Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sermon: Quinquagesima - 2011

6 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 18:31-43

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

God’s kingdom is filled with contrasts, with unexpected twists, with surprises. In God’s kingdom, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see. In God’s kingdom the proudly religious are condemned, the mighty are weak, and those with eyes to see and ears to hear are spiritually blind and deaf.

For the third time, Jesus has explained to the twelve – His chosen students who have been with Him for three years – just what was going to happen: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and 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.”

He tells this to them plainly, without figures of speech, without using a parable, and without any accompanying sign. And yet, they didn’t get it. “They understood none of these things.” Their ears heard Him say it, but they did not truly “hear” Him. Their eyes saw Him explain this to them in person, yet they didn’t “see” the reality right before their eyes. They didn’t believe Him because they didn’t want to believe Him. His kingdom was not what they expected, not what they hoped for, not what they desired. They wanted no talk of suffering and of the cross.

And that, dear brothers and sisters, their desire, is what gets in the way of their faith. Their own will (that is contrary to God’s will) interferes with their belief – even something so simple and direct as the Lord’s clear and unequivocal explanation of what was going to happen in Jerusalem.

The foundation of the Church, the apostles, the Lord’s first wave of preachers, these twelve men who would first receive the Lord’s Supper and first be commissioned to administer it to others, eleven of whom who would be filled by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, these men destined for greatness in spreading the Gospel through preaching and signs and wonders under great hardship, even unto martyrdom, who saw Jesus perform three years worth of miracles with their very eyes – were on this day, blind as bats.

Their own expectations and desires made them so.

How different is the blind man! He had not walked with Jesus for three years. His eyes have never beheld even a single miracle. His crippling debilitation had made it necessary for him to beg for a living. He knew no sense of pride, no identity as part of the inner circle. In fact, he was shunned by polite company, by the establishment. And that, dear friends, is a beautiful picture of God’s kingdom. For what better explanation is there of prayer and God’s grace and the Christian life than to confess before God and man that we beg for a living? That is all we can do. We are shunned and scorned by the world, and all that we can do is hold our empty hands heavenward and humbly plead for divine grace and mercy. Unlike the apostles who have their sight but do not see, this blind beggar sees the reality of the kingdom.

In his faith and in his reliance on the grace of God, he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He knows who Jesus is. He is the Son of David, “written about… by the prophets.” He is the Messiah, the One who comes in hope to usher in a new kingdom, a kingdom in which “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.” In His blindness, he sees, and in his faith, he cries out for mercy. And in His mercy, the Lord comes to him, hears his prayer, and delivers his sight back to him.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’”

Who could have predicted or imagined that the holy apostles, the men upon whose ministry the Lord would build His Church, would be so lacking in faith after three years of seeing miracles and hearing the Gospel, while the real example of faith, the one who truly understands the kingdom of God, would be this beggar that the world holds with condescension and contempt.

Indeed, God’s kingdom is filled with contrasts, with unexpected twists, with surprises. In God’s kingdom, the lost are found, the confident are brought to self-doubt, the blind see, the proud are humbled, the lowly are lifted up, the deaf are serenaded with the sweet music of forgiveness, the mute are empowered to sing and pray and praise God with a loud voice, the sinner is forgiven and made righteous, given a new life and a fresh start, the haughty are brought down a peg and the despicable one who repents finds everlasting life and salvation.

Dear friends, let us give thanks and praise to God for raising up this blind beggar, for he is our teacher in the faith as surely as Sts. Peter and Paul and the whole lot of the apostles, the Church fathers, the theologians, and the doctors of the faith. This simple blind beggar has given the Church a part of her liturgy that she has sung for century upon century – even as we continue to sing today: “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.” This is our greatest prayer in our time of trouble and distress. For this prayer identifies the cause of our misery – our need for God’s mercy. Only a sinner is in need of mercy. And only from a world of sin do we seek refuge.

And this is why the blind beggar’s prayer is not only a liturgical prayer of the Divine Service, it is also a deeply personal meditation prayed by Christians around the world, an individual cry for mercy from a soul in distress. It is fittingly known as “the Jesus prayer,” and it is often prayed as follows: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

It acknowledges our own sin. It does not try to cover up our need for a Savior. It makes no boasts or haughty claims. It is a cry of a beggar. It is a cry for pity. But most important of all, it is a cry to the Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the fleshly God, the One who has mercy, the One who is mercy, the One who gives mercy. Ironically uttered by a blind man with the faith to see with spiritual eyes, in contrast to those who see, who accept the world on reason alone, who can see creation’s beautiful sunsets but cannot see the need for the Creator to die on the cross to become our Savior, whose desires get in the way of spiritual sight – even the twelve.

And yet, thanks be to God, the Lord doesn’t give up on His apostles. He gives them the same mercy sought by the beggar. He gives them the same heavenly vision that He had already delivered to the blind beggar. And though we do not know his name, the Lord does, the Lord who hears his prayer and answers his cry for mercy with healing and blessing. And though his name is lost to history, his prayer rings out in churches of every time and place and by Christians seeking divine help in every corner of the globe: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Amen.

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

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