Sunday, February 1, 2015

Homily for Septuagesima

Matthew 20:1-6; 2 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Moses called the name of that place Massah, which means testing, and Meribah, which means quarreling. For, in their fear and unbelief, the people of Israel spent their days testing and quarreling with the LORD and with His servant Moses. At the first sign of need – no, at the first sign of want, rather, for there is a difference – they grumbled and they complained to the LORD, and they accused Him and they blamed Him for not providing for them. They even blamed Him for leading them into their tribulation and temptation. They simply did not fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things, and so they put Him to the test and they considered the good that He had done for them to be evil.
Truly, this was the same temptation that our First Parents faced, not in the wilderness, but in a lush and fruitful garden paradise. Though they had everything they could possibly need or require, Satan tempted them to believe that God was willfully holding out on them. He tempted them to believe that God was keeping them in the dark. And, so, they took matters into their own hands, and they acted according to their own will, as opposed to the will of the LORD, and they fell out of the LORD’s grace, not because God stopped loving them, but because they chose not to fear, love, and trust in Him. And, then, they blamed God for their misery and their suffering. Indeed, because of sin, even paradise can be Massah and Meribah, a virtual hell on earth filled with continuous testing and quarreling.
But, then came Jesus, not a creaturely son of God, but the very Son of God Himself as a man, the Second Adam. Immediately following His baptism, Jesus was literally tossed to the wolves, to Satan, to be tempted like our First Parents and like the Israelites, not in a lush and fruitful garden paradise, mind you, or even in a somewhat fruitful wilderness, but in a dry, barren, and fruitless desert. There, Jesus willingly fasted forty days and forty nights, sustained by His fear, love, and trust in the LORD and in His Word, though, physically, He was hungry and He was thirsty. Then the tempter came and he tempted Him, just has he had tempted our First Parents and the children of Israel. Satan tempted Jesus to blame the LORD for His hunger and to take matters into His own hands to satisfy Himself. Satan tempted Jesus to put the LORD to the test and to quarrel with the LORD. But, of course, He did not do that. But, why not?
Well, how did Jesus reply to Satan? Three times, Jesus replied, “It is written.” But, what is written, and where is it written? Well, Jesus’ replies to Satan are written specifically in the books of Deuteronomy and the Psalms. However, while He most certainly did appeal to the written Word of God, Jesus’ three-fold repetition of “It is written” attests, rather, to the completeness and the certainty and the trustworthiness of the Word of the LORD. Jesus was not merely satisfied with the Word of the LORD out of obedience, though He was certainly obedient, but He was satisfied because He perfectly feared, loved, and trusted the LORD and His Word. For Jesus, “It is written” is cause for perfect peace and contentment, for, as the LORD has also spoken, “The Word has gone out from my mouth and it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it.” That is to say that the Word of the LORD will never fail and will never change. The promise of the LORD will be kept, regardless of what trials, tribulations, temptations, and suffering befall you. That is what Jesus believed about the Word of the LORD, and that was His sustenance and strength and comfort through fasting, through suffering, and through temptation by Satan.
In comparison, the children of Israel were like the rocky and thorny soil in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. The seed of the LORD’s Word worked its way into the soil of their hearts, but, because of anxiety and worry over food and drink for the body, and out of fear of their enemies, and jealousy of their own kinsmen, as well as envy and covetousness of the wealth of the Gentiles, their faith was easily uprooted, dried up and withered away, or swept away in the torrent of trial, tribulation, and temptation. When the LORD acted with mighty and powerful signs like the plague upon the firstborn and the parting of the Red Sea, they believed easily, but when trial and tribulation and temptation came, they quickly turned against the LORD and accused Him of abandoning them or, even, of willfully causing them to suffer. Thus, when they became thirsty and hungry in the wilderness, they tested the LORD and they quarreled with Him and with His servant Moses, even saying, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
However, the LORD had not abandoned them. And, the LORD most certainly did not afflict them from His heart. Indeed, the LORD was with them all along. The LORD knew the needs of His people and He was prepared to provide for them and care for them. He commanded His servant Moses to strike the rock of Horeb in the presence of the Elders of the people. This was to reconfirm in the minds and the hearts of His people that He was with them and for them just as He had promised in His Word. As always, the LORD does not simply proclaim His Word into the ether, but He attaches His Word to physical and material things. He put His Word into the mouth of His servant Moses that he might shepherd His people. And He attached His Word to the rock of Horeb so that it produced water just as His Word promised it would.
