Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday
All Saints’ – Thomasville
February 22, 2009

One of the rhythms of the Christian life is the marking of time. The monastics and early Christians lived a very simple and yet structured life using set cycles of prayer mapping out the hours of the day and months of the year in a quite orderly fashion. Many communities strictly adhered to the seven liturgies of the Divine Office each and every day. Our service of Morning Prayer stems from the ancient service of Matins and Evening Prayer is an adaptation of the service of Vespers.

We have now arrived at one of those junction points in our Church Kalendar as we move from Epiphany into the season of Lent. As Fr. Buechner explained two weeks ago, we’ve made the soft transition from Epiphany to the “gesima” Sundays known as Pre-Lent in preparation of the forty intentional days of Lenten Season. This is the time when we are especially called upon to take time to inventory our Spiritual health and seek God’s wisdom to open our eyes to those places where we need to make a change or strive to amend our lives.

The two stories from this morning’s Gospel speak to that very issue of blindness. The first is in a figurative sense and the other in a quite literal. It seems most fitting that we would hear these two stories from Luke together with the passage on love from I Cor. 13 as we begin the Lenten Season.

One of the things that I find most comforting when I read a passage like this one is that I am allowed to see the disciples as they truly were – confused, blinded by their own belief regarding who the Messiah was supposed to be, and generally speaking – clueless. The reason I say that is because the words of Scripture do not paint them as supermen, and yet, they were the ones who “have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). This was the third time that Jesus explained to his disciples that he was heading toward Jerusalem in order to face death at the hands of the Gentiles where he will be mocked, scourged, treated spitefully, eventually crucified. This was the third time that they really had no idea what he was talking about. If you remember, it was after the first Passion prediction that Jesus had to rebuke Peter and cry out for Satan to get behind him. I should say that the disciples were blind yet again.

However, this was not at all the type of Messiah they were expecting. They knew the Psalms, and they knew the Prophets. The Messiah was supposed to set captives free. This meant kicking the Romans out of Jerusalem and living in the Promised Land not as slaves, but as a free Hebrew nation. Isaiah proclaimed that the Promised One was going to sit on David’s throne and there would be peace which had no end, and he would rule with justice and righteousness. Of course they lived a few centuries before Handel, but basically, they had the lyrics of Messiah in their heads, and what Jesus was saying did not square with what they were thinking. They had their idea of how things should play out, and unfortunately, it did not exactly square with God’s.

I’ve heard it said before that if you ever want to give God a chuckle, just tell him the plans that you have set for your life. C. S. Lewis once said that there are two types of people in the world, those who say to God, Thy will be done, and another group that God will say to them, thy will be done, and if Hell has a theme song that will be played over the loudspeaker it will be “I did it my way!”

The disciples have heard the same story now three times over and they still do not understand. The eyes of their heart were blind to the revelation of Jesus and the road He had to travel. The only way that the crown of glory could be won was through the cross. Every day of Jesus’ ministry took him one step closer to Golgotha, and Lent is a time to bring that point into focus, and meditate more deeply upon the Cross of Christ.

The story of the disciple’s blindness is now set in contrast with a blind beggar near Jericho. Jesus is making his final trip toward Jerusalem and his route took him through this city. As was the custom of those who suffered from diseases or other afflictions, they would sit along the main road into town and beg for alms from those who passed by. Most likely, the man we encounter in this morning’s story would have been one of the many people whose entire livelihood depended upon the charity of others. As we hear from our lesson, the traffic along the road where he sat had increased greatly, and the man enquires of someone as to what the commotion is all about. The person replies that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.

I mentioned earlier that the disciples had it in their minds that the Messiah was going to sit on David’s throne and one day rule as King. If you look again at the text from this morning’s lesson from Luke, notice the title the blind man uses to refer to Jesus. He does not call him Jesus of Nazareth, or use a formal title such as Lord or Teacher or Rabbi, but rather, he calls him Son of David. By using this title, the blind man truly sees Jesus for who he is, and the disciples are blind to this fact.

There is no way to know how the blind man knew who Jesus was, but we simply know that he cried out to the Messiah for mercy, and that is exactly what he received. Twice the man calls out to Jesus not for alms, but for the Lord’s mercy. He cries out the first time to try and get Jesus’ attention, but the second cry is quite distinct and significantly more emphatic. The words used are different and the second cry for mercy as William Barclay states, is one of “ungovernable emotion, a scream, an almost animal cry. The word well shows the utter desperation of the man.”

This man wasn’t crying out just because of his physical blindness, he recognized his total blindness. He recognized that his physical condition was truly the epitome of the human condition. We are in need of mercy, and Jesus is the one and only source of that mercy. When Jesus stops and asks the man what he would have him do for him, the blind man asks to receive his sight. With only a few words spoken, the man received his sight and Jesus tells him that his faith saved him.

His faith saved him. Why that phrase? I believe that Jesus is intentionally giving the double meaning of the word which means save. Certainly in this context of physical blindness, the man is saved from a life of darkness in which he had lived prior to Jesus’ arrival. More than that his soul is saved from eternal darkness, and it is the man’s faith in believing that Jesus truly was the only source of mercy and healing that made the difference. The blind man made the leap that the disciples were unable to make until Easter and ultimately Pentecost.

Jesus knew where the road he was on ultimately led – the cross, and all of the darkness that it entailed. However, the only way in which we might live as a redeemed people, ones who could again live in harmony with God, is if Jesus paid the atoning sacrifice for our sins once and for all. The only way that we could strive to be holy as Christ is holy is for this to happen. Anglican preacher and theologian John Stott speaks of about this quite clearly in his Message on Romans:

“Crucifixion and holiness. There are, in fact, two quite distinct ways in which the New Testament speaks of crucifixion in relation to holiness. The first is our death to sin through identification with Christ; the second is our death to self through imitation of Christ. On the one hand, we have been crucified with Christ. But on the other we have crucified (decisively repudiated) our sinful nature with all its desires, so that every day we renew this attitude by taking up our cross and following Christ to crucifixion (Lk. 9:23). The first is a legal death, a death to the penalty of sin; the second is a moral death, a death to the power of sin. The first belongs to the past, and is unique and unrepeatable; the second belongs to the present, and is repeatable, even continuous. I died to sin (in Christ) once; I die to self (like Christ) daily.”

It is this second aspect of crucifixion and holiness that is ours to focus on this Lent. Let not our blindness hinder our ability to see that this is the road that leads to holiness and ultimately leads to life. Let our cry to Jesus be one in which we say with every fiber of our being and in a spirit of true humility, son of David, have mercy on me. Let his reply echo the words spoken to the blind man outside of Jericho, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.

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