Sunday, January 24, 2016
Homily for Septuagesima
Matthew 20:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Is the LORD among us or not?” That is the question, isn’t it? Truly, a whole lot depends upon your answer to that question: How you view worship – Is it your work, or is it God’s work? How you worship – with deep reverence, humility, and awe, or with unfettered revelry and emotive expression? How you understand the Lord’s Supper – Is it merely a symbolic or spiritual presence, or is the real and true body and blood of Jesus Christ present in the Supper for the forgiveness of your sins? How you view baptism – Is it merely lawful obedience, or does it actually create faith and give the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, and bestow the Holy Spirit, as the Word of Scripture says? The answer to all these questions and more are bound up in your answer to the question, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
“Is the LORD among us or not?” Does God actually keep His Word? Did the Word of God, the Son of God, really become flesh and make His dwelling among us? What say you? Truth be told, you answer this question even without words, by your actions, in what you place your fear, your love, and your trust. That is because we are confessional beings. That is to say that your words and your deeds make a public confession of what you truly believe in your heart. And so, your answer to the question “Is the LORD among us or not?” will determine whether you live in contentment, peace, and hope, or if you live with restlessness, anxiety, and fear.
“Is the LORD among us or not?” That is the question the children of Israel had to answer in the wilderness. “Is the LORD among us or not?” Or, has God abandoned us? Does God have our best interests in heart and mind? Is God able to help us? Does God even want to help us? The people were thirsty and there was no water to drink. And so, they complained to Moses, they complained to their pastor, “Where is this God whom you say loves us? Why doesn’t He provide for us? Maybe you brought us up out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst.” Do their questions make you uncomfortable? They should. You know what the LORD had just done for them. The LORD led them out of captivity, bondage, and slavery in Egypt. And, before that, the LORD provided for His people in Egypt and made them a great nation. And, but a little bit earlier, the LORD had even provided sweet water for His people to drink. Why would they so quickly disbelieve and, even worse, blaspheme to think the LORD evil and wicked?
Do you not, at times, do the same? “Why has this disease befallen me? I’ve trusted in the LORD. I’ve tried to be a good person.” “Why does God permit evil to go on unchecked? Why do so many children die from war, disease, poverty, hunger, and thirst?” “Why does our church struggle so? Why don’t more people come? Is it the way we worship? Maybe we’re too old-fashioned, too Catholic, too irrelevant?” “Maybe it’s our pastor. If he’d just preach more about the problems we face in our lives, if he’d just lighten up and tell some stories or jokes, if he’d just not talk about moral and social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, or if he’d accept evolution or women pastors, then maybe we’d be growing instead of declining.”
“Is the LORD among us or not?” If your answer to that question is “Yes,” then you have nothing to fear, to worry, or to be anxious about. But, if your answer to that question is “No,” then you, and all men, are to be pitied, for my preaching is in vain, and your hope is in vain. Though your thirst may be well sated and your bellies full, though you may have ample clothing and shelter and many luxuries and material wealth, if the LORD is not among you, then you will die in this wilderness and will never enter the land of promise. God have mercy on you and turn you in repentance.
For, the LORD is indeed among us, even as He was among the children of Israel, guiding, providing for, and protecting them throughout their wilderness wanderings. Sweet water, water from the rock, manna and quail, all that the people needed to sustain their bodies and their lives, the LORD graciously provided them. They never went hungry and they never thirsted, though the LORD did test them as a father disciplines his children, that they would learn right from wrong, good from evil, and put their fear, their love, and their trust in Him alone. And, like rebellious children, they accused their heavenly Father of doing them evil. But “the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” He calls His children to repentance that He might shower them with His blessing.
And so, the LORD is with you in the most intimate of ways, in your very flesh and blood. Jesus is Emmanuel, which means, literally, “God with us.” In Jesus Emmanuel, the LORD is with you to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, and to give you His life and the benefits of communion with His Son. The LORD is with you to guide you in the ways you should go that you might live and prosper and be a bright light, leaven, and salt to those walking in the darkness of sin and death. The LORD is with you might be protected from the assaults of the evil one, resist temptation, persevere through affliction, and find the glory of God in the things to which He has attached His Word and promise instead of in the things that the flesh and the world value and deem to be glorious and good.
