Sunday, May 18, 2014

When God gives us over to the sin we really want


Therefore, behold, I will again do marvelous things with this people, wonderful and marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid. Isaiah 29:14

For the world Easter is a short-lived affair.  For those who do not celebrate the resurrection of Christ it is little more than a time to relax, eat good food and look forward to summer fun, but not so for us, dear Christians.  If we spent forty days preparing for the Lamb’s High Feast, we will spend just as many rejoicing in its wonders, and recounting its jubilant themes one by one.

Today is called Cantate which means sing.  It is the traditional name for the fourth Sunday after Easter and is taken from Psalm 98 which enjoins us to “sing a new song unto the Lord;” and sing we do, not just today but every day because God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and has given us every reason to sing very loudly, and to sing very long, to intone jubilant melodies, to chant hymns of praise to our God, to compose songs replete with God’s glorious Word which are able to give us victory over all that sin, death and the devil can throw our way.

Now on the surface the Old Testament lesson for Cantate hardly sounds like anything to sing about.  In it God gives His people exactly what they want.  They wanted to be blind so He confirms them in their blindness.  They wanted their prophets to stop interrupting their fun so that they could spend their days in one, long, endless party, but in the ancient near east parties were not innocent affairs.  They always involved worship of the fertility goddesses, which in turn involved every form of sexual promiscuity and deviation that one can imagine, and which in turn meant intoxication in the extreme, and sometimes human sacrifice as well.  This is what they wanted so this is what God gave them.  He sent a spirit of deep sleep over them so that the prophets could no longer preach and the people could no longer listen.  They were the walking dead!

Now during normal times, a people might just get away with it for a long time.  Consider America and Europe as modern-day examples -- not just the state, but the church as well.  The wisdom of the wise has vanished and the discernment of the prudent is no where to be found.  Our world at every level today is a case study of the blind leading the blind, but as it is not normal times for us, neither was it for God’s holy nation . There were wars and rumors of war all about.  The mighty Assyrians were dismantling the world one nation at time and now they were at Judah’s door.

Now when God’s nation needed courageous leaders, sober thinkers, and clergy worthy of the name they had none of the above.  No one knew the way forward because the Lord blinded them all, so in order to save his nation and his skin, King Ahaz made a treaty with Assyria, but this was like a mouse asking the cat to defend him against other mice.  The cat happily agreed and King Ahaz, this distant ancestor of the incarnate Christ, agreed to pay tribute to Assyria and to enshrine their gods in the Lord’s Temple to worship them.

Was all this bad?  On one level nothing could be more deplorable.  Judah had piled sin upon sin and offense upon offense against her Lord, against the God who saved and sustained her with every good and perfect gift, but on another level it was good because now Judah had hit bottom; not the contrived bottom that people hit when they have used up their entire family, and run through all their friends.  There was no getting up from this bottom.  It could not be solved by 30 days of detox or 40 days of purpose.  God put them into a deep spiritual slumber, but when the kids are asleep, that is when the parents get their best work done.  Like Adam, Abram and Jacob, who the Lord also put into a deep sleep and woke to a new dawn, God’s people would be put to sleep in sorrow and weakness only to be raised up again by the glory and power of Christ.  Not only was this not bad, but in the divine scheme of things, the travails that God’s Old Testament church suffered for its sins were prophetic of the things Christ would suffer for the sins of the world: for our refusal to hear, our intoxication, our idolatry, adultery and willful blindness.  As the Assyrians crushed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, even so Jesus was handed over for our transgressions.  He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He too was silenced, put to sleep in the sleep of death, and laid in the tomb.  Satan’s domain shouted and jeered, and as far as the world was concerned this was the end of the Troubler of Israel!  Christ is dead, He is dead indeed, Hallelujah!  That’s what they thought.  That’s what they said.  That is what they hoped, but it was not true, nor is that the church’s joyous refrain in this holy season!  Instead our chant, our song and our glorious confession is this:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  allelujah!  Or in the words of the Eastern Orthodox church, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.”  We are those people, dear Christians.  We are the ones who are crucified, dead and buried with Christ in holy baptism, only to be born again by the Word of Truth, and raised to newness of life.

Jesus did not only die and rise again.   He also ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, to inspire and lead His church in administering His Word:  the Law to condemn our blindness and our disbelief, and the Gospel to heal us, console us and to wake us up from our sin-induced slumber.  These are the very promises we are now engaged in, now receiving and now enjoying, therefore we have good reason to sing new songs on this Cantate Sunday to Christ our risen Lord who God made to be our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption!  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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