Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Lenten Vespers in the Week of Invocabit (Lent 1)

Matthew 12:38-50; 1 Kings 19:3b-8; Exodus 24:12-18

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The number forty in the Bible typically represents a period of trial or testing, or even probation. In the Old Testament, the LORD caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights when He destroyed all living things by the flood. After Moses killed an Egyptian, he fled to the land of Midian where he tended flocks for forty years. Moses met with the LORD forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai when the LORD presented him with the Ten Commandments. The Israelite spies took forty days to spy out Canaan. The Israelites wandered forty years in the wilderness. Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to slay him. When Elijah fled from Jezebel, he traveled 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb sustained by food provided by the Angel of the LORD. Jonah warned the Ninevites that the LORD had given them forty days to repent lest the city and its inhabitants face utter destruction. In the New Testament, Jesus was tempted for forty days and forty nights, and there were forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension. And, there are numerous other examples.
There is a saying that “faith that is not tested cannot be trusted.” When Moses was on Mount Sinai with the LORD forty days and forty nights, the faith of the Israelites below was being tested. Would they trust in the LORD and His word and promise, or would they turn to themselves or to false gods and idols. As you surely remember, when Moses came down the mountain forty days later with the Ten Commandments in his hands, he found that the people had made a golden calf and were worshipping it saying, “We do not know what has become of this Moses.” Moses threw down the tablets of stone on which were written the Commandments of the LORD to the ground, shattering them in his anger. He burned the golden calf and mixed its ashes with water and made the people drink it.
Likewise, the LORD tested Elijah’s faith when he fled murderous Jezebel. In a moment of despair and hopelessness Elijah prayed that the LORD would take his life now. As Elijah rested and wept under a broom tree in the wilderness outside Beersheba, the Angel of the LORD visited him and provided him cakes to eat and fresh water to drink. Later, the Angel of the LORD visited Elijah again and he ate and drank. Then Elijah was refreshed and in the strength of that food traveled forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Does the LORD test your faith today? Surely, He does. The LORD tests your faith to see if you will still seek and praise Him even through the storms of your life. Often through such testing you will discover just how strong your Spirit-given faith is or can be. For the LORD disciplines those He loves and chastises every son whom He receives. When you experience a trial or test, do not grow weary or faint and do not give up, but call upon the LORD even more and place your trust in Him and His word and promise.
We are now a week into the forty days of Lent. Traditionally, Lent is a penitential season and a season of testing of our faith as we fast and pray and give alms, disciplines largely lost on most Christians today. The forty days of Lent are patterned after Jesus’ forty days fasting in the wilderness where His faith was tested as He faced temptation from Satan. In contrast to Adam and Eve who were tested and tempted in a lush paradise of a garden where they were well-provided for and satisfied, Jesus was tested and tempted in a barren wilderness after fasting for forty days. Tempted to satisfy his fleshly desires by using His divine power as the Son of God to turn stones into bread, Jesus instead trusted in the Word of the LORD, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Repeatedly, in place of Adam, in your place, Jesus resisted the devil’s temptations and afflictions by standing firm on the Word of God. Thus does St. Paul exhort you in Ephesians chapter six to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Armor is defensive, not offensive. It is meant to protect you from the assaults of the evil one. The Word of God, which Paul describes as the “sword of the Spirit” is defensive; you can stand firm and unmovable upon it through testing, trial, tribulation, and temptation.
Moreover, there is no neutral ground upon which you can stand. As Jesus Himself teaches, you are either with Him or against Him. You are either filled with the Holy Spirit of God, or you will be possessed by Satan and his demons. In Holy Baptism the devil was exorcised from you and the house of your body was filled and occupied by the Holy Spirit of God. Your new man is sustained, nourished, and protected through the frequent and regular hearing of God’s Word and the reception of the Holy Sacraments. In this way the LORD provides for you and strengthens you to persevere through testing, trial, tribulation, and temptation.
Yet even more, when you were baptized, you were born again into a new family, those who do the will of God the Father. In Holy Baptism, Jesus’ Father has become your Father, the Church your Mother, and the faithful your brothers and sisters in Christ. You are your brother’s keeper, and vice-versa. Indeed, the Church is a family and a great support as we together make our pilgrim way through the valley of the shadow of death into the Father’s house forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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