Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon for Quinquagesima

                                                                                                Lk 18:31-43

            As most of you know, this past weekend our family was in New Orleans.  We enjoyed again taking in the unique culture and sights of the city.  We enjoyed the wonderful food – more of it than I probably should have.  And we enjoyed the parades.
            If you haven’t been there to see it, it is hard to comprehend how New Orleans does parades.  While we were there, during the three days from Friday to Sunday, there were eleven parades that went past us on St. Charles Ave.  And we are not talking about parades likes the Marion homecoming parade.  These are massive, miles long parades, filled with marching bands, riding groups, and colorul float after float from which are thrown beads, stuffed animals and toys.  Families cook out on the parade route and make a day of it.  It is a sight that you just have to see.
            What we saw was just one small portion of the Mardi Gras parades that go on in the New Orleans area in the time that leads up to Fat Tuesday.  Since we have left there have continued to be parade after parade as it builds toward the crescendo on Tuesday.
            The Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans are a sight to see.  And while we were in New Orleans I saw a very poignant news story about a boy who wanted to see them while he still could.  This boy has a degenerative condition that is causing him to go blind.  Knowing that the day will arrive in the near future when he will no longer be able to see, he has devised a visual “bucket list” – a list of places and sights that he hopes to see before he goes blind.
            The Mardi Gras parades were an item that he had included on this list after seeing a picture of them in a book.  Earlier, the New Orleans TV station had run a story about the boy.  While I was there they ran a follow up story telling about how people who had heard about his situation had donated money to help him make the trip. Several people had also offered to give him a spot to ride in a parade, on a fire truck and on one of the buggies that zoom around in groups.
            The prospect of not being able to see – of being blind – is something that most of us find hard to imagine. While advances have been made in technology that greatly assist those who are blind, it can’t take away the hardship.  If that is still the case today, it was even more true in the first century Palestine of our Gospel lesson.  In our text we meet a man who is blind.  He calls out in faith to Jesus for help.  Though blind, it becomes apparent that he sees what matters, even as the disciples demonstrate a lack of vision.
            Our text begins as Jesus makes a very detailed prediction of his passion to the disciples.  He says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” This was not the first time that Jesus had predicted his passion. But we are told that
they understood none of these things. In fact, we learn that this saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
            Something similar had happened when Jesus had predicted his passion on an earlier occasion.  In chapter nine we are told, “But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” The disciples did not understand Jesus’ prediction of suffering.  It was concealed from them. And they also didn’t ask Jesus to explain it.  Instead they went on to an argument about which one of them was the greatest.  It becomes clear that they don’t really want to understand.
            They don’t understand that Jesus is about service to others.  Just before our text we are told that people were bringing even infants to Jesus that he might touch them. But when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. It’s not surprising.  In the ancient world, children were considered to be of little value.  They consumed resources and contributed very little. But Jesus called them to him and said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” 
            Now in our text a man who is blind calls out to Jesus for help.  Again we learn that those who were in front of Jesus’ group rebuked the man and told him to be quiet.  Like children, the blind man was of little value, and those with Jesus had no time for him.
            We must ask ourselves how often are we like the disciples.  Because really, we don’t want suffering and service either.  We don’t want faith in Christ to cause inconveniences in our life.  We don’t want the uncomfortable situation of the person rejecting what we believe about Jesus, and so we just keep it to ourselves. We don’t want to provide service because … well … it’s too much like work.  We don’t want to serve because it means putting the needs and feelings of other people before ourselves.  And really, we are totally into “me, myself and I.”
            In this, and so many other ways, sin burdens our life.  But in Jesus Christ we have the One who sets us free from sin.  He rescues us from the darkness of guilt and fear.  He frees us to live as the child of God – the one who walks in the way of Christ.
            We see this in the second half of our Gospel lesson.  After the disciples demonstrate spiritual blindness, we meet a blind man who sees Jesus in true faith.  As Jesus and those with him   drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. He heard the commotion of the large group and asked what was going on.  He was told “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And so he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
            His address of Jesus as “Son of David” is significant.  He called upon Jesus in a way that identified him as the Christ – the One in whom God’s promised salvation was present.  And he cried out for help – for deliverance – in the words, “Have mercy on me!”
            The people who were at the front of Jesus’ group were annoyed. They rebuked the man and told him to be quiet.  But that didn’t silence this man and his call of faith.  Instead we hear in our text, “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!”’”
            Jesus heard this cry of faith … and it stopped him in his tracks.  He commanded the blind man to be brought to him and asked what he wanted Jesus to do for him.  When the man said that he wanted to see, our Lord replied, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And we learn that immediately the man recovered his sight and began to follow Jesus, glorifying God.
            In our text, Jesus commands that the blind man recover his sight, and he is healed.  By this action Jesus shows that he is indeed the Christ.  He is the Son of David by lineage.  Yet he is the Christ in an additional and more significant way. He is the Christ, anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism in order to bring God’s salvation.
            Jesus bring the saving reign of God that frees people from sin and every way that it impacts life.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus announces this in the synagogue in Nazareth the first time he teaches.  He quotes the words of Isaiah chapter 61 that say: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”  And then he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
            By providing recovering of sight to this blind man, Jesus once again demonstrates that he provides release to the oppressed captives of sin.  It is the release that he has now won for us by the very means he describes in our text – his suffering, death and resurrection.
            Because of Jesus you have been released from sin. By the work of his Spirit you have received one baptism for the forgiveness of your sins.  You have been given freedom and enjoy God’s favor as his children.  Jesus paid for this freedom by his death. And in his resurrection he has begun the freedom from all the consequences of sin. He has freed you from death.  Yes your body may die, but death cannot separate you from God.  It has been defeated by Jesus.  And through baptism you have the guarantee that you will share in Jesus’ resurrection.  On the Last Day your body will be freed from all of the ways that sin currently afflicts it – all that it means for you to live as a fallen person in a fallen world.
            Like the blind man, through faith you have received the blessing of release from sin.  And now, through the work of Christ’s Spirit you do the same thing he did.  We hear in our text, “And immediately he recovered his sight and began to follow him, glorifying God.” You give thanks and praise to God as you follow in Jesus’ footsteps.  Freed by Christ from the slavery of sin, you are now free to serve others.  In baptism you have been anointed with the Spirit – you have become a “little Christ” – through whom the Lord love and cares for others. Your life of love and service to others becomes the praise that you give to God as you rejoice in the fact that these words of our Lord are true for you: “Your faith has made you well.”

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