06 March 2011

Homily upon Quinquagesima - 2011

It’s not that He wasn’t clear. He couldn’t have said it any more plainly. We’re headed up to Jerusalem. And all the sufferings and glory the prophets foretold will happen to me. I’ll be delivered to the Gentiles, flogged, killed, and yet on the third day I’ll rise from the dead. No mystery in His words – just plain statement of what was about to happen. And yet the evangelist is at pains to record: “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what He said.” And we want to say, “huh? How could they miss it? How could He have said it more plainly?”

What kept the very plain words of Jesus from sinking into their heads was their own preconception, their own idea of how things were going to be. To them it was simple: they had seen in Jesus a power at work like no one they’d ever seen have power before. He spoke to winds, and they obeyed Him. He spoke to waves and they obeyed Him. He could turn water into wine and multiply a pitiful handful of food to feed a vast multitude. He could chase demons away with a word. They seen his touch heal the sick and even seen His voice restore the dead to life. So the trip to Jerusalem had to be a continual “up” didn’t it? They’s arrive for the final confrontation, He’d show His power, Pilate and his army would turn tail and run, the corrupt Jewish leaders would finally bow before Him, and He’d set up His kingdom and they’d sit on thrones beside Him. That’s what was in their heads. And so all this talk of being handed over to flogging, to death, and then to resurrection – it just didn’t fit with their notions and so they tossed it out as some mystery they just couldn’t understand. They thought his words had to have some deep or hidden meaning; not what they plainly said.

But the thing about our Lord is that He always means what He says and says what He means. His Words may not fit into our preconceived notions, but if we hang out with Him long enough we find out that they are always true, simply true. He speaks nothing but truth to us. This past week a bit of water splashed over the head of little Claire Sievers McCalla – and the Lord says to her: “Your sins are forgiven, little one. You are now clothed in my righteousness. You are now my sister and an heir of the Kingdom that I came to win for you and for all. You belong to me and no one can snatch you out of my strong hand.” And we want to say: “All of that with a splash of water and the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” Doesn’t make sense to our normal way of thinking, does it? But the Lord’s words are always true words and what He says holds.

Or in a little bit when we do what He says and take the bread and wine and speak over them the Words He gave us and distribute them, announcing to one and all, that this is the Lord’s body and blood, for forgiveness. Makes not a bit of sense to our way of thinking. Just bread and wine surely. But the Lord Jesus says: “No, it is what I say it is. I speak the truth and never lie.”

Or when you are facing your death or the death of one you love, and you think of the dead body and how it returns to the dust, and the devil is whispering in your ear that the whole resurrection thing is just a pretty story to make death seem not quite so hideous and hopeless. But no, your Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who lives and believes in me will never die.” And He means exactly what He says, no matter how foolish it sounds, no matter how we can’t fit it into our ways of thinking.

So we can have some sympathy with the disciples not getting His clear words. They’re just letting their human reason insist that He can’t mean exactly what He says; He must mean something else. They’d find out how wrong they were in the days that followed. But if they’re blind as bats to what’s right before them, someone who is blind actually sees.

The blind man hears that Jesus is passing by and he won’t shut up, no matter what the bystanders try. The blind beggar just gets louder and louder as he cries to the Son of David, to the Man named Yahweh saves, for mercy, shouting out a loud ∆Ihsouv ui˚e« Daui÷d, e˙le÷hso/n me. Jesus commands him to be brought and commands him to ask what he desires. “Kyrie, Lord, let me recover my sight.” And recover it he does. His blind eyes that already saw more than the disciples, now see wholly. And the first thing he sees is the face of the Man who is going up to Jerusalem to suffer, to be flogged, to be killed and to be raised. To wipe out his sins, the disciples’ sins, yours and mine too. He sees his Savior’s face and when Jesus turns away to head up the road, the formerly blind man can’t leave him. He follows right behind, giving glory to God.

“Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened” we heard in our OT reading. Then when? “Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God He will come and save you.” The blind man seeing was sign that the time of God’s salvation was about to break upon the world. His vengeance on the enemies of the human race – on sin, on death, on hell, on the condemnation of the law that consigns the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to eternal misery. It’s about to end. And the disciples didn’t get it because they thought in the ways of power. They liked the idea of vengeance and victory – they just couldn’t fathom them coming by way of suffering, death. You see, they hadn’t yet guessed at the mystery that Paul unpacked for us in the Epistle today. That the One who came among us to save us – He is love. Patient and kind, not envious or boastful, not insisting on His own way or irritable or resentful. But speaking truth and nothing but truth, He heads up the road to Jerusalem, to do the Father’s will, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things with a love that has no end.

He turns on its head every idea we ever had about power. Almighty power is not routing the Romans but bearing their sins and the sins of all to death on a tree, almighty power is not in showing the Jewish leaders who’s the real boss, but pouring out His blood to blot out the sins of those who hate Him and ridicule Him. Almighty power is praying for forgiveness for your enemies and securing for the lost and fallen race of man an eternal redemption. Opening up the heart of God – love itself – to humanity that we might come to live again through and in it.

“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem.” Jesus is headed that way and He will allow nothing to deter Him from offering Himself in love as the sacrifice that ransoms this whole human race. We’ll follow His footsteps in the midweek Lenten services. And I promise you, that if you go on that journey with Jesus, He will open your eyes and you will see up close a love whose almighty power will fill your mouth with kyries and glorias. “We are going up to Jerusalem.” There is a joy in that journey, people loved by God. Let us go with Him, and His love with seize us, transform us, and free us. And then we will understand, and see, and we will glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit now and to the ages of ages! Amen.

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