The LORD goes with His people, He shepherds them, even through the dark times of trial and tribulation and temptation. He commanded the Israelites to construct the tabernacle so that His glory might fill the Most Holy Place that He might dwell amongst His people. When they were on the move, His glory went before them as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. And when they finally entered the Promised Land, the Lord dwelt amongst His people in the temple built by Solomon, just as He promised in His unchanging Word. And yet, all of that was to foreshadow and typify the kind of relationship the LORD truly desires to have with you, His people: His Word, His Son, became flesh in the person of Jesus, and made His dwelling, literally His tabernacle, amongst you, in your midst. Thus, Jesus, whose name means “God saves,” is also called Emmanuel, “God with us.”
And so, the LORD was with His people in the rock at Horeb. St. Paul tells us in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Thus, just as the children of Israel had no need to fear hunger and thirst in the wilderness, for the LORD was with them just as He had promised in His Word, so our First Parents lacked nothing in the Garden, so did Jesus lack nothing in the desert, and so do you lack nothing at anytime and anyplace, for the LORD, your Shepherd, is with you, guiding you, protecting you, and providing for you that you should not want.
Your life and all things are a precious gift of the LORD’s grace who has promised to bless you and keep you all the days of your life. His Word has gone out from His mouth and it cannot, and it will not, return to Him void, but it must, and it will, accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. Yet, too often do you dwell in the midst of Massah and Meribah, in the midst of testing and quarreling with God. Like the workers in the vineyard, you look around you and you perceive inequality and injustice. Why should some who work less receive the same as you? Why should you, who come to church and tithe and serve, struggle and suffer, while many who never darken the doorways of a church, and those who do not acknowledge the Lord at all, seem to prosper? Your Lord teaches you that this is what the kingdom of heaven is like: The kingdom of heaven is like a master who hires all sorts of workers throughout the course of a day and then, at the end of the day, pays them each exactly the same regardless of how long they worked. Now, what’s the lesson in this parable? Is the lesson that the LORD is unjust or wicked? No, of course not! “Get behind me Satan, for you have in mind, not the things of God, but the things of man.” No, the kingdom of heaven is not about justice and equality, at least not as men count justice and equality, thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that He does not give you what you deserve, punishment, death, and eternal damnation, but that He gives you the very opposite, that He gives you forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation by grace alone, as a free and perfect gift, on account of His faithful servant Jesus Christ.
The master in Jesus’ parable is the LORD, your God, Himself. And, by His Word, He promised each and every laborer in His vineyard the exact same wage, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation by grace alone. It does not matter how great a sinner or saint you have been. It does not matter how worldly or pious you have been. It does not matter if you have been a lifelong Christian or a recent convert. It doesn’t even matter if your faith is a great as a mustard seed or even smaller. All that matters is that the LORD looks upon you in favor, by grace alone, because of His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ. You are saved by God’s free and perfect gift of grace alone – period – which you receive by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone – period – which, itself, is the free and perfect gift of the LORD. The point is this: The master had given his word to each and every one of his laborers. That word would never change or be broken. Indeed, the master kept his word to the very end of the day, and he paid each worker precisely what he promised he would. The testing and the quarreling are not with the word of the master, though the workers blame him and begrudge him, but the testing and the quarreling are because of the worker’s own misguided sense of equality and justice. They wanted what they believed they deserved, not what the master promised. However, the wages for sin is death, but the free gift of God’s grace is forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. Again, thanks be to God that He does not give you what you deserve. Rather, instead, your LORD gives you what you do not deserve, what you cannot earn, what you do not merit. Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ.
Thus, St. Paul compares your life in this world to a race. However, it’s a different kind of race than what you’re used to. In this race, everyone who finishes the race wins a prize – and, not just any prize, but the same prize, the prize of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. “That’s not fair!” you want to protest. You’re right, it’s not fair, thanks be to God. If you got what was fair, what was just, then you’d be dead, forever, and worse! No, it’s not fair, it’s not equal in the ways in which we count equality, thanks be to God. Moreover, the prize is not a trophy or a “perishable wreath,” but the prize is “imperishable” and everlasting. And, the prize is already laid up for you in heaven. Your name is on it. In a very real sense, it is already yours right now through baptism into Christ. No one can take it from you. Only you can reject it and leave it behind. But, why would you do that? Well, you put yourself at risk when you begrudge the LORD’s generosity to others when He offers the same to them as to you. Don’t do that! But, you must work to crucify such thoughts and ways and live to the LORD. And, this is the lesson of the rock in the wilderness, the glory of the LORD in the tabernacle, Jesus in the flesh, and the same wage paid to all who labor in the vineyard: In Jesus, the LORD gives to all forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation, freely, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Know this, believe this, and trust in this truth at all times, for the unchanging and irrevocable Word of the LORD has spoken. And, proclaim this truth to all in your words, and deeds, and lives to the glory of the LORD.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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