Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How does child-like faith get any work done?


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As a general rule, whatever the popular culture is seeking is something a Christian should run away from as quickly as possible.  Whatever the world craves is almost certainly something to be avoided, but perhaps we have an exception in our popular culture's obsession with youth.  Behold the diets, the pills, the plastic surgery that modern people go through, and the post-modern people have their own methods of staying young - the crystals, the seances, the yoga - we know the drill, don't we?  All of that is to return to our personal past.  It isn't bad to want a long life with less pain, but we cannot go back to our childhood.  As a society we have found a way to extend childhood by making the teen years part of childhood instead of adulthood as it was in times of a pastoral society, indeed until the First World War.  There are some philosophies of education, and of politics, that literally worship an entity they call "the child."  This is not a specific child, but a kind of ideal they have of what children are, as if children were the hope of humanity.  I am not saying that the Church should do that.  The hope for humanity is the return of our Messiah, but today's Introit  (As newborn babes; desire the sincere milk of the Word.  Hear, O My people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto Me.  Ps. Sing aloud unto God, our Strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob) suggests that we might imitate some attitudes that one usually finds in children.  I don't mean the ignorance which adults mistake for innocence.  I don't mean the lack of manners which adults mistake for genuineness.  I mean the sense of wonder, to be capable of being impressed by the truly remarkable, to be able to admire and accept something totally new.  That's what the Lord was talking about when He told His disciples You must become like little children, and that is what St. Peter meant when he told us to desire the milk of the word as newborn babes.

Last Sunday and today we have been singing Easter hymn, hearing the texts of of the Lord's resurrection, receiving the nourishment of His Holy Supper, and being assured of forgiveness through His Absolution.  Today in the Collect (Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we who have celebrated the solemnities of the Lord's resurrection may, by the help of Thy grace, bring forth the fruits thereof in our life and conversation; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.  Amen) we prayed for the power to bring forth the fruits of His resurrection.  We hear St. Peter in the Introit, which is why we call this Sunday what we do, "as newborn babes" Sunday, usually in the Latin, quasi modo geniti.  We have been born again.  That was by Jesus, the Firstborn from the dead, who unites us to Himself by Holy Baptism.  Every time the Body of Christ receives a new member that way, it should remind us that we are all babies before the cross of Jesus, who need to grow in the faith.

Today's Gospel lesson is divided into two parts.  The first part takes place on Easter evening, when Jesus says As the Father sent me, even so I send you.  The word "as" is important.  It means we have just as much authority as Jesus had.  His victory was a real victory; our salvation is a real salvation.  We have indeed been subject to the world and the flesh, but Jesus has delivered us, joined us to Himself.  We have been baptized into His death.  As newborn babes we are rather helpless, yet we have a mission to conquer the world.  At first we might think That's impossible, but we must learn to call that The fruits of the resurrection.

The world does not like the Church.  The world is very evil, therefore it has taken to kicking us around.  The Church did not bring about the evil.  It has been there from the beginning.  The Church is a blessing to the world, but not the sort of blessing the world is likely to appreciate.  We call people into God's kingdom, not the kingdom of glory - that would be all right - but the kingdom of grace, the realm of the cross.  Grace and the cross will never be popular.  We do not cause poverty, loneliness, or injustice.  All these have been from the beginning.  Don't blame the Church because the masses of mankind have never repented.  The Church has always called the society around it to repent.  None of that has changed.  Has the Church given people a new self-understanding?  It has tried.  By preaching the Law it has tried to deflate the human ego, to make people hunger and thirst after righteousness.  It holds up before the world the mirror of divine perfection.  The world does not like what it sees in it, but we also preach the Gospel that people may see themselves as lambs belonging to the Good Shepherd.  We show them the empty tomb of Jesus and urge them to stand in awe and wonder, as newborn babes.

Now let's look at the second part of today's Gospel, the story of Thomas.  In this part Thomas was most directly affected by what Jesus did, but everyone who was there learned something, and so must we.  Jesus scolds us for our doubt.  We should have taken Him seriously when He said As the Father sent me, so I send you, but he doesn't stop with the scolding.  He shows us his wounds, He invites us to see for ourselves whether God keeps his promises.  Here Jesus shows us how wonderfully physical His resurrection was.  This was not just a memory.  These were infallible proofs of a story which every impulse tells us was too good to be true.  Before the Gospel mankind did not write stories with happy endings.  There are a couple in the Old Testament, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, which are types of the Gospel.  Those stories end well because of what Jesus would do.  Jesus tells Thomas and us that God's love is stronger than death, stronger than sin, stronger than Satan.  Had He stayed dead, it would have meant that either Moses and the Prophets were liars, or that Jesus was a sinner.  But the good news of Easter is that He is no longer dead.  He fulfilled the Law for us.

Now because of Jesus we are God's infants.  St. John concludes this lesson by saying These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name.  Faith is the organ by which we receive eternal life.  Just as infants can cry and hope someone will hear and relieve their distress, so we can cry to our heavenly Father who puts our doubts aside, and bids us come and handle holy things.  The Fountain of Life has milk for the spiritual infant.  Remember, however, God does not want you to stay an infant forever.  Trust Him like a child, but also let the milk do its job, to nourish you until you are weaned.  We never want to be weaned from God, but we do need to be weaned from Mammon, from the flesh, from the empty fantasies of the media, from seeking after yourself all the time.  He wants to turn you away from these vain things to Him, therefore all these things are written down, that you might believe.  Keep in touch with your Savior through His Word.  Come and partake of His Sacrament.  The dwelling of God is with man.  His hands, feet, and side are in heaven now, but his Body and Blood are still here.  Before them we can fall down crying My Lord and my God.  AMEN

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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