Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Lenten Vespers In the Week of Oculi (Lent 3)

John 19:1-16a; Isaiah 33:17-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Christians have long thought of themselves as exiles, pilgrims, and as strangers in a foreign land. St. Augustine famously began his Confessions with the words, “Our hearts are restless, until they find rest in You, O LORD.” Our hymns and songs of praise reflect the same sentiment: “I am but a stranger here; heaven is my home.” “What is the world to me?” And, the Scriptures reflect the same as St. Paul famously said, “For me to live is Christ; to die is gain,” and  “our citizenship is in heaven.” And, St. Peter exhorts you saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Likewise, speaking of the Old Testament Patriarchs and Saints, the Preacher to the Hebrews proclaimed, “having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. […] …they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
The children of Israel were a pilgrim people, journeying as strangers in foreign lands as they made their way to a land the LORD had promised would one day be theirs, even though they had never seen it and it was occupied by others. The people wandered from place to place as the LORD lead them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud stopped, the people stopped and they set up their tents, and they set up the tent of the Tabernacle, and God’s glorious presence filled the tent, and He dwelt amongst His people. As His people dwelt in tents in foreign lands, so did their LORD and God dwell in a tent amongst His people.
Over time, the people wanted a king for themselves like the foreign nations had. They had forgotten that the LORD was their King. So, the LORD granted them what they desired and He told them what their king would do: “He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” Then the LORD anointed Saul as king over Israel.
Later, when David was anointed king over Israel, he desired to build a house, a temple, for the LORD, to fix permanently on earth what was truly a spiritual and heavenly kingdom. But, the LORD answered David saying, “Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” Eventually David’s son Solomon did indeed build the LORD a house, the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, for all of Solomon’s God-given wisdom, he turned the LORD’s gifts into idols and lead the people into apostasy.
You are not to be too comfortable in this life and world. You are to receive the gifts the LORD blesses you with in thanksgiving and use them for yourself, for your family, and for your neighbor to the glory of God. However, you are not to put your fear, your love, and your trust in created things above and before the LORD your God who created them. On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten pilgrimage, we heard Jesus’ words, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You are pilgrims, sojourners, and exiles in this life and world. You must remember this, and Lent is a great time to remember this anew. The whole point of Lenten fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is make yourself aware that your life does not consist of food, possessions, and worldly comforts. The fact that it hurts to give them up is only evidence of how much you have put your fear, love, and trust in them and of how they have become idols which you must cast down and destroy. The LORD is your food and drink, your rest, and your home. If you find your life, your sustenance, and your rest in the LORD, then you have all that you need and you are at home, no matter what you have or don’t have, no matter where you are.
You are pilgrims, sojourners, and exiles now. And yet, through Holy Baptism and faith, you are heirs with Jesus of His heavenly kingdom, and are already citizens thereof. Though you live as strangers in a strange land, “Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken But there the LORD in majesty will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams,” “For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; He will save us.” “So, you are a king,” Pilate asked of Jesus. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus answered. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and you are his subjects and fellow heirs of His other-worldly kingdom. Lay up your treasures there, and find your rest in Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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