Sunday, March 02, 2014

Sermon: Quinquagesima – 2014

2 March 2014

Text: Luke 18:31-43 (1 Sam 16:1-13, 1 Cor 13:1-13)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christianity is very popular today.  Christianity is very unpopular today.  And this paradox is as old as the faith itself, as we can see clearly in our Gospel for Quinquagesima.

In today’s culture, Jesus is beloved as a teacher of ethics.  He taught the golden rule.  He preached against religious hypocrisy and obsession with religious ritual over and against love.  He promoted peace and encouraged the taking care of the poor and the marginalized.  The world connects the dots between Jesus and Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. 

However, it is also true that in today’s culture, Jesus is hated and feared.  He opposed promiscuity, divorce, homosexuality, and preached about repentance and hell.  He upheld the Ten Commandments and drew a clear line between right and wrong.  He closed every loophole to personal interpretation.  He taught an exclusive faith, and flatly stated that you were either with Him, or you are destined for the fires of hell.  The world connects the dots between Jesus and Christian fundamentalism, the literal reading of the Bible, the opposition to gay marriage and women’s ordination, and Creationism.

And as the Bride of Christ confesses in the Athanasian Creed, “He is not two, but one Christ.”  We Christians are both Easter people and Good Friday people.  We simultaneously preach Gospel and Law.  At the same time, we love the sinner and hate the sin.

St. Luke captures this paradox by recording and reporting a glorious miracle of our Lord.  A blind man is begging along the roadside.  He hears that Jesus is coming.  He cries out just as we do in our liturgy: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  And in spite of the hostility of the crowds and against the opposition of the world, this man of prayer continues to participate in the Divine Service with us, praying: “Lord, have mercy” all the more.  Jesus asks him point-blank what he wanted.  He replies, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”  And the Lord takes pity on him, and declares: “Recover you sight; your faith has made you well.”

“And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”  For this is the popular Jesus that the world loves.  This is the Jesus epitomized by St. Paul’s beautiful soliloquy on love from our epistle reading. 

But St. Luke makes a crucial connection between the Son of David’s miracle and the cross, just before this account of the healing of the blind man.  And this is the Jesus that baffles the world, and makes all of us – even us Christians – uncomfortable.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem,”  Jesus tells them.  Moreover he informs them that 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.” 

And not only does this demonstrate how the world hates Jesus, the text shows how the crucified Jesus confounds even the Lord’s disciples.  For, “They understood none of these things.  This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

The cross perplexes, confounds, offends, and challenges us.  Why?  Because we are sinners; poor miserable sinners who deserve nothing but death and hell.  That goes for the world, and that goes for Christians.  This is the whole point of our Lord’s incarnation.  The reason for Christmas is the need for Easter, and the path to Easter runs through Good Friday.  The highway to our blessed Lord’s empty tomb passes through our crucified Lord’s passion at Golgotha.

And that, dear friends, is a scandal to the world and is the part of Christianity that makes us Christians either embarrassed or uneasy.  Who can watch Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” without understanding, and even being appalled at, the blood-soaked sacrificial element of our faith.  Mel Gibson used his own hands to drive the spikes into the hands of the Lord Jesus in the film.  We Christians understand that we, the people for whom Christ died, are responsible for His death.  Before we look to the Jews, the priests and scribes, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, Herod, Pilate, or the Roman soldiers to blame for the cross, we must look to ourselves.  We must repent.  We are guilty.

And indeed, this is the part of the faith that we do not grasp.  It isn’t because it is intellectually difficult.  We just don’t like it.  And neither did the Twelve when Jesus spoke to them plainly about the cross.

The Twelve certainly understood the Lord’s Davidic heritage and claim to kingship.  The even jockeyed with each other arguing over who would sit closest to King Jesus in the throne room.  Similarly, the blind man appealed to the Davidic royal line of our Lord when he cried out, “Lord, have mercy.”  And we have the glorious account of King David, chosen for his royal destiny while yet a boy, the one who slew the giant with a slingshot, the one who was to lead Israel to national greatness by defeating her enemies.  Indeed, Jews and Christians display David’s Star as a symbol of glory.  But we are most uncomfortable with David’s need for forgiveness, and price to be paid with the death of his firstborn son whom he loved.
However, we are all enamored of St. Paul’s euphonic and profound tribute to love:

“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.”

These words are more than simply inspiring, they are inspired.  They are not merely the stuff of a greeting card, but these words are indeed about Jesus.  This passage does not only describe our Lord’s giving sight to the blind, but also His ultimate act of love: going to the cross for the sake of our sins, for the purpose of forgiveness, to the end of restoring us unto communion with God, and with the result of everlasting life for all who believe, for as our Lord speaks anew to us: “Your faith has made you well.”

Love is not only patient and kind, it is also bloody.  Love not only does not envy or boast, it also does not seek to be released from the cross.  Love bears all things, even injustice, even false testimony, even being spat upon, flogged, mocked, and nailed to a device to torture murderers and terrorists. 

For that, dear friends, is where our Davidic King of love reigns supreme.  He was declared to be King in three languages of the civilized world on the proclamation over his thorn-crowned head, even as He was put to death in the most uncivilized way imaginable by the very people He came to save.

And to this day, dear friends, the cross makes people uncomfortable.  If you wear a crucifix in public, someone will inevitably be offended.  It might be a Muslim or a Jew or an Atheist.  More likely, it will be a brother or sister Christian who is made uncomfortable at the depiction of our Lord’s suffering and death that we have caused.

And yet, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is our eternal crucified King, divine love in the very flesh, He is our crucified Redeemer, and He is our life as the crucified conqueror of death. 

Indeed, Easter does follow Good Friday.  Our resurrection does follow our deaths.  Forgiveness does follow our sin and our confession.  Joy does follow sorrow.  Everlasting glory does follow shame and suffering.  Indeed, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face.” 

Let us take no offense in our Lord’s cross, but glory in it.  Let us rather take offense at our own sins, and repent of them, pleading the blood of Christ as our propitiation for sin.  Let us gladly hear the Gospel and receive the invaluable gift of the Lord’s body and blood. 

And whether Christianity is popular or unpopular, received by the world or rejected, let us, dear friends, hear and pay heed both to our Lord’s death and resurrection, as well as the prayer that we should pray daily: “Lord, have mercy,” rejoicing in the miracle that He has cured us of our spiritual blindness and allowed us, by the faith that makes us well, to see the glory of the cross.  Amen.


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