Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon: Quinquagesima – 2017

26 February 2017

Text: Luke 28:31-43

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Your faith has made you well,” says our Lord.  He says this many times during His ministry as He heals the sick. In this case, our Lord restores sight to a blind man in response to his prayer: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Of course, Jesus made him well.  But notice that our Lord emphasizes the role of faith.  Jesus uses our faith to make us well.  Our faith is important, and paradoxically, our faith is also a gift of God.

So where does this faith come from?  What strengthens our faith?  St. Paul teaches us that “faith comes by hearing… the Word of Christ.”  And as we pray after receiving the Holy Eucharist, that God would “strengthen us through the same,” that is, through receiving the “salutary gift” of the Lord’s Supper, our faith is indeed strengthened.

This Gospel text is the very last one that we will hear in preparation for the beginning of Lent.  And Lent is the perfect time to focus on our faith.  Just as many people resolve to “get into shape” physically after the holidays or after the new year or before swimsuit season, Lent provides Christians with a perfect opportunity to strengthen our faith by being where Jesus is, by hearing Him proclaim the Law and the Gospel, by receiving His sure and certain Word of Holy Absolution, by partaking of the Holy Supper.  All of these things strengthen our faith.  And when we pray the scriptures, when we study the Word of God, we are also steeling ourselves for spiritual warfare, to endure the crafts and assaults of the devil that we face in this fallen and embattled world.

We modern people enjoy a lot of blessings, and we also carry our share of crosses.  In modern life, we don’t have to slave over farms from sun up to sun down.  Many of us are able to sit for long hours at a time – even as we work.  We don’t have to walk to a village well and tote buckets of water.  We have indoor plumbing at the touch of a handle.  We have machines and conveniences to do most everything for us.  We hardly even have to look at books anymore, as our phones seem to have all the answers to every question, and even some answers to questions that we never thought to ask.

We have unprecedented free time and entertainments, and we don’t have to move nearly as much as our ancestors.  

But these things have had unintended consequences.  Our muscles weaken and our bones become brittle.  Our hearts become feeble, and our lungs become frail.  And as a result, in order to strengthen our bodies, we now run on treadmills and ride bikes that don’t go anywhere.  We lift weights only to put them down again.  We take supplements and vitamins and minerals to acquire what our modern diets of convenience and comfort lack.   We have to work out artificially in order to be as fit as our ancestors, who would consider these things crazy.

Spiritually, dear friends, we moderns are also deprived of wellness.  

Our age is the most biblically illiterate in American history.  Our church attendance is more and more sparse.  The Divine Service: the preaching of the Word and the reception of the Sacrament, become less and less important in our lives.  Daily prayer has a way of disappearing. Family devotions become rarer and rarer.  Things that our grandparents took for granted: big confirmation classes, congregational retreats, the Walther league, youth lock-ins, large Bible classes, men’s groups, women’s groups, potlucks and church bazaars, pageants, special church services, neighbors that were overwhelmingly Christian, and the like, hardly describe our culture today.

We have no qualms about spending time and money on hobbies and entertainments, while begrudging God an hour a week or honoring our duty to be good stewards of the kingdom.  We think of ourselves first, and only afterward, do we think of others.  So often we have gifts that the Lord can make use of, but we squander those gifts on things that are passing and temporary instead of storing up treasures in heaven.

But this Wednesday, dear friends, we will be surrounded by reminders of our own mortality.  We are not well.  We are dying.  Our faith is weak.  We need to join with the blind beggar in praying: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And beginning this Wednesday, the Lord will call us to repent in stronger and more strident terms.  The Lord has given us opportunities to strengthen our faith: two Divine Services each week, resources like the Treasury of Daily Prayer and Portals of Prayer to help us order our devotional life, and we have ample opportunities to study the Word of God and strengthen our faith.  We can fast, and remind ourselves that we do not live by bread alone, but rather that we are dependent upon every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  We can strive to be more patient, more kind, more tolerant, more helpful, seeking ways to be of service to our fellow man and to the kingdom of God.  

And when we fall into sin, we can repent and resolve to resist temptation, relying on the Word and Sacraments, once again, to strengthen this faith that makes us well.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has done all the heavy lifting for us, dear friends.  We sin, but He is righteous.  We have earned God’s wrath, but He endures the cross.  We deserve to have our blood spilled, but His blood is shed upon the cross and offered to the Father as the only oblation, the sacrificial atonement, to assuage our guilt and heal us – and what’s more, that same blood is given to us in a glorious, faith-strengthening sacrament.  He saves us by grace, and we receive this free gift through faith.

For even now as we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent, we are reminded of the Good News of the cross, of our Lord’s boundless love and infinite patience with us.  He does not keep score, but rather keeps faith.  He has not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.  He did not tell the blind beggar that as a sinner, he deserved his ailment, but heard his prayer for mercy, drew near, and answered his prayer with just what he needed: to be well, to receive his sight, to be healed by the Son of David who is also the Son of God.

Dear friends, we come to this place as beggars.  We come blinded by the flashing lights of this world.  But we come nonetheless, in our need, in our mortality, in our sin, and we also pray: “Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.”  And our prayer is answered.  He comes to us, to hear us, to speak His words of life over us, for forgive us, to heal us, and to give us the free gift of eternal life that He has earned for us.

He gives this to us by faith, and He gives us all we need to strengthen our faith, all the daily bread we need for this body and life – life that will have no end.

Let us cry out again and again, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” and let us again and again hear His Word: “Your faith has made you well.”  Amen.

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

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