Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Homily for Lenten Vespers - Week of Oculi (Lent 3)
Romans 8:31-39; Genesis 18:22-33
The Petitions of the Great Litany: “Spare us, Good Lord”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When we pray “Spare us, good Lord,” we are asking the Lord to save us, to redeem us, to exempt us, or to someway, somehow, release us from the fate we will surely otherwise and deservedly suffer. This is to say, once again, that our prayer is a confession: We confess that we have sinned and that we deserve both temporal and eternal punishment. We confess that this is what we have rightly earned and merited. We confess that the Lord is just and right to punish us. Nevertheless, we pray, we petition, we ask, we beg the Lord to not punish us, but even to spare us from our justly deserved punishment. For, this prayer is also a confession of our faith in the Lord, that He is the kind of Lord who will indeed act in such a way and spare us, a Lord who even loves to spare us and has spared us, because He did not spare His only-begotten Son as our substitute and sacrificial offering in our place.
The LORD was about to reign down judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah because of their notorious sin and wickedness. They earned and merited this judgment; it was their just deserts. But, Abraham interceded and prayed to the LORD to spare the cities and the people who lived there. He didn’t claim that they were innocent or make any excuses for them – they were justly condemned, and Abraham knew that – but he prayed to the LORD simply to spare them, because of the LORD’s righteousness.
“Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” Do you realize how bold a petition this is? Only Abraham could ask such a thing. Did Abraham believe for a minute that there were actually fifty righteous persons in the city? Well, not if their righteousness depended upon their works, obedience, and sinlessness. If that were the measure of righteousness, then there would be not one soul in Sodom and Gomorrah, or anywhere else, that would measure up. However, if Abraham reckoned righteousness as the LORD Himself had regarded him as righteous, then, yes, there might be fifty such souls, or maybe forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, or, well, perhaps ten? You can hear the humility and fear of the LORD in Abraham’s questions. Abraham knew that He was asking the LORD to turn away from His just judgment upon those cities and their inhabitants. Abraham knew that He was asking for mercy and forgiveness that he had no right to ask or expect. What, then, motivated Abraham to ask? Faith. Faith in God, His Will, and His Word. Not faith in itself, but the object of Abraham’s faith, what it clung to and trusted in no matter what – the LORD Himself. Tellingly, Abraham ceased his petitioning with ten righteous souls. Perhaps he remembered that, for the sake of eight righteous souls, Noah and his family, the LORD did not spare the world in the flood. Indeed, Sodom and Gomorrah would not be spared, but the righteous therein, Lot and his family, like Noah before, would be spared. In life, and in death, the righteous will live by faith.
The faith by which the righteous live is in the one whom God did not spare, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Though He was and is the only righteous one, righteous in Himself, innocent and without sin, perfectly obedient, humble, fearing and trusting in the LORD, He was declared to be unrighteous and guilty, and He was judged and condemned in our place that we might be declared, innocent, righteous, and holy in His Name. As our righteous father Abraham plead for and interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah on account of righteous Lot and his family, evermore does our heavenly Father make us to be righteous in His Son. Thus, when we pray, “Spare us, good Lord,” we do so in the faith and confession that the LORD has already answered, He has already spared us, and He continues to do so even now: “It is finished.”
The petition, “Spare us, good Lord,” comes early in the Litany, and it appears only once. Following, we petition the Lord to help us, to deliver us, to hear us, to have mercy upon us, and to grant us His peace. The placement of this petition sets the stage right from the beginning: All that we ask of the Lord is prefaced in our confession that we deserve not His help, deliverance, mercy, and peace, but only judgment, death, and eternal punishment. Nevertheless, we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord and trust in His promise, particularly in His promise fulfilled in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. With the Lord, it’s all or nothing: We bring nothing; He gives all.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” What wonderful rhetorical questions the Apostle has set before us! “How will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” indeed! He will! He does! Therefore, ask Him in boldness and humility (no, those are not mutually exclusive qualities). Ask Him boldly because the Lord is God and He has paid dearly for you and desires to shower you with His blessings and grace. Ask Him in humility because you confess that you do not deserve His mercy and grace, because He is holy and righteous and, of yourself, you are not. But, ask Him, in boldness, and ask Him in humility: “Spare us, good Lord.” And, when your enemy lies to you and deceives you saying, “You don’t believe enough to receive His gifts,” or, “Your sins are too great to be forgiven,” remember that he’s right, but also remember that it doesn’t matter, because it’s not about you, how much you believe, or how good or bad you have been. No, all that matters is that the Lord is good and right and true and that He has done what was necessary to make you right before Him. Do you believe that? I’m not asking how much or how strongly, but only, “Do you believe that?” Yes! Then, you have all that you need. Do not worry. Do not fear. But, be certain of this, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us for the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“Spare us, good Lord,” we pray. “I have, and I will,” the Lord replies.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.