Thursday, February 18, 2010

Extra-Ordinary Love

Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Just eight weeks ago it was Christmas. All the hopeful expectation and thoughtful meditation reached a glorious pinnacle as we joined with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in the song of praise first sung by the angels to some frightened shepherds outside of Bethlehem announcing that God had become man and was born in the House of Bread to restore peace between God and man.

In three days it will be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, and we will consider the wages our sins have earned, the terrible price that we must, but cannot, pay – the price that Immanuel, God with us, was born to pay for us by His death on the cross.

How quickly our joy turns to sorrow, our rejoicing to grieving; but the Church does not have bi-polar disorder, She is not manic-depressive. For the Church, as for Her Lord, the joy and the sorrow, the rejoicing and the grieving, go together as do the sweet and the bitter, and often at the same time.

And in that way, the experience of the Church is very much like our experience of love – sweet and bitter, and often at the same time. Our Lord Himself teaches us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone should lay down his life for his friends.” Now, I’m guessing you won’t find that on too many Valentine’s Day cards. The greatest love possible is a selfless and self-sacrificing love; we might say a love that is patient and kind; a love that does not envy or boast; a love that is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth; a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; a love that never ends. A selfless and self-sacrificing love that is both bitter and sweet, and often at the same time.

I don’t know about you, but shopping for a Valentine’s Day card is a frustrating experience. I can never find a sentiment that reflects how I feel about my wife or our marriage, that describes love as we experience it. The worst types of these cards romanticize and idealize love, making it an unrealistic and impossible fantasy which our all too real marriage necessarily falls short of. While the best of these cards, though acknowledging the disappointments and the unfulfilled expectations that are common to our relationships, and even credit love as that ‘thing’ that will make everything work out all right, still never seem to get at what exactly love is, or means, or where love comes from, or how it’s even possible to love.

What Hollywood romanticizes, what Hallmark just doesn’t understand, and what Oprah hopelessly confuses, is that love is not infatuation or carnal lust, love is not a tired sentiment or cliché, and love is not a mysterious force or even an emotion – love is a person, Jesus Christ, the incarnate love of the Father who suffers long and is kind, who is not puffed up, who never fails us.

It is because of our sin that we are blind to see love for who He is. And so we grope around in our blindness seeking love in temporary things and fleeting emotions while we fail to see that love is present with us always and yet we would allow Him to pass on by. We are like the disciples who were too blind to see that love is selfless and self-sacrificing, who turn away from God’s love in misunderstanding and unbelief because in our blindness we think it foolishness. We think it foolishness that the Love of God incarnate must go up to Jerusalem as was prophesied and be mocked and spat upon and flogged and killed, and on the third day rise again. The disciples could not see it, we do not and cannot see it because we are blind in our sin. We have eyes that see, yet we do not see. We have ears that hear, yet we do not hear. Who then will save us in our blindness? Who then will have mercy on us in our deafness?

The Prophet Isaiah wrote: Behold, your God will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. It was a blind man on the side of the road who could not see Jesus but had to take it upon the word of others that He was present who believed this Word of God. In his blindness he could see more clearly than the disciples that in this Jesus from lowly Nazareth, Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled. The plea that falls from the blind man’s lips is the only plea that falls from the lips of a repentant sinner, “Kyrie eleison. Have mercy on me.”

The cry for mercy is not the cry to receive something, rather it is the cry to not receive something that we should – eternal suffering and death. Jesus is merciful, He does not give us what we deserve, rather He takes what we deserve upon Himself, He suffers and dies in our place upon the cross, because He is love, and no greater love is possible than to lay down one’s life for another. And yet, not only does Jesus not give us what we deserve, sacrificing Himself instead in love, but He also gives us what we do not deserve, grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. And this is the fullest expression of love – mercy and grace. Because love never takes, but always gives; love never binds, but always forgives. To have everything else, but this love, St. Paul teaches, is to have nothing in the end. But to have this love is to have everything.

Jesus restored the blind man’s sight, but this day He gives you a gift far greater than mere physical sight. Today he gives you His love, which will sustain you and hold you together in this life unto the next. The love of the Father incarnate pours into your heart and soul. It is a gift like no other. No-one who cries out in faith and hope “Lord, have mercy” will go away empty handed. And the gifts we receive are not of this world, but are flung from heaven in the Words and wounds of Jesus through His holy Word and precious Sacraments. By this we know what love is, that He laid down his life for us; in the same way ought we to lay down our lives for others.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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