February 3, 2008

Sermon for Quinquagesima: Luke 18.31-43

Note: For Christians following the traditional calendar, today is the last of three Sundays between the Epiphany season and Lent. In this sermon, I made substantial reference to the epistle, 1 Cor. 13.

"Love bears all things." +INJ+

When we hear St. Paul say, "Love is patient and kind," whom is he describing? When he says, "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," whom is he describing? He is describing Jesus. Jesus "bears all things" for us. Jesus "endures all things" for us. Because He loves us. Not as a good feeling. Not because we deserved it. Not because we loved first. Not because we loved in return. Not even in view of the fact that we would believe, or love in return. No - the Lord Jesus "bears all things" and "endures all things" for you simply because He loves you. For it is not the way of love to do good only when there is something to be gained, only when another has earned it, only when it will be appreciated.

Look at yourself. Do you love this way? Perhaps you are patient and kind with those very close to you. It is possible that for your mother you would bear many things, and for your child you would endure many things. But if you love your relatives, what credit is that to you? If you do good to those who respect you, or support you, or befriend you, do you do more than the godless do? But even with those whom you ought to love - your spouse, your siblings, those whom God has put close to you - you have not loved as you ought. You envy and you boast; you insist on your own way; perhaps even this morning on the way to Divine Service you were irritable or resentful. No - St. Paul does not describe us in 1 Cor. 13. We do not love as God defines love; for we primarily love ourselves. Paul is describing Jesus, who is Love incarnate.

In Jesus, Love acted kindly even in the face of hostility. "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him."
For a good man, someone might dare to die; but while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were His enemies. While we hated Him.

Do not think it was the Jews of old who crucified Jesus. It was your malevolence that mocked Him. It was your insolence that insulted Him. It was the saliva of your lies spit upon the Lord. You scourged Him with your selfishness. Your sins put Him to death.

But none of this happened to Jesus accidentally. He doesn't fall into a trap, or make a mistake. Jesus goes to Jerusalem willingly. Out of love for those who do not love Him. He goes to death for those who have forgotten what love is. He goes to Jerusalem to bear the cross for a human race that wandered away from God's love, fell into animosity, bitterness, and delusion. Jesus dies, out of love, for a human race that has no hope beyond this life.

Jesus tells all this to His disciples, but they do not understand. In three different ways, St. Luke tells us they just don't get it: "But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken." A crucified God makes no sense. Man prefers to punish the sins of others while excusing his own sins. That God would become man and Himself take man's punishment, die man's death - it is foolishness and a stumbling block. It is foolishness because we don't really believe the necessity of it. We still believe the lie that we can, on our own, become like God. That we aren't really that bad. That we are really, by nature, good - with a few flaws that we are working on.

The twelve disciples who heard Jesus announce that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die for them were blind to their own situation. Only the blind man, whom they met along the road, could really see. The story is true, but it is written for us so that we should see ourselves in the blind man.

What is he doing? The blind man sat by the road begging; and that is the condition of man: beggars before God. We must understand that we are death-ridden, maggot-infested, hell-bound, damnable sinners, so that we come to point of doing what the blind man did. When he heard that Jesus was coming, he did not hope. He did not whisper. "He cried out, saying, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'" The word that St. Luke uses to describe his crying out is like a woman being raped, a man shouting to address a crowd, or the roaring of a lion. It is the same word used to describe the cry of Jesus on the cross: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" This was no ordinary cry that rises up from the blind man, which is why the crowd shushes him. He isn't being polite. But faith is not manners. Faith is recognizing you are nothing, have nothing, can accomplish nothing, yet trusting that there, in Jesus, is your hope, your life, God's love come in the flesh. The blind man sees what the disciples did not.

Which is why the blind man doesn't care that the people around him don't like it. Faith has only one thing to say--"Lord, have mercy!"--and it pays no heed to any voice telling him to be quiet. So he cries out all the more; this time, St. Luke describes it as a shriek of one who has been frightened, a shout of an epileptic, or the cry of a woman in childbirth. Faith says, "Without Jesus I am lost, so I will cry out for His mercy, and will not stop crying out until I receive it." This is how St. Paul describes the prayer of all Christians when they pray
the Lord's Prayer with great earnestness and seriousness: "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'" In our prayers, we should cry out with the confidence of the blind man.

There is a prayer that I encourage people to pray when they are going into surgery, or lying on their death beds. It is very short, and the simple words capture so much of our Christian faith. It is a prayer based in part on the cry of the blind man in today's Gospel reading: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The blind man, you see, wasn't blind to the truth: this Jesus passing by was no ordinary man: He is the Son of David, heir to the throne. But then, we see that the blind man regards Jesus as greater than a mere earthly king. He asks Him to do something that only God can do: restore his sight.

This Gospel comes today to show us what the season of Lent starting this Wednesday is all about. We too need a recovery of sight. We need to see again how deeply sin is infested in us, how corrupt we are, how much power we have allowed the devil and the world to have over us. But how much joy there is in those words of Jesus, "We are going up to Jerusalem." Jesus alone is going to bear our sins on the cross - but we get to go with Him. And Jesus rising from the grave at Easter - we get that too. "We are going up to Jerusalem." On the road of the cross, Jesus is with us - or rather, we are with Him. All of your sufferings, all of your hurts, all of your blindness, all of your sadness, all of your sins, all of your death - He bears it all. Out of love.

He loves you with a true and sacrificial love. In this Supper, He joins us to Him, and therein also gives us the strength to have fervent love for one another. Forget about the past; your former blindness and your shouts of anger. Cry out now, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He hears your prayer, and we follow Him, glorifying God.

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