Sunday, February 7, 2016
Homily for Quinquagesima
Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The so-called New Atheists of our day seemingly delight in mocking and ridiculing your Christian faith. Regularly on social media, television, and talk radio do they refer to your God as your “Fairy Godfather” or as the “Invisible Man in the Sky,” or they liken your faith to belief in an absurd Flying Spaghetti Monster. They like to dismiss your faith as being irrational and groundless, having no bearing in the natural, material world of empirical, scientific evidence. However, they are simply wrong. While God may be unobservable, because He is an eternal spirit who exists outside of and before His creation of the universe, He has, nevertheless, penetrated and entered this universe and has taken upon Himself the material stuff of His creation being born, in time, to a human mother, as a human man, in a particular known place, in a particular known time in history, in the presence of particular known witnesses who simply would not and could not keep their mouths shut concerning what they had heard and seen.
And, that is precisely why the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning of the Gospel, a Greek word that means “Good News.” The Reformed theologian Michael Horton has written in his book Christless Christianity: “The central message of Christianity is not a worldview, a way of life, or a program for personal or societal change; it is a gospel. From the Greek word for “good news,” typically used in the context of announcing a military victory, the gospel is the report of an appointed messenger who arrives from the battlefield. That is why the New Testament refers to the offices of apostle (official representative), preacher, and evangelist, describing ministers as heralds, ambassadors, and witnesses. Their job is to get the story right and report it, ensuring that the message is delivered by word (preaching) and deed (sacrament).” Thus, the story of the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ, is not subjective, it is not an opinion, or even a belief, but “it is about news, reports of events, [and] phenomena that occurred in real human history.”
It is in this manner that the crowd following Jesus, including His disciples, were proclaiming the Good News about Jesus in the same way that a king’s heralds would announce his coming saying, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by!” In his book Heaven On Earth, Arthur Just explains that, “In the ancient world, the king would sometimes visit a village or city. Anticipating his coming, villagers would line the road waiting for him to appear, and as he entered the city they would cry, ‘Lord, have mercy!’ Amid their shouts, one could also hear petitions from the crowd for gifts that reflected the king’s mercy, such as food, protection, lower taxes, and always and most important, peace. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is an excellent example of this.” Likewise, the blind beggar in today’s Gospel was just such a one waiting along the roadside to petition King Jesus as He passed by.
Legend holds that Martin Luther’s dying words were, “We are all beggars, every one.” This is certainly consistent with Luther’s teaching throughout his ministry. Like the poor blind beggar along the roadside, we bring nothing before Jesus our King. We bring nothing to Jesus – not our works, not our righteousness, not our choice, not even our faith – but we are truly poor, blind, and deaf beggars in total and complete dependence upon His mercy, His charity, His compassion, His grace, and His love. If we think that we come before Him with anything at all, the truth is not in us, we deceive ourselves, and worse, we will never receive the forgiveness He died to give us. That is your fault and my fault, our own most grievous fault. For, the Word is out there. The Lord’s heralds – His apostles, preachers, and evangelists of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and Satan, which has secured forgiveness and redemption for all who will believe without exception or distinction – The Lord’s heralds have proclaimed this Good News throughout the world. But, only beggars can receive it, just as only confessing sinners can be forgiven, and only the dead can be raised.
Therefore, you must see yourself in that blind beggar along the roadside, for he is every sinner, and he is every Christian, a servant of King Jesus and a recipient of His Kingly gifts. His only plea before the Lord is kyrie eleison, “Have mercy on me!” But, those in the crowd rebuked him and told him to be silent. This is what the devil always does. He tries to make you silent before Jesus. Thus, he will speak to your pride and attempt to get you to think that you don’t need any forgiveness, that you’re a pretty good person, better than most. But, this is self-righteousness, and your faith is not in Jesus but in yourself. Or, Satan will speak to your guilty conscience and condemn you so that you are silent before Jesus because you consider yourself too sinful and too guilty to address Him or to receive His forgiveness. This is why you must always see yourself as the beggar. For, it’s not about you, that is how good you are, or how bad you are, but it’s only and always about Jesus, that He loves you and forgives you despite yourself. Believe this, for Jesus’ sake.
Yes, the devil wants to silence you before Jesus. However, your faith makes you cry out all the louder still. Thus, when confronted by those who sought to silence him, the blind beggar cried out all the more saying, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is what faith does: it clings to what it knows of Jesus and ignores everything else. The blind man’s kyrie literally stopped our Lord in His tracks. King Jesus stopped His procession and He stood before the man and asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Likewise, when you pray your kyries before the Lord, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy,” the Lord stops before you and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Whatever you ask in My Name My Father will give you.” “Ask, and you shall receive,” “Knock, and the door will be opened.” However, don’t ask from your need, but ask from what you know about Jesus – His goodness, His kindness, His compassion, mercy, and grace, His Name that is above all names, His righteousness and holiness, His Sonship with the Father. Yes, when you say your kyries before the Lord, you, like the blind beggar and so many others, are confessing Him to be the Son of David, the King of heaven and earth, the only-begotten Son of the Father, Emmanuel, God with us.
“Lord, let me recover my sight,” the beggar pleaded with Jesus. “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well,” Jesus answered. What’s important here is not that the man’s faith made him physically see again. It wont be long and his eyes will sleep the sleep of death. What’s important is that his faith made him well, saved him, that his eyes will open again on the Last Day and behold the same Lord who stands before him now. It is this faith that we desire: saving faith that sees Jesus. Immediately the man recovered his sight and he followed Jesus in His procession towards the cross, for if anyone would follow King Jesus as His subject and disciple, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Him through humility, meekness, selflessness, sacrifice, and death unto resurrection and life that will never end. And, as he went his way following Jesus to the cross, he glorified God. This is what beggars do: “This one here, He did this for me.” This is the briefest definition of what it means to glorify or praise God: simply recount what He has done.
We are all beggars before our merciful King. While our Alleluias have gone away for a time, our Kyrie never does. Jesus’ ears remain continually open to our cries for mercy. We receive our wages according to His desire to give, we receive the Word according to His reckless love, and we cry to Him as beggars who have nothing, but expect to gain all good things from His nail-pierced hands. This is the Gospel, this is the Good News that Jesus’ heralds – His apostles, preachers, and evangelists – proclaim to you. May the Holy Spirit open your ears to hear and your eyes to see the Lord who is active in the world and in the lives of the men and the women He has created and redeemed, who are simply incapable of keeping their mouths shut concerning what they have heard and seen. Ours is not a God who is far off, but a God and King and Lord who is very near. He is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones, having become one of us as our Brother, our Husband, our Savior, our Lord, and our God.
Therefore, do not be like those who judge only by what their physical eyes see and by what their physical ears hear, for there is more to life and to creation than that. For, the supernatural has penetrated and has entered the natural, and the spiritual has taken up the physical – The Word of God has become flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. Those who can physically see and hear are often blind and deaf to the God who is with us as one of us. In contrast, the spiritually poor, impoverished, hungry and thirsty, humble, persecuted, and even the blind and the deaf can receive the Gospel, the Good News, about Jesus. The deaf can hear, and the blind can see. Blessed be the Name of the Lord! Even now, hearken to the words of Jesus’ heralds: “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by!” Where? Here, amongst you, in Word and water, bread and wine, to forgive you, to strengthen you, to sustain you, and to keep you in Him for life and salvation evermore. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.