Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Homily for Lenten Vespers - Week of Laetare (Lent 4)

John 3:13-21; Isaiah 25:6-12

The Petitions of the Great Litany: “Good Lord, deliver us”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The prayer our Lord Jesus taught us ends with the petition, “Deliver us from evil.” The original Greek actually says, “Deliver us from the evil one,” making it clear who the origin and cause of evil is. It is somewhat a shame that the Church has grown accustomed to concluding the Lord’s Prayer with the Doxology, “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory…,” etc., for the prayer, as the Lord actually gave it, makes it utterly clear that our daily bread, forgiveness, and life come from our holy God and Father in accordance with His holy will, and that what we are in need of continual deliverance from is evil, sin and death, and the evil one, the devil.
“Deliver us from the evil one,” the Lord taught us to pray. “Good Lord, deliver us,” we pray in the Litany. Deliverance is not something that we do, but it is something that is done to us and for us. We are passive when it comes to deliverance, for we are in thrall to the devil, prisoners in his kingdom, until the Lord delivers us in His Son. Through Holy Baptism and Holy Spirit-created faith in Jesus Christ, we are delivered from sin, death, and Satan, reclaimed for the kingdom of God in the blood of the Lamb.
Specifically, we pray in the Litany that the good Lord would deliver us “from all sin, from all error, from all evil; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from sudden and evil death; from pestilence and famine; from war and bloodshed; from sedition and from rebellion; from lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water; and from everlasting death.” Indeed, these are all things that come upon us without our control. There are the obvious spiritual things like sin, evil, and the devil, but then there are also the natural and physical realities of famine, war, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, mass shootings at schools and theaters, terrorism, violence and crime of all manner, and finally death. “Good Lord, deliver us.”
But, deliverance isn’t escape. We do not pray – or, we should not pray – that God would take us out of this life. No. However, we do pray for deliverance from the evil that has befallen this world, and our own lives, and the lives of those we love. And, that is precisely what our Lord provides. Our Lord delivers us from evil and from the evil one – continually, throughout the time of this world and throughout our lives, and finally, on the Last Day, when Christ returns as King. This does not in any way mean that we will not suffer the effects of sin, death, and Satan and the evil he affects in this world. No, not at all. But, we will not be ultimately overcome by them. We will persevere through them. And, even if we suffer the loss of all things, even our lives, our Lord will deliver us through death to eternal life.
Do you see then why Luther could sing, “And, take they my life, goods, fame, child, and wife; let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth?” And, do you see then why St. Paul could confess, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us?” Our God, who has delivered us in the past, delivers us still, and will deliver us one last time on the Day of the Lord when our “old evil foe” will be vanquished once and for all.
Therefore, we see that our petition in the Litany, “Good Lord, deliver us,” is, once again, a confession of our faith in the Lord: that He is there, that He hears us, that He is good and able to help us, that He keeps His Word and never fails us, and that, no matter what we face in this life in body or in Spirit, we trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation, to see us through the end He has promised and paid for dearly in the precious and holy blood of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Our prayer in the Litany is not one of groveling and begging in fear, but it is a bold confession of faith; what we ask for we have every reason to expect to receive – not because of our sincerity or faith, but because of God’s Word, the unchanging rock and fortress to which our faith clings.
How does our good Lord deliver us? In many and various ways, to be sure. However, we must first turn to those places and means through which our Lord has promised to be present and active to deliver us: His Word and Sacraments. These external gifts are dependable, certain, and true, for they depend not upon us in any way, but they are established by God for the purpose of delivering the forgiveness of your sins, strengthening your faith, and giving and sealing you in His eternal life. Through these precious means, our gracious Lord draws near to us and delivers us from the evil one again, and again, and again. He delivers us through the Red Sea of Holy Baptism. He delivers us through this wilderness world and feeds us with the Holy Manna of Christ’s body and blood. And He goes with us, His Holy Spirit in His powerful and creative Word, day and night. “Good Lord, deliver us,” we pray. “I AM,” our good Lord replies.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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