifying Grace and Sanctifying Grace?

Past Elder said...

Sanctifying grace IS justifying grace. Distinct from actual grace, sanctifying grace is that which is infused at Baptism, which remains permanent in the soul making the person a son of God, and even if this bond is broken due to mortal sin, ie a sin mortal to this life of God, upon repentance is restored.

Actual grace is where the differences arise. Actual grace is just that, connected to person's acts, rather than to his state of being as with sanctifying grace. Enter Pelagius, Augustine, total depravity, supererogation and the works.