Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quinquagesima Sunday Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday – Luke 18:31-43 – February 14th, 2010

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today is the last Sunday of Pre-lent. This Wednesday we will gather in humility and repentance and observe Ash Wednesday – we will begin our 6 week season of repentance, pondering our Lord’s Passion and Death. And so it is fitting, that this Sunday before, we hear our Lord speak to His passion. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 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. This is precisely what we will see, what we will behold this upcoming Lenten season, indeed, what we will see on Easter. And yet, we hear this strange verse following. Concerning the disciples it says, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” It was hidden, they didn’t get it. Well, why not? Wasn’t Jesus pretty blunt and plain? Suffer, die, and rise. And yet, it didn’t make sense to them, they didn’t get it. Why not?

We see the answer in the rest of the Gospel text – a contrast which shows what is going on. As they drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. Jericho is on the way to Jerusalem – it’s sort of like hitting Edmond right before Oklahoma City, or Sand Springs right before Tulsa. It means you are almost there, it means that they are all getting closer and closer to this stuff Jesus had just spoken about. And there, on the side of a road, is a beggar. He’s blind. He hears a bunch of commotion, and he doesn’t know what is going on. He asks what is happening, and they tell him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And suddenly, this wise, wise blind man starts screaming at the top of his lungs, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And it’s annoying – and people are telling this blind beggar to be quiet, to just shut up. Don’t you know there’s a spectacle, a thing to see, a giant spontaneous parade, people having their own fun following Jesus, be quiet you beggar and stop bothering us! How the crowds do not understand either! And yet, the man keeps calling out, Son of David, have mercy on me. And then something wondrous. Jesus stops. All the commotion comes to a halt – no more parade. And Jesus commands that the blind man be brought to Him, and our Lord asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man asks to see again. And our Lord says, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” See again – for you trusted in Me, had faith in Me, and that is the right and true faith! And the man praises God – for he can now see, even though he had seen and understood Jesus more than the disciples or the crowd had. This blind man understood, even when blind, because he knew and understood the need for mercy.

You see, dear friends, that is what separates the disciples, the crowd, from this blind man. The disciples, they couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying to them, because they were thinking in terms of earthly power and glory. You say you are going to be beaten, Jesus? Arrested? Mocked? You can still wind and wave! You can simply slide away from an angry mob! You have power to make food, to heal, even to raise the dead! With all your power, with all your might and glory, how could they ever catch You, how could they arrest You? Surely that would never happen! Prior to the crucifixion, the disciples are thinking in terms of earthly power and might – and so they don’t see. Maundy Thursday comes and even Peter is drawing his sword – we’ll cut you a path to freedom Jesus! They don’t understand.

Neither do the crowds. To them, Jesus is just a spectacle, a sight to see. This is that wonderworker we’ve heard so much about, oh look, there He goes, I wonder what He is up to now. Jesus is just entertainment for the crowd, a celebrity, a distraction from the normal humdrum of life – something that will be talked about for a while – you remember when Jesus came passing through town, oh yes, that was something neat. So they don’t understand either – and when the beggar starts calling for mercy – oh, what a downer, what a kill joy! Be silent, you miserable beggar boy, and don’t bring us down!

But this blind beggar, he sees. He’s not thinking in terms of power – he doesn’t want something as trifling as entertainment. He wants mercy – Son of David, have mercy on me. This blind man knows that he is weak, that he is lacking, that he is in need. And as such, he calls out to Christ Jesus for aid, for help, and then our gracious and loving Lord has the man brought to Him – how wondrous is that – doesn’t leave the blind man to grope around to find Him, doesn’t let the man struggle – no, bring him to Me – and then our Lord shows mercy and gives healing.

