Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sermon: Quinquagesima – 2012

19 February 2012 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.

“Lord, have mercy upon us! Christ, have mercy upon us! Lord, have mercy upon us!” Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord Jesus has great encouragement in store for us today, and it is wrapped in an irony that should make us stop and ponder its meaning: the blind who see, and those with sight who lack vision.

No less than “the twelve,” – the followers of Jesus, the holy apostles themselves – were subject to fits of blindness, such as when our Lord told them something incredibly important: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”

This sounds like something they would do well to pay close attention to, and if they aren’t understanding it, maybe they should ask Jesus some questions.

Our Lord continues, speaking about Himself: “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.”

Our blessed Lord has just revealed to the Twelve the eternal mystery of the atoning passion, death, and resurrection of God in the flesh. This does sound kind of important, no?

“But they” – the followers of Jesus – “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

They are blind to the very clear preaching of Jesus. They don’t want to hear it. Maybe they are paying attention to other things. Maybe they are focusing on what they want to be true rather than what is true. Maybe they have forgotten that they are the sheep and that our Lord is the Shepherd, and they would do well to pay attention, even when (and maybe especially when) it seems hard. At any rate, they don’t see it.

But, dear friends, contrast this with what comes next.

A blind man, not a disciple of Jesus, but a shameful beggar, cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Without even being able to see, this blind man (who is an embarrassment to the community) has the vision of Jesus as the “Son of David,” as the Messiah, as the living Vessel of the living God’s life-giving mercy.

And his vision of Jesus bears fruit, as Jesus restores the man’s sight, proclaiming: “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And, as St. Luke reports, “immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”

This is so typical of God’s kingdom (which is anything but typical). The blind man sees. The one who cries out for mercy receives it. But at the same time, the ones who don’t like what Jesus has to say manage not to understand the simple message of the Gospel.

This blindness of the disciples concerning the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus would hang over them up to the first Easter itself. For even though Jesus told them over and over what was to happen, they were blinded by their own conceit and sense of self-destiny to see what was coming. Peter told Jesus this was just not going to happen. James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’s right and left. They were blinded by ambition and their own wants.

It was not until the risen Christ appeared to the apostles that they were to finally see, really see, what Jesus revealed to them on the way to Jerusalem. And it would not be until the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost that the apostles would go forth from Jerusalem not only “seeing,” not only understanding, but also proclaiming, preaching, opening the eyes of those in Jerusalem and all over the world who were trapped by the darkness of idolatry and the blindness of sin.

Dear friends, our Lord invites us to take to heart the prayer of the blind beggar s we join him in our liturgy: “Lord, have mercy upon us!” We too are blind beggars crying out for mercy: “Christ, have mercy upon us!” We blind beggars given sight, by God’s grace through Christ, are also invited to give praise to God with our prayer of hope: “Lord have mercy upon us!”

We are invited to leave our own self-inflicted blindness, to stop being beguiled by the world’s trinkets and distractions, to truly listen to Jesus and really understand His Word, to pay attention to the proclamation of the preachers of every time and place who have come to announce the grace of God as the Lord’s mercy that is indeed upon us.

We are approaching a time of year to have our blindness lifted, a season of study and understanding, of crying out for mercy, of fasting, of praying, of almsgiving, of confession, of repentance, of seeing, truly seeing our desperate need for a Savior. We are coming into a season where we will have the opportunity to be immersed in the Lord’s mercy by increased study of His Word and by a more frequent participation in His Sacraments.

The theme of Lent has always been: “Lord, have mercy on me!” And what is “mercy” but love in action, love our Lord has for us in redeeming and healing us, and love that impels us to glorify God in our own acts of mercy in love for our fellow sinners?

St. Paul teaches us anew about this love, this perfect love, this Christian love showered upon us recklessly by our merciful Lord like throws from a parade float, love that we in turn share liberally with our fellow blind beggars who likewise lack vision apart from Christ.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

If we have all of the doctrines of the Bible and of the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther and of the entire Book of Concord and of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, but lack love, we are nothing.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

This love is what our Lord brings to the blind man. Love is what impels our Lord to “endure all things” – even a cross, even to be “mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.” Love is what motivates our Lord to show mercy upon us by enduring flogging, crucifixion, and being laid in a tomb. And it is love that raised our Lord Jesus from the grave. And the Lord loves us even when we do not understand these things, being blinded by our own sinfulness and selfishness. For he has come to show mercy to the blind, to save sinners, to bring life to the dead and pardon to the lost.

Let us open our eyes! Let us see the vision of the Lord Jesus in His passion, death, and resurrection, in His Word and Sacraments, in the fellowship of His saints – which is to say, dear brothers and sisters, in His mercy and in His love!

Our Lord has come to give us vision, not only to see our own sinfulness “in a mirror dimly,” but to see our merciful Lord as He is “face to face.” For in His passion, death, and resurrection, we have redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life. We have victory over sin, death, and the devil. And we are indeed given the gifts of “faith, hope, and love.”

As the Lord’s servant, I proclaim anew to you what our Lord Jesus and the apostles have proclaimed to the world, what God has revealed through the preaching of the prophet Isaiah, words Isaiah likewise preached to a people who have been beaten down by their oppressors and by a world that does not care to understand the Word of the Word made flesh, a Word of encouragement and hope, a Word of mercy and perfect love:

“Be strong; fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened.”

“Recover your sight,” dear brothers and sisters, “your faith has made you well.”

“Lord, have mercy upon us! Christ, have mercy upon us! Lord, have mercy upon us!” Amen.

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The Apostles could not see regardless of how hard they tried.

This is what our Lord told them on Maundy Thursday, John 14:26, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

When did they receive the Holy Spirit? On Easter Sunday, John 20: 22, “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Did they then suddenly know everything? There is no specific answer in Scripture to this question, but their behavior, particularly in Acts 1, makes it clear that they understood very little. This is exactly what happens to all of the newly baptized when they receive the Holy Spirit. They also do not suddenly know everything, but through their lives in the Kingdom they become more and more knowledgeable as they grow in the faith. We would not know that if our Lord in His mercy had not decreed that fifty day period between His Resurrection and Pentecost.

So what happened on Pentecost? Just before His Ascension, our Lord told them, Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." On Pentecost they received this power. This was a unique gift to the Apostles; they had already been given the Holy Spirit. The new-born Church could not wait years for the 11 to come to the full knowledge of the faith in the normal course of event. St. Paul also received his knowledge by revelation.

Every baptized child of God has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, even as the first converts on Pentecost, Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” and as St. Paul taught, Romans 8:9, “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

Therefore, we today can see. Not if we make a real effort, but because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. As Lutherans correctly believe, He still works through means, one of which is His Word.

1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?” We are beggars.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart