Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is my faith a firm foundation or a stumbling stone?


Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:56-59

St. John begins His Gospel by calling Jesus the Word. Very soon He adds to this that Jesus is the Incarnate Word. He is not just the password, as if we could drop His name and find ourselves in heaven, but the living Word who admonishes us to pay attention to the Holy Gospel He imparts to us in the Word and Sacraments. This morning's lesson shows the negative side of things, what happens when people refuse to hear and refuse to believe.

The occasion was the Feast of Booths, and Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims who were celebrating it. Jesus was in the Temple preaching, but no one was listening. What did He mean when He said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day?” He was talking about the Promise made to Abraham that, “in you, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”  The patriarchal ancestor's name was written in the Book of Life. He might not have seen Jesus face to face, but his faith was as strong as if he had.  We could say the same for Moses and the Prophets.  They lived and died centuries before the Lord’s birth, but they too believed without seeing.  As for the Disciples, even though they personally communed with Jesus for three years, they hardly ever understood a word He said.

On that historic day Jesus was fulfilling the 118th Psalm which says, “the Stone which the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone.”  In architecture the cornerstone is the one that holds the whole structure together, so Jesus was making some astounding claims as He stood in the Jerusalem Temple that day. He not was glorifying Himself, He never did that. He always glorified God, and knew that God would glorify Him, and that was enough for Him. But this crowd rejected the whole message. How terrible for them, because it was not just “a message” they were rejecting but the One whose name is Immanuel, God With Us. Their fathers had done that with the prophets. Now the One whom the prophets foretold was standing before them, but He fared no better.

This was not a mere misunderstanding, a conflict to be resolved or arbitrated away. Throughout this chapter John captures the bitter tone of the conversation. These people hated Jesus. They wanted to be godly, but they rejected the One who had unmistakably shown Himself to be Very God of Very God. Is there any question that the devil’s finger prints were all over the scene?  God fulfilled His Word. He set up His Cornerstone in Zion, but this stone had a double purpose. It was be a Cornerstone for faith but also a stumbling stone for unbelief. It had to be so. Jesus did not reject the Jews. He would have gladly gathered them under His wings like a mother hen because God wants all men to be saved. But there had to be an historical reason for the crucifixion and they provided it, because unless Jesus were crucified, the Perfect Sacrifice would not be made.

Now we can criticize these first century Jews if we like, but at least they were asking the right questions. Today you will still find people who hate Jesus, but far more common are those who think they can be neutral about Him. Who can say nice things about Him without admitting that He is God Incarnate, and the only One who can wash men clean from their sins?  That is sheer vanity.  Either Jesus is the Messiah who was right about everything He said, or He was the blasphemer they claimed Him to be. There is no middle ground. We must either love Jesus or hate Him. To be non-committal is merely hatred without the passion, like the lukewarm church in Laodicea. The Stone has been placed and everyone must either build on it or stumble over it. By God’s grace may we all build on it more and more.

Today hardly anyone asks the right questions.  We look at those Jews and wonder why they could be so short-sighted, but we have a different hang-up.  We want a Jesus who is culturally sensitive; a kewpie doll Jesus whom the world can love, and us along with Him, one who said and did everything that Scripture claims, except to suffer and die! except to ask us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him;  But God set the Stone in Zion and we cannot change what the Stone is. We can only believe the Lord’s word that He is both the Victim and the Priest who made full atonement for our sins: those of the past, the present and the future.  That He is incarnate in His Church today as our Cornerstone and as the church’s One Foundation, dispensing His mercy to all who put their hope in Him.

So let us pay close attention to our religion, to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith into which we are baptized; to the singular and unchanging Gospel of Holy Scripture; to the Promise God made to Abraham and to its fulfillment by our Lord’s death and resurrection. And let us eagerly receive the present grace He gives us in the church, by the Gospel.  If this Man offers us His flesh to eat, let us eat it with thanksgiving.  If He says our sins are forgiven and bids us “go in peace,” then let us breathe easy.  If He calls us to love ordinary people, then by all means love them. Don't stumble over Him when He comes to serve you. He died and rose again for you. He is the Sure Foundation of your faith. He is your road to heaven. He is the Rock on which you stand. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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