Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Homily for Lenten Vespers In the Week of Laetare (The Fourth Sunday In Lent)
Luke 23:1-25; Jeremiah 38:1-6
God’s vindication of the innocent sufferer: The Innocent Blood of Jeremiah
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A prophet of the Most High could be certain of one thing in his life: persecution, suffering, and death. That’s why the Magi blessed the baby Jesus with a gift of myrrh – it was an embalming spice. That’s why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Zechariah was stoned to death in the porch of the temple by King Joash because he denounced the people for their unfaithfulness. Jezebel attempted to wipe out the worship of the LORD, and replace it with the worship of Baal, by exterminating numerous unnamed Prophets of the LORD in the time of Elijah. And, apocryphal sources suggest that the Prophet Isaiah was sawn in half because he prophesied the judgment and fall of Jerusalem on account of the wickedness of the people, calling it "Sodom and Gomorrah."
Likewise, the Prophet Jeremiah found himself sinking in the mud of a dry well, left to die of hunger and thirst, for proclaiming, “Thus says the LORD.” Jeremiah told the soldiers of Jerusalem that the LORD’s judgment was about to fall upon them in the form of conquest by the Chaldeans. He proclaimed that if they remained in the city, they would surely die, but if they would surrender and present themselves before the Chaldeans, the LORD promised that they would live. You can see that it was a test of faith: Which did the people fear, love, and trust more? The Word and Promise of the LORD, or their own might, wisdom, wealth, and possessions. The officials brought their complaints against Jeremiah before King Zedekiah, claiming that the Prophet was “weakening the hands of the soldiers” who were left in the city and that he was not “seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” The King was afraid. He needed his soldiers. He couldn’t risk the hearts of his people melting with fear. Likely, even his pride and self-interest made him recoil at the suggestion of surrender. Therefore, King Zedekiah handed Jeremiah over to the officials that they may do with him as they desired.
This is what happens when the Word of the LORD is rejected. It must be cast out. It must be ridiculed. It must be destroyed. While it exists, it stands in righteous judgment over sinners. It exposes guilt. It makes the sinner uncomfortable. However, even when it has been purged, cast out, and destroyed, still it haunts the consciences of sinful men and it drives them either into ever-increasing hatred and rage, or into bottomless, suffocating despair. Obviously, no one can live like that. And, that’s precisely what the Enemy desires. And, woe to the Prophet. Woe to the one who speaks for the LORD. Woe to you Abel. Woe to you Isaac. Woe to you Joseph. Woe to you Elijah. Woe to you Jeremiah. Woe to you Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Woe to you John the Baptist. Woe to you Jesus. And, woe to you Pastors, and woe to you Christian laity – for as they did to the Prophets, so will they do to you.
Thanks to the intervention of an Ethiopian eunuch, King Zedekiah relented and released Jeremiah from the well, but kept him under a sort of house arrest. Ultimately, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, delivered Jeremiah and treated him kindly. But, no such love came from his own people to whom he was sent. And, so it was with Jesus, who was not a Prophet, but who was, and is, the very Word of God Himself made flesh. Jesus was handed over to Pilate because He spoke, “Thus says the LORD.” The people’s accusation was nearly identical to the charge against Jeremiah, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” However, neither the Gentile Pilate, nor the Jewish Herod, found any guilt in Jesus. Yet, for fear of a riot, of a loss of comfort, security, and political position, Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jewish religious officials to be crucified. Then, Pilate released Barabas, the man who had been thrown in prison for insurrection and murder.” The Word of God made flesh was rejected, cast out, mocked and ridiculed, and then destroyed, while a true sinner, criminal, insurrectionist, and murderer went free.
“It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem," said Jesus. The Prophets of the LORD are persecuted because they faithfully proclaim, “Thus says the LORD.” Christian Pastors are rejected, mocked, and ridiculed just the same. And, so are you mocked and ridiculed, rejected, and persecuted too, just as your Lord Jesus promised, “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” But, do not be discouraged. Rather, take heart, for your Lord Jesus has suffered and sanctified rejection, persecution, suffering, and death for you, and even now He shoulders your rejection, persecution, suffering, and death with you. You are not alone, but He is with you always. Even as you walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death – which is now, in your life, as much as in your death – your Good Shepherd is with you, guiding you, providing for you, protecting you, and carrying you. Moreover, He has passed through the Valley for you and has kicked down the door of death that would keep you in. And, now, He accompanies you and He shepherds you as you make your pilgrimage through the Valley, and, in His time, He will shepherd you into His Father’s house forevermore, where His sheep may safely graze.
The Word of God was with God in the beginning, and was God. By Him, all things that have been made were made. The Word of God is your life and your salvation, therefore, it is worth suffering mockery, ridicule, persecution, and death for. Thus, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote in his Lamentations, “The LORD will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.