Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Homily for Lenten Vespers - Week of Reminiscere (Lent 2)

Luke 12:22-34; Isaiah 41:8-20

The Petitions of the Great Litany: “Help us, Good Lord”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Our God is a refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” Thus sings the psalmist in Psalm 46. We are right to pray “Help us, good Lord,” for our Lord and God is help and He loves to help us. But, what does help mean? Well, help doesn’t mean that the Lord will always give you what you want, or what you think you need, but the Lord will protect and keep you in His grace and mercy. The Lord will see you through every temptation, trial, and tribulation towards the end and works He has prepared for you. For, ultimately, you are His. You are His servant whom He has called out of the nations. He has made you to be a people, His people, who were once no people. And, He has adopted you as His children, His own sons and daughters, through faith in His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. The Lord is jealous over you. He’s always got your back so long as you trust in Him and do not reject Him.
Last week you heard about the tenacious faith of Jacob. Though the Lord wrestled with him and fought against him, even wounding him, putting his hip out of joint, Jacob refused to let the Lord go without a blessing. The Lord did bless Jacob, and the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning, one who “struggles with the Lord and prevails.” In that spiritual wrestling match, all of Israel was reduced to one man, Jacob. Thus, centuries later, the Prophet Isaiah refers to the people of Israel also as Jacob, prophesying the Word of the Lord to them saying, “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; […] fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Indeed, this is the blessing the Lord bestowed upon Jacob following that wrestling match. Jacob become the Lord’s servant, His chosen one, the promised seed of Abraham, and the Lord’s personal and dear friend. The Lord blessed Jacob with a right relationship, one of love, grace, mercy, Fatherhood, and unchanging faithfulness. The Lord would always have Jacob’s, Israel’s, back and would help him.
The Lord’s help often takes this form: He will set you apart and make you holy. The Lord will sanctify and keep you. He will make a distinction between you and unbelievers. Does this mean that all will go well for you, that you will not suffer pain and loss and strife? No, it does not. It means that you will persevere; you will prevail, in patience, in time. And, as you trust in Him ever more and more, you will be content and at peace. You will want for nothing as the psalmist sings in the 23rd Psalm, and you will have, as Jesus promises, a peace that world cannot give. “Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.” The end of this is that, while you will continue to have enemies and struggle, these will not ultimately prevail over you. Indeed, there will come a time when you will search for them and will find no trace of their existence.
Yet, beyond this, the Lord does indeed positively help His chosen and holy people. The Lord says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” This prophecy is similar to our Lord Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. There is blessedness in being poor in spirit, for those in spiritual poverty are open to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, there is blessedness in being hungry for righteousness, for those in spiritual hunger are open to be fed with the Word and Spirit of the Lord. Likewise does our Lord Jesus teach His disciples that life is more than food and clothing. As the Lord provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, how much more does He provide all that we need to sustain our bodies, lives, and spirit?
We pray in the Litany, “Help us, good Lord.” Our prayer is grounded in our belief and confession that the Lord is indeed good, just as He has said and promised. Thus, as in last week’s homily, once again we hold God to His Word, to what He has said and revealed about Himself. We trust that He is gracious, just as He has said. However, more than that, we trust in what the Lord has done in sending His Son into our human flesh as one of us. The longest petition in the Litany ending with the prayer, “Help us, good Lord,” is all about Jesus. In this petition we ask for the Lord’s help on account of the Lord’s work for us in His Son: by His holy incarnation, nativity, baptism, fasting, and temptation; by His agony and bloody sweat; by His cross and passion, death and burial; and by His glorious resurrection and ascension and promised sending of the Holy Spirit. These works of our Lord in His Son are not mere words and promises – indeed the Words and promises of the Lord are never mere anything! – but they are Words and promises that have been kept and fulfilled. They are certain, trustworthy, dependable, and true.
Our last petition for the good Lord’s help in the Litany is for His help “In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment.” This petition is as much a confession as it is a request and a plea. What we confess is our need for the Lord’s help at every stage and every moment of our lives. We are commending ourselves into the Lord’s gracious and merciful care and providence. We confess our faith and trust in Him alone and completely. We appeal to nothing in ourselves that would merit, earn, or deserve His help, but we appeal to the Lord according to who He is, what He has promised, and what He has done. We petition the Lord for help, and He helps, He has helped, and He will continue to help until we will need no help because we will be with Him in His presence and care face to face.
Our God: our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, is also our eternal home. Help us, good Lord. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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