Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Homily for Lenten Vespers In the Week of Oculi - The Third Sunday In Lent

John 12:20-36; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Isaiah 60:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There in an old Latin saying found in the writings of the third century North African bishop, St. Cyprian of Carthage, that goes, “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus,” meaning, “outside of the Church, there is no salvation.” Now, this statement often offends Protestants, who understand “the Church” in this saying to mean the Roman Catholic Church specifically and singularly. Indeed, contrary to their own written doctrines and Catechism, this dictum has been used as a line of demarcation of sorts to determine who’s in, and who’s out, of the Church according to their subordination, or insubordination, to the Pope and the Magisterium. However, that is not the official Roman teaching, nor was it Cyprian’s teaching in the third century. But, extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, outside of the Church, there is no salvation, is a Biblical teaching, even the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus makes it clear in John’s Gospel that salvation is found in no one else but Him saying, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic, Protestant, or other, will not disagree on this point. Indeed, that salvation is in and through Christ alone is the chief and central doctrine of the Christian faith. However, is that all that our Lord has to say about the matter? No, it is not. At the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the necessity of Holy Baptism saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the necessity of confession saying, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And, in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the necessity of the Holy Eucharist saying, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Yes, salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ. However, your life and sustenance are also in Christ and Christ alone who cleanses you, forgives you, and nourishes and strengthens you that you may live. These things He does for you only in the Church, His body, in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion.
Moreover, the Apostle Paul repeatedly teaches that the Church is Jesus’ body, and that He is Her Head. From the Epistle to the Romans – “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” From the First Epistle to the Corinthians – “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Again from First Corinthians – “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” And, from the Epistle to the Ephesians – “Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.” The Church is the body of Christ. Outside of Christ, there is no salvation. Therefore, outside of the Church, there is no salvation.
This dictum is logical. It is Biblical. It is taught by Jesus and the Apostles. And, yet, for many, it is unpalatable. Why is that? Well, there are many reasons, but perhaps the greatest reason is our sense of individualism and our desire to maintain independence from others. Many American Christians regularly say things like, “I don’t need to go to church. I can worship God anywhere.” “The church is full of hypocrites, anyway.” “They just do the same things week after week. That’s just the ceremonies and traditions of men. I don’t need that religion. I’m spiritual, not religious.” Maybe you’ve thought or said such things before. However, such statements, while not entirely incorrect, can serve to harden your heart and to keep you separate and independent, not only from those who attend church, but from the Church Herself, which is the body of Christ. That, the devil wants more than anything else. He wants you separated, isolated, and alone, for then he can really go to town on you and eat you alive, destroy your faith.
What does Jesus teach? “I AM the vine, and you are the branches. Remain in me, and I will remain in you, and you will bear much fruit.” However, Jesus also teaches that a branch cannot bear fruit if it is detached from the vine. It has no life in it. It is dead. Such a branch is fit only for the fire of hell. Likewise, outside of the body of Christ, the Church, there is no salvation. For, outside of Jesus, there is no forgiveness of sins, life, and sustenance of life. Thus, Jesus calls you to die to your self and your selfish independence and be joined to Him, His body, His Church. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” And, as the Head of the Church, which is His body, Jesus bids you to follow Him in the way He must go, saying, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Jesus says, “The Father will honor him.” The Father will honor you because the Father honors Jesus and, through faith and baptism into His body, you are one flesh and blood with Jesus.
And yet, there is so much more to being the body of Christ than your own salvation. Indeed, as much as you are not saved in an isolated, independent way, but in a community, a fellowship, even the body of Jesus Christ, the Church, so you are not saved for your own sake alone, but for the sake of the world in Jesus Christ. As you are members of His body, so Jesus’ life and speech and works flow through and out of you for the benefit of your neighbor, your community, and your world. Just as Jesus compared Himself to a grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies that it may not remain alone, but bear much fruit, so does your death to your self and the world bear fruit in life given to others to the glory of God the Father. As Jesus was lifted up on the cross, so did He draw all people, even you, unto Himself. Even still, through the Church, His body, does He continue to draw all people unto Himself. And, as He is the Light of the world, so does His light shine in and through you to enlighten the world, that people may not walk in darkness and stumble and fall, but walk in light and receive salvation in Jesus Christ. To be the Light of Christ in a world of darkness, sin, and death, also, is a chief purpose of the body of Christ, the Church.
When you leave this sanctuary in which Christ is present in His Word and Sacraments and go out into the world, you do not go out as an individual or as an isolated Christian, but you go out as the hands, heart, and voice of Jesus, an extension of His body, the Church. Jesus promises you that you are never alone, but that He is always with you. Jesus is not with you merely in a spiritual sense, but He is with you, in you, and through you because you are a member of His body – “remain in me, and I will remain in you, and you will bear much fruit.” You go out into the world to serve your neighbor and that, through you, Jesus might continue His work of drawing all men to Himself. He draws them, not merely by telling them the good news, but by bringing them into His body, the Church, through Holy Baptism, by forgiving their sins in Holy Absolution, and by feeding and strengthening them for service in His Kingdom in Holy Communion. The self-serving, individualistic, spiritual-but-not-religious Christian is content to leave people where they are. But, not you, for you are the Light of Christ. The Light of Christ shines in you and through you that those dwelling in darkness might be lead to the True Light, Jesus, and His body, the Church, outside of which, there is no salvation.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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