Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lenten Vespers - Week of Reminiscere (Lent 2)

Matthew 26:30-56; Isaiah 45:15-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology were not very subtle. Mighty Zeus thundered from the heavens, hurling his lightning bolts to the earth. Surly Poseidon stirred up tempests upon the seas, making shipwreck of intrepid sailors who dared to traverse his waters, even as he pummeled coastal cities with raging surges and floods. Wily Ares made men’s hearts full of passion for war and violence and lust for power. They each had their temples and their statues, their cults and religious practices and liturgies. In all respects, they were believed to be very visible and terrifyingly present. And, in other cultures, their gods were no more subtle: The Hindu god Shiva is both a creator and a destroyer, as that religion’s belief in reincarnation necessitates the destruction of the old and the rebirth of the new in successive cycles. The Canaanite gods Baal and Moloch each demanded infant children as burnt sacrifices offered as their parents participated in bi-sexual orgies in order to bless the land and the people with fertile fields and wombs and with prosperity in general.
But, then there is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a God of whom the Prophet Isaiah says, “Truly, You are a God who hides Himself.” Undoubtedly, what the Prophet had in mind was the fact that other gods were depicted in images, statues, and idols; you could see them and worship before them, they were in plain sight for all to see. Anyone who asked you, “And, where is your god?” you could answer him, “He is there. See for yourself.” Not so the God of Israel. Yahweh, the LORD, is a God of His Word, and He is present and active in and through His Word. God is not worshipped through graven images. The sacrifices that please Him are a broken and contrite heart, repentance, humility, and love. The disciples of Yahweh see their God with their ears, and they worship Him in spirit and in truth. The LORD is not seen with the eyes, but He is present with His grace and mercy towards those who humble themselves in repentance and faith. However, He is also present with His wrath against sin and rebellion and idolatry for those who reject Him in unbelief, whose faith is in the works of their hands, be they deeds or idols.
“All of them [the idols, their makers and worshippers] are put to shame and confounded; the makers of idols go in confusion together.” The reason, says the Prophet, is because it is the LORD who created the heavens and the earth and all things in them. If there truly are other gods, then the LORD is their Creator. However, there are no other gods, save those that men fashion for themselves, idols, myths, and ourselves. And, truly, the worship of any other god or idol is the worship of Satan and his demons. In the chapter prior to this evening’s lesson, Isaiah remarks on the foolishness of idolatry saying, “All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human.” And then, to demonstrate the foolishness and futility of idolatry, Isaiah provides the account of a man who cut down a tree and chopped some of the wood to make a fire and to prepare his meal. Then, with the rest of the wood, the man carved an idol, bowed down and worshipped it, thanking it for the meal he just ate. Foolishness. All of them will be put to shame and confounded; the maker of idols will go in confusion together.
“I am the LORD, and there is no other,” thus saith the LORD. The Word of the LORD was not spoken in secret, but the Word was with the LORD in the beginning, the Word was the LORD, and all things that have been made were not made apart from the Word. Truly, it is not that the LORD hides Himself, for His power, wisdom, and design are self-evident in all of creation. Rather, it is that fallen men are blind in their sin to see the LORD. Thus, St. Paul proclaims in Romans chapter one, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
In the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the invisible God, the Word of God, became a man, became visible, seeable, and  touchable in a way no idol or false god ever could. Jesus was made to be the incarnate image and of the invisible God. In Jesus, the LORD no longer hides Himself, but has made Himself visible and approachable in the midst of His people. Still, most rejected Him in unbelief because He did not come in the ways in which men, with their foolish conception of glory, and their sin-corrupted values and desires, believed that God should appear. Jesus came as a human infant, born in a scandalous manner to an unwed virgin. He was the adopted son of a lowly carpenter from the backwater village of Nazareth. His disciples were but a rag-tag bunch of fishermen, a tax collector, zealots, and other people of inconsequence, unwashed and unclean. He numbered Himself with sinners, being baptized in the Jordan by John just like countless others. As the Prophet proclaimed, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” Therefore, “He was despised and rejected by men.”
But, for those who received the Spirit-given eyes to see through the faithful hearing of His Word, Jesus was the invisible God made visible, the almighty and righteous LORD dwelling in the midst of His people. Throughout His Passion, Jesus’ disciples struggled with their sin and unbelief to believe and trust in Him. At times they saw clearly and made bold confessions: Peter “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Thomas “My Lord, and my God!” And, at other times, they simply couldn’t grasp and they didn’t believe. They couldn’t believe that their God could be arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified and die. The women weren’t expecting to find anything but a dead body on Sunday morning. Even after His resurrection, they could only believe when the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see clearly, which means that they truly heard and believed the Word of the LORD.
It is not that our God hides Himself. It is that, in order to see Him, you have to hear Him, to hear His Word: “Faith come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” It is the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD that opens ears to hear and eyes to see. Thanks be to God in His mercy that He cares for us and calls us to faith in Him through His Son by His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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