Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Invocabit - The First Week of Lent

John 8:31-59; Exodus 32:1-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There was a time when God’s Word was sufficient for man, but it was a precious short time in the grand scope of history. In Eden, God spoke and man believed. Moreover, man believed and did not doubt. The serpent’s temptation was an attack upon God’s Word, or more precisely, it was an attack on man’s faith and trust in God’s Word. “Did God really say?” Shockingly, and sadly, that question is all that it took! For the first time our First Parents thought something about God and about themselves and about God’s Word and creation other than what God had actually said. You see, God had said something, something everlasting and irrevocable. But now, that wasn’t good enough for man. Man desired something else, something more in order to believe, which means, secretly, man suspected that there was something more, and that God was holding out on him. It is man’s desire that leads to sin and death. It’s what we value and treasure most in our lives that control us. It’s what we fear losing or not having, what we love and will sacrifice other things and people for, and what we trust in for our comfort and security and peace that is our god. And, since that first temptation to believe that God was holding out on us, that God is not good, we have not been and cannot be satisfied with God alone, but we crave and desire something other and something else, a desire that is insatiable, unfulfilled, and leads only to death.
It is likely that the Israelites did not think that they were committing wholesale idolatry in their making and worshipping the golden calf, but they simply, but sinfully, desired more than what God had given them. They desired some sign or material proof of God’s presence. They had understood Moses to be the visible presence of the LORD amongst them, but in his absence, how quickly they became afraid and insecure and clamored for reassurance that God was with them. Therefore, Aaron collected their golden jewelry, melted it down, and formed for them a golden calf, which the people understood as a physical, material representation of the invisible God. When he offered burnt offerings before the golden calf, Aaron even called it a “Feast to the LORD.”
But, it was idolatry, despite what seemed wise to men or their pious intentions. And, God’s wrath burned hot against His people and their idolatry. The LORD was prepared to destroy them, but Moses intervened, calling to remembrance the LORD’s covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, the LORD relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on His people. Yet, still, the LORD was angry and the people had sinned grievously. Moses commanded the sons of Levi to kill their brothers, companions, and neighbors, and about three thousand men were killed that day. And, the LORD sent a plague upon the people because they had sinned and rebelled against the LORD.
“You shall have no other gods.” That is the First Commandment. So simple, so clear, isn’t it? And yet, it is the most difficult for us to keep, and surely if we transgress any of the LORD’s commandments we transgress this first and most important one. This commandment is written on our hearts and is preached by our consciences, and yet we do not keep it. It is the reason our First Parents hid from the LORD when they sinned. They no longer loved or trusted in the LORD, that He is good, but they considered Him evil and cruel, withholding from them knowledge, and power, and glory. And, they no longer feared the LORD in a proper way, with reverence, honor, respect, and obedience, but they despised Him and feared harm to themselves or deprivation of bodily and worldly pleasures.
It is God who has made us, and we confess “that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses,” “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have” “out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” It should be self-evident that the One who has made you is greater than you, that you are not Him, but He is other than you and beyond you. Moreover, this One, our LORD, has made all things, thus He is above and greater than all things. Therefore, anyone or anything that you place your fear, love, and trust in above or before God is necessarily an idol and a false god, for you have placed your fear, love, and trust in the created above and before the Creator.
The First Commandment need not have been spoken, for it is simply the right order of things. As the Creator, source, and origin of all things that are, union with the LORD is life, and rejection of Him is, by necessity and definition, death. This is why Jesus taught, “He who is not with me is against me” and “no one comes to the Father except through me” – there simply is no other option or way. Thus, when the LORD says that He is a jealous God, He does not mean that He is envious of others or desirous of that which does not belong to Him, as we understand and experience jealousy, but rather the LORD is jealous of what is His, and that is you – to put it plainly the LORD will not share you with another, with an idol, a false god, or the devil, but He wants you fully, completely, and entirely in body, soul, life, obedience, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
Thus, the LORD has attached both a threat and a promise to His First Commandment saying, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” His threat is dire and unjust from our fallen human perspective. Because our wisdom, reason, and intellect, and our perceptions are all corrupted by sin and concupiscence, we are prone to call the LORD’s good, righteous, and holy wisdom foolishness and evil, and ours good. We must continually repent of this and humble ourselves before the LORD and His holy will and Word. And yet, as severe as His threat is, “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me,” the LORD’s promise is all the more sweeter, extending to “a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Although the threat is real and severe, it is alien to the LORD and is not His proper will and work, whereas the promise is proper of the LORD and reflective of His goodness and will towards His creation, of which He made mankind His crowning achievement and placed in dominion over all things that He has made.
There was a time when God’s Word was sufficient for man, but it was a precious short time. God’s Word is truth and life, thus did Jesus teach, “If you abide in My Word, You are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To the Pharisees who rejected Him Jesus said, “Whoever is of God hears the Words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” They understood that Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the promised Messiah. They rejected Him and sought to destroy Him. They wanted something other, something else. The Word of God is truth and life, and the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the Word made flesh, who is truth and life and the only way to the Father.
Let us pray: Lord God, author and source of all that is good, give us wisdom to fear Your wrath, strength to love You above all things, and faith to trust in Your promises alone, that by Your grace we may serve You all our days and finally come to inherit Your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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