April 2, 2008

Quasimodo Geniti - sermon for Wednesday Evening Prayer

Text: 1 John 5.4b - "This is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith."

After His baptism, Jesus was tempted. You will be too. You will be tempted to despair. You will be tempted by the lusts of your flesh – sensational lusts that land politicians on the front page; but also more acceptable lusts – to overindulge in God’s good gifts of food and drink.

And then, there are the worst kinds of temptations, the spiritual ones – to believe false doctrine; and when disappointments come, when life doesn’t turn out as you hoped, even expected, the temptation to question whether God really loves you.

All this is wrapped up in that little word “world.” Luther says, “You must understand the world to mean the devil, the flesh, and everything that is evil.” And as we heard from God’s Word tonight, there is a victory that is victorious over the world—our faith.

But this is a strange way of speaking, isn’t it? It sounds like something we do wins the victory over the world. That’s how faith is usually used in our culture: something within us, an optimism, a confidence, a hope. Those things are good – but they are not what the Bible means by faith.

That’s why St. John explains further: “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Faith, John says, looks to Jesus.

Think back to Sunday’s Gospel, where the disciples where cowering behind locked doors. They are afraid. They have no hope. Jesus comes, and what does He say? “Peace.” That first word of His tells us what comes from the resurrection. The disciples didn’t overcome the world. They didn’t defeat death or earn forgiveness. Jesus comes with the gift of peace, because He is the One who has overcome the world.

Thomas doesn’t believe it. He insists on seeing the wounds. Poor Thomas gets picked on, but I can’t say I would have been any different. He wanted proof, and the wounds were the proof. If Jesus is really risen, where are the marks of the spikes and the spear?

Those wounds are important. They show us that Jesus was the sacrifice, the sacrificial Lamb in whom the world’s sin is taken away. And what came from those wounds? Blood and water. The blood and water showed Jesus was really dead; but they also become a sacramental sign, that His death is for us. Water pouring into the font, touching your head to wash you; blood pouring into the chalice, touching your lips to mark you and heal you. All joined to the Spirit, testifying that Jesus has overcome the world, and gives His victory to you.

So when we hear those wonderful words, “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith,” we can substitute another word to get the proper sense: “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our creed,” reminding us that we don’t overcome the world, but Jesus does, in whom we believe. Or we can run the words this way: “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our Jesus.”

In Him you believe, in Him is your peace, in Him is your victory. So when you are troubled by your sins, when you are tempted to despair, when you think that God does not love you because of this disappointment or that failure, evict all of that from your mind, and say, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—my Jesus. I will be troubled by nothing else, but be joyful, for in Him I live, in Him I die, and His shall I be forever.”

Note: some of the thoughts regarding Thomas and the wounds come from Pastor Cwirla's sermon for Quasimodo Geniti, along with a recent conversation I had with Chaplain Jonathan Shaw.

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