If you do not understand this – you will not understand lent, our Lord’s passion, or Easter. I mean this with all sincerity – if your focus is wrong, if your expectations of what God and Church and Jesus are supposed to be are off kilter, you will not see or understand what the seasons of Lent and Easter, what the heart of the Christian faith is all about. It is quite true that when many think on Jesus, they think primarily in terms of earthly power or glory. They teach a “theology of glory”, where being a Christian means that you are one of the good people whom God likes, and so you’ll get the best of blessings. Just send in a little cash now, and God will bless you out the wazoo later. Or there are the so-called Christians who teach not Christ but simply having a positive mental attitude. If you just set your mind to it, good things will happen, cause God is our buddy bud who gives us neat stuff. Name it and Claim it. These are the same types of thoughts the disciples had – the disciples were expecting the glorious revolution where the wicked Romans would be driven out. How many preachers talk politics all the time, where if we just elect the right people we’ll drive all the wicked people out and make this country a perfect land, God’s land right now? Blind. Or how many preachers will go on about earthly riches and stuff and wealth – forgetting that our Lord says that you cannot serve God and Mammon, forgetting that our Lord says that His Kingdom is not of this world. Blind. And this is why you do not hear these preachers preaching the Cross – for to them it is folly – what good is death when we want stuff and toys now?

And dear friends, you will not understand Lent and Easter if you come to Church simply to be entertained. If you come to Church because you like the music, like the preacher, think it’s something to see – you’ll miss the point. If you come because it’s a family place, because your friends are there – that’s not the point either. These aren’t necessarily bad things – but they aren’t the point, aren’t the reason God calls us to gather here. God doesn’t establish His Church on Earth simply so we can have a place to hang out together. We’re not a club, we’re not a Moose Lodge or social networking hub. It goes so far beyond that, and yet, for so many that is all they crave. What place has the best music, the most lively preacher, the best youth program, the nicest day care, the richest members, so on and so forth. Fine things, but not the point.

No, if you wish to understand what Lent and Easter, what God’s Church is about, you must think like and understand things like the blind man. Consider him. He is there, and he must beg. He cannot see, there is so much he doesn’t understand, he knows he needs help. And so, he cries out for mercy – and God shows it to him. Christ orders that all things be done so that this blind man might receive mercy – bring him to Me and let me heal him. Dear friends – we are poor miserable sinners. We are so often blind. We are so often weakened by sin. We so often don’t understand. And so, we call out for mercy, and thus God brings us here to His Church, and he heals us. Do your sins blind you to the needs of your neighbor – Of course they do, but Christ forgives you and now you see and now you may show love. Do your sins make you weak? Of course they do, but Christ forgives you and gives you His own strength through His Word and Sacraments. Does your sinfulness keep you from understanding the things of God? Of course it does, but here in His House God’s Word of life forgives you and works understanding in You.

And now we stand upon the precipice of Lent, ready to see our Lord’s Passion, ready to see Him take on Satan and sin and death and everything that we face. And why? The key to understanding what our Lord is doing this Lent, this Easter, is found in His question to the blind man. “What do you want Me to do FOR YOU?” For you. When Christ acts, when Jesus does stuff, He always, always does so for you benefit. Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. And so, what we see, what we are intensely focused upon this Lenten season will be the things that Christ does for us. Jesus doesn’t just live in a vacuum, but all the things He does and accomplishes are done on your behalf. Jesus knows your every weakness, He knows that you are weak, but He is strong – and so He will take up the battle on your behalf. Does Satan hold mankind in bondage to sin – Jesus will take on Satan. Does the fear of death loom over us – Jesus will take on death. And all of this, He does for you, this is His love for you.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus – by the power of His Word, Christ Jesus has made you to know that you are a poor miserable sinner in need of His mercy – mercy that you cry out for even to this day. And your Lord hears your cries, indeed, He heard them before you were even born, and out of His great love for you, He came to be your Savior from sin, came to win for you life eternal. And now, once again, we here together are on the doorstep of Lent, the season where we will watch with awe and reverence, where we will with great humility and repentance behold our Lord’s fight to save us. The Father has had mercy upon you through His Son Christ Jesus, and so to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit evermore be all praise and worship, both now and forever more. Amen.

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