Monday, August 24, 2015

Are we no longer ashamed of our sin?


And when Jesus drew near and saw the city He wept over it, saying, "If only you had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Luke 19:41-42

IT seems strange that such a jarring gospel lesson should appear in the middle of the Trinity season:  Jesus weeping over the city He came to save, but that wanted nothing to do with Him!  It is the stuff of holy week, but here it is in the middle of the summer.

So why is it here?  Because tradition tells us that both times the Temple was destroyed it occurred in August:  once by the Babylonians in August 587 BC, and once by the Romans in August 70 AD.

What does that have to do with us?  We are not Jews.  Quite the opposite, we know that Christ is the true temple of God.  He is the one who was "torn down" by crucifixion and raised up again on the third day for our justification.  Further, it is the Christian faith that God now resides in Christ, who resides within the church's worship (the very thing we are engaged in at this time), and that we may peacefully approach there, because that is where He wishes to be found.

Let us ask again:  what does this have to do with us?  Though the reading may be out of season it should never be far from our consciousness because of the lesson it teaches; that God disinherited His chosen people, and that is about as strident a message to a Christian as there ever could be.  It makes us wonder:  if God disinherited them, will He disinherit me?  After baptism, and after a lifetime of His worship, will He disinherit me?  Will He, in the end, remember my sins and judge me for them?

If He did, dear Christians, no one could blame Him.  We admit as much each Lord's Day when we pray that we:  justly deserve God's temporal and eternal punishment.

That statement counts.  It is true and it must stand on its own, at least for a time, if for no other reason than to sober up Old Adam, who would drag us down to the pit of despair with him.  Sinful nature is like an evil Siamese twin who can never be separated from you until the angels of God separate the wheat from the chaff on the last day, and since you must always contend with him, you must always contend with harsh teachings like we hear today.

In today's Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah says of God's Old Testament church that they forgot how to blush!  Their sins had reached such a pitch that their consciences were no longer functional.  They normalized every sexual perversion, every form of idolatry.  Fraud and oppression were the national sport.  Like a band of robbers nothing was out of bounds for them.  Whatever God taught back when now meant nothing.  They tore their rear view mirror off and quivered with the possibilities that lay ahead, with what new and exciting sin they could dream up tomorrow.

How about you?  Have you forgotten how to blush?  Have you normalized your particular sin be it sins of thought, word, deed, attitude or lifestyle?  Do you even bother to hear the word of the Lord anymore?  To whisper a prayer of repentance?  To bow you head in shame, and plead that the merits of the cross would cover your sin?  When it comes to the confession and absolution do you pray it with faith or is it simply a form of negativity to be endured?  And what of the absolution?  Do you think it is but a fellow sinner saying nice things, in a gentle gathering of nice people?  Or do you hear it in the voice of Jesus from the cross saying:  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?

In today's epistle lesson we are confronted with more bad news.  For all of Israel's folly, they were still the people God chose to disseminate His gospel to the whole world, but St. Paul says that they were unable to attain God's righteousness for themselves; and he says why:  because they had no faith; faith specifically in the Christ who God gave to make all men righteous.  Yet the Gentiles, who were not seeking righteousness with God, found it, because when they heard the gospel they believed it.  Do you believe it?  Do you stumble over the cross, over the Jesus who suffers on it, over His word to take up your own cross and follow Him, or over the seemingly humble means He provides to bless you:  water, word, bread, wine, rites and rituals, ceremonies and celebrations.  They are all of a piece.

We see the same theme repeated in today's Gospel lesson:  Jesus has a melt down.  He is overcome by emotion that His people, who had been groomed for millennia to meet Him, rejected Him and sought to destroy Him, and He let them do it because His death was the linchpin of God's plan to cleanse us and make us inheritors of everlasting life.

Not only did the Lord weep and lament.  Even at this very late date when the temple is about to become obsolete, when the glory of the Lord was for the final time about to leave the temple through a torn curtain; even now Jesus still finds it necessary to restore it to its proper usage.  In a fit of anger, He expels all the merchants who reduce religion to a business, and once again sanctifies the temple by His Word:  My house shall be called a house of prayer.

Today the church is God's House of Prayer because our Lord Jesus Christ inhabits it, not just for us, but for all people who long for life everlasting.  It is the place where Jesus still teaches, just like He did back then, and where people who merit"temporal and eternal punishment," find themselves acquitted, drinking the cup  that runs over with life and salvation.  You are those people.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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