Thursday, April 10, 2014

Homily for Lenten Vespers - Week of Judica (Lent 5)

Matthew 18:21-35; Isaiah 30:18-26

The Petitions of the Great Litany: “Have mercy”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Waiting, patience, grace, forgiveness, and mercy – what have these to do with each other? I say to you much, indeed everything! They are nearly synonymous with each other as each has its foundation and origin in love. They are qualities and attributes of our LORD and God who has revealed Himself and defined Himself as love. They are His nature and in accordance with His proper will, which is to say that He is and He desires to be waiting, patient, gracious, forgiving, and merciful to you. Your God desires this because He is love.
Isaiah 30:18 says that “the LORD waits to be gracious to you.” But, why does He wait? What is He waiting for? If He is gracious, and if He desires to be gracious towards you, then why not simply be gracious, now? He waits so that you will receive His grace for the free and perfect gift that it is. This is to say that He waits for His Law to do its work upon your heart and to crush you that He may heal you. By nature, you are inclined to trust in yourself and in your own devices, in material goods and possessions, and in the strength, wisdom, and will of men. But, these gain you nothing spiritually and they cannot give you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Therefore, the LORD sends you “the bread of adversity” and “the water of affliction” that your eyes might be lifted from the earth and from your own flesh and be set to focus upon your “Teacher,” your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that your ears might be opened to hear above and beyond the din of your own thoughts and the counsel of men and listen to His voice.
Then “your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This the way, walk in it’, when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” He was always there, but before your LORD’s gracious intervention you did not see Him. He was always there, but before the LORD’s gracious intervention you did not hear Him. He was always there, and He is always there with you, wherever you go. He is the path you walk upon when you hearken to His voice, His Word, and when you open your eyes to see your Teacher whom your LORD has set before you. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life apart from whom there is no other way to your Holy Father. It is grace, a pure and holy gift you did not deserve, that He gives you. It is mercy that spares you what you do deserve, what you confess in the Divine Service, “temporal and eternal punishment.”
And yet, still, the LORD gives you – yes, He gives you – “the bread of adversity” and “the water of affliction” – the LORD gives you trial and tribulation. And, this is both gracious and merciful as well a serious application of His Law. Through these, the LORD disciplines you: He breaks up your hardened heart that it may receive the Gospel. He trims, prunes, and purifies your faith so that it trusts in Him and His Word alone. He makes you to be fruitful, bearing good fruit in accordance with His will, serving your neighbor, and glorifying His Name before men and angels. However, the wounds that He inflicts are not delivered in anger and haste, but in love and mercy. It is for your own good. After you have been broken and crushed in spirit, then will He bind up your brokenness and heal the wounds inflicted by His blow.
You see, there is a great deal of love and care involved in the LORD’s mercy. Thus, when you pray, “Have mercy,” you are praying for much more than deliverance from the adversity and affliction the LORD sends upon you. In truth, you are not really praying for that at all, for, the LORD sends adversity and affliction upon you because He loves you and cares about you and does not desire that you should walk upon the broad and easy path that leads you away from Him into death and damnation. He disciplines you in love, the way you discipline your children that they may learn and grow from their mistakes and be safe from harm and danger and mature into adulthood.
Thus, once again, your prayer in the Litany, “Have mercy,” is also a confession. You confess that the LORD is your God and Creator and that He is indeed merciful, that He loves you and will do all that is necessary to care for you and protect you, even discipline you when necessary. When you pray, “Have mercy,” you submit yourself willingly to His Fatherly care, trusting in His love, mercy, and wisdom. When He sends you blessing, you reply, “Thank you Jesus.” And, when He sends you adversity and affliction, you also say, “Thank you Jesus.” Like faithful Job you confess, “The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away; Blessed be the Name of the LORD.”
But then, a significant part of the LORD’s blessing upon you is that you also may be a blessing to others. How do you bless others? You bless others in the same ways in which you have been blessed – you show them love, kindness, patience, charity, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Moreover, you can only show them, you can only give to them, of that which you have already received yourself. Truly, you can only love with His love. You can only give with His gifts. You can only forgive with His forgiveness. Likewise, you show others mercy as you have received abundant and continual mercy from your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thus, there is no limit to the forgiveness you must show a brother, for there is no limit to the forgiveness you yourself receive through faith in Jesus Christ. This is why your Lord exhorts you saying, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” What you receive is the LORD’s; so, likewise, what you give is the LORD’s. The LORD shows you mercy. Be you also, and always, merciful to your brother and neighbor. This is not a work, but it is a fruit – a necessary fruit. For, if the fruit is not present, then neither is the love that produces the fruit. First, you must acknowledge and confess what you have received. Then, you must freely give to others as you have freely received. But, what you give is the LORD’s, and with the LORD there is always and continually more.
“Have mercy,” you pray. “ I AM, and I do,” He replies.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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