Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trinity 10

Sermon on Luke 19:41-48
For Mt. Calvary and St. Michael Lutheran Churches, Franklin Park and Chicago, Illinois
July 27, 2008 (The Tenth Sunday after Trinity)

In today’s Gospel, something unusual happens, something which only happens in one other place in the Gospels. Jesus weeps. In the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus comes to the grave of his friend Lazarus and weeps together with the family before raising Lazarus from the dead. The only other occasion where the holy evangelists record the fact that Jesus weeps is in today’s Gospel lesson. But this story is different from the raising of Lazarus. Here the weeping is not over the temporal death of one individual. When Jesus weeps in this lesson He is mourning the death of an entire city, both in terms of its being conquered by enemies and physically destroyed, which happened about 40 years later in the year 70 A.D., and also, more importantly, in terms of the eternal death of the majority of its inhabitants, who had and would continue to reject their own God who came to them clothed in flesh and blood. And for this reason, that same God, the God who had been present with them in the temple built by Solomon and rebuilt after the captivity, who received their sacrifices and answered their prayers offered in this place for centuries, this God weeps when He sees the city with His human eyes as He comes over the hill.
The fact that the Incarnate God weeps over the city of Jerusalem tells us some things about God and His relationship to His people. Remember that there were many cities in the ancient world much larger than Jerusalem, and most of them were filled with a great deal more outward wickedness in terms of crime and idolatry and sexual perversion and even murder than Jerusalem was. In fact, when compared with Rome or Athens or most of the other cities in the Empire, Jerusalem was probably a relatively upright and moral city. But Jesus doesn’t weep over those other cities. He weeps over Jerusalem. Why is He so concerned about this relatively small city, and not about the great shame and wickedness of the other parts of the Roman Empire? Because Jerusalem is the city that He had chosen for His Temple, in which His name would dwell, signifying His presence to hear His people’s prayers and bless them with His gifts of eternal life and salvation. It was the capital city of the people He had chosen to be His own, to proclaim His message to all the world and to safeguard the holy bloodline which would eventually produce the Messiah. And so this city, over all others, was dear to our God. And when this city rebelled against Him, as they had many times over, and in fact they would commit the worst rebellion of all by nailing their God to the cross, the very same Messiah whose birth and life formed their entire purpose as a people, it hurt Him more than all the sins of the decadent and pagan rulers of all the imperial capitals throughout history. And so His reaction is to weep.
The situation is similar with us. There are millions of people in America today who have no clue about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether or not they were exposed to some form of biblical teaching at some point during their lives, these people have no inkling of what the Church is really about or why people go to Church. They themselves are unchurched, meaning that whether or not their name is on the roster of a church somewhere they simply don’t go to church or claim to be Christians. Many of these people lead basically decent lives, but there are also many who lead lives of rank immorality, whether sexual immorality or dishonesty and greed in connection with their work, or whatever it may be. These are the group of people we are most likely to think of as being categorized by the word “sinner.”
But like Jerusalem, it is those of us who are associated with the Church who most grieve the heart of our God when we sin. The worst sins are not the ones we usually think of first, the sins against the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Commandments. Yes, it is true that churched people do sometimes commit the same kinds of gross, notorious outward sins as unchurched people do. And yes, God is hurt and grieved by these sins as well. I’m not trying to minimize them. Those who are caught up in such things are in serious danger. But the sins which grieve our God most of all are the things which we seldom recognize as sin at all. The pride that causes us to be unwilling to forget old offenses between brothers in the faith, but instead to hold a grudge. The lack of attention to God’s Word as it is proclaimed, by being distracted by what is happening this afternoon or the fact that I need to talk to so-and-so about such-and-such after the service, or whatever. The thought that being involved in the Church, or even simply showing up on Sunday morning, is a good work which earns us something before God. The pride and idolatry that says that I am the one who is saving myself by being basically a good person. These sins are, in fact, just as evil and offensive to our God as are murder, stealing, adultery, or lying. In fact, since we can get away with the sins of pride and idolatry and selfish trust in our own good works (while outward vices often involve public actions and in some cases the police may even have something to say about it), we tend to forget that they are sins at all. And that makes these kinds of sins far more dangerous to our spiritual welfare than the gross outward sins that we usually think of when we hear the word sin, especially when you consider that these sins are the ones which most directly block us from being able to rightly receive the forgiveness of sins which is the only way we have to eternal life. But we need to remember that the same thing is true today that was true back then: it wasn’t sinful and decadent Rome that killed the Son of God. It was outwardly righteous and holy Jerusalem.
But Jesus’ weeping indicates something else to us as well. It is the fact that He loves His people. Nobody weeps and cries at the problems of complete strangers. But when it is our own relatives who are having problems, then it’s a different story. It’s different when you hear about violence and bloodshed in the Middle East or Africa, than when that violence comes here, to our shores. The fact that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem indicates to us that Jesus cares about Jerusalem, that He considers Jerusalem to be His. You don’t weep for those you don’t consider yourself to be related to in some way.
Again, the same is true of us. The fact that our sins grieve the heart of our heavenly Father indicates to us that He cares for us as a Father cares for His children. He could just drop fire and brimstone on every last one of us and be done with us, since our thoughts and actions offend Him so much every day. But He doesn’t do that. Instead He weeps over us and sends His Son to die on the cross so that we might be rescued from the mess we have gotten ourselves into and delivered into His loving arms forever. Jesus comes to us now for the same reason He came to Jerusalem back then: to give us peace. God’s presence in the temple, the sacrifices He had instituted for the forgiveness of their sins, the whole religion of ancient Israel, was for one purpose and one purpose only: to give His people peace. While unfortunately they rejected this peace, by rejecting the One whose sacrifice on our behalf was the heart and center of the sacrificial system, it is nevertheless still true that this was the purpose: to bring those who were tired and sore and conflicted and depressed by the battle against the devil, the world, and their sinful flesh the peace that only He can bring. He comes to us for the same purpose. He comes to give us peace. That is the entire purpose for the Church. That is the entire purpose why God’s Word is preached, why people are baptized, why their sins are forgiven week after week, and why Christ is present with His body and blood. We don’t have peace in the world. But these things, the things that Christ gives us here, are about our peace. Our God’s compassion on us is so great that He is willing to come to us, give us Himself, even though we deserve nothing but His wrath and punishment. His compassion and mercy on us is so great that He weeps over us even when we reject His gifts, and seeks continually to bring us back. While it’s true that eventually our time will run out, even as it did for Jerusalem, nevertheless it’s a testimony of the great mercy and love of our God that He has been so patient and longsuffering so that we might be saved. Amen.
✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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