The LORD commanded Moses to strike the rock with his staff, promising that the people would have water to drink. St. Paul tells you that the Rock was Christ. Christ was with them all along. The Rock followed them wherever they went. Today, still, Christ the Rock is with you, providing you food and drink that you may not perish, but live. The LORD struck Christ, His Son, upon the cross, crucifying, crushing, and breaking Him for you that you might be forgiven and live. The LORD pierced the side of Christ the Rock, from whence flowed His cleansing blood and purifying water. Now the LORD is with you in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the meat and drink of the Lord’s Supper to sustain and keep you in your wilderness wanderings until He returns as Lord and King. Spiritually, you have already passed through the Red Sea in Holy Baptism and have entered the Promised Land. And, in His time your body will be raised from death to new and everlasting life. “Is the LORD among us or not?” Yes! Yes, He most certainly is!
Then why do you grumble and complain? Why are you anxious and fearful? Your words and your deeds are confessions of what you believe in your heart. You fear that the LORD will not provide for you because He does not do it in the ways that you would expect or that seem wise to men. You think that the LORD will not help you if you do not first help yourself, or that He isn’t able to help you, or that He doesn’t want to help you. And, when you see others prosper who do less than you, you are filled with anger and outrage at the inequity and the unfairness of it all, as were the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day who were paid the same as those who were hired near the end. Is the point that you should not grumble because no one is deserving of anything good at all? Well, yes, that is true. However, the greater point is that the LORD is among us and provides for all of us without exception or distinction. Indeed, St. Paul teaches that there is no distinction, not between Jew or Gentile, male or female, master or servant, but that all are one in Christ and are equally justified through faith in Him. For, the LORD is among us to forgive and to save and to sustain and to protect. The LORD is among us for each of us, for all of us, and for all. There is no distinction. Thanks be to God that He does not pay us what we deserve, the wages we have earned – death, but that He gives us the grace that we do not deserve and could never earn – the forgiveness of our sins, life, and eternal salvation.
And so, again, your answer to the question “Is the LORD among us or not?” is a confession of what you believe in your heart. Your answer will shape and determine how you view yourself in relation to God and to your neighbor, how you view your own works and faith, and how you view the works and gifts of the LORD that He provides for you. The children of Israel grumbled and complained and blasphemed the LORD saying that He was not with them, that He had abandoned them, and that He meant them harm and evil. They did not see and believe that He was among them as He had promised in His Word and had demonstrated repeatedly through miraculous signs and wonders. Similarly, the LORD is among you in His Word and Blessed Sacraments performing miraculous signs and wonder – creating and strengthening faith, forgiving sins, feeding, nourishing, and protecting His children – just as He has promised in His Word. Will you grumble at the ways in which He provides for you? Will you complain that that He favors others more than you, or the same as you? Will you blaspheme that He means you evil and seeks to harm you or abandon you? Or, will you confess that His ways are not your ways, that His foolishness is wiser than your wisdom, and receive the gifts that He gives to you in fear, love, and in trust of His Word and Promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ?
Your life, words, and deeds are the confession of your answer to the question, “Is the LORD among us or not?” You answer that question “Yes” by receiving His gifts faithfully and regularly in the Divine Service. You answer that question “Yes” by confessing yourself unworthy of such holy gifts. You answer that question “Yes” by not begrudging others mercy, compassion, grace, and forgiveness, but by readily, freely, and gladly sharing these with all. And, you answer that question “Yes” by trusting that the LORD is present and active for your good, and for the good of all, in the ways and through the means to which He has connected His Word of Promise, regardless of how humble, weak, foolish, and inglorious they might appear. For the LORD has chosen what is weak in this world to shame the strong, and what is foolish in this world to shame the wise, and what is not to bring to nothing things that are.
“Is the LORD among us or not?” If your answer to that question is “Yes,” then thanks be to God, for the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and will sanctify and keep you in the true faith. But, if your answer to that question is “No,” then you have deemed your wisdom to be wiser than the LORD’s and have made yourself to be god and, therefore, must save yourself. Good luck with that. But, thanks be to God that He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” He will continue to call those who turn away to repentance that He might bless them. But with each passing day and hour time is running out. The LORD is among us now through Word and Sacrament in His Church, but soon He will come in unveiled power and glory as King and Judge. May we be found among His gifts when He returns and enter with Him behind the veil into His glory and light and life.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.