Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sermon for 2/17/13: Midweek Lent I (hymns series)

RIGHT-CLICK HERE for audio recording.

Savior, When in Dust to Thee

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

After we sing the Magnificat this evening, we will pray together a prayer called a “litany.” A litany is “a series of petitions…recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people.” It often works something like this:

            In peace, let us pray to the Lord;
                        Lord, have mercy.

Our hymn for this evening, “Savior, When in Dust to Thee,” is based on a litany. Listen to these petitions:

By all Thy pains and woe suffered once for us below…
            By Thy helpless infant years, By Thy life of want and tears,
By Thy days of deep distress in the savage wilderness,
By the dread, mysterious hour of the insulting tempter’s power…
By Thine hour of dire despair, By Thine agony of prayer,
By the cross, the nail, the thorn, Piercing spear and torturing scorn,
By the gloom that veiled the skies Over the dreadful sacrifice…
By Thy deep expiring groan, By the sad sepulchral stone,
By the vault whose dark abode Held in vain the rising God…
            Hear our penitential cry!

It is apparent that this hymn is a prayer directed to our Lord Jesus Christ, and what we are asking of Him is that He would hear us for the sake of His suffering and death on our behalf. After all, if you suffered all of this for us, Lord, then surely you love us, and out of your great love for us, you will hear us.
It is not always the case that we want the Lord to hear us. In fact, if it were up to us, we could have a litany of the times when we don’t want God to hear us.

            When my sports team loses big; When I overturn my rig;
            When I hammer on my thumb; When I’ve swallowed too much rum;
            When I seek dishonest gain; When I use Thy name in vain;
            When I swear and cheat and lie, Please ignore my foolish cry!

We find ourselves in embarrassing situations, usually of our own making. And then, like Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden, we don’t want the Lord to hear what we’ve been doing. To our shame, we’d rather be left on our own than be caught in our guilt. The times when we should be quickest to cry out to the God who saves are the times when we go into our hidey-holes and foolishly hope that the all-knowing, all-seeing God will not see us or know what we’ve done. Like the Israelites, we cry out, “The way of the Lord is not fair!” It’s not fair that He holds us to such a high standard of conduct. It’s not fair that He hears and sees and knows all we do and say. It’s especially not fair that we can’t even hide in our own thoughts! And we don’t want Him to hear us call Him unfair.
But our Father knows all about how things are not fair. It was not fair that His good and perfect creation defiled itself. It was not fair that His chosen people should revile and reject Him at every turn, and then expect Him to deliver them from their own evil plots and schemes and plans. It was not fair that He should have to send His Son to become flesh and live among His disobedient children. It was not fair that His Son should be sacrificed as a Lamb sent to slaughter by the very people He came to save. And then He has to listen to His wayward children whine about what they need. So don’t talk to God about what is fair or what is deserved. If the way of the Lord were to be fair, we would have to pay the price of our own sin. We would owe a debt so overwhelming that we could never pay it, even if we had all of eternity to try to redeem ourselves. “Turn and live,” He says. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions. …Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” It sounds so simple. It even sounds possible. But it is not. We cannot give ourselves a new heart. We cannot turn away from our sin.
And so, though it is not fair, He creates in us new hearts, washing them and making them clean and new in the waters of Holy Baptism, where that unfair suffering and death of His Son is applied to us, marking our overwhelming debt: “PAID IN FULL.” When we sin, He turns us away from that sin; He carries us back us to those baptismal waters through His Word of holy absolution. When we cry out to Him, He hears and answers us, even though we don’t deserve His attention and certainly don’t merit His rich gifts to us. For the sake of the bitter suffering and death of His Son, our Lord Jesus, He does hear. He hears and answers even those prayers we are too ashamed to pray aloud: the prayers for deliverance from alcoholism, from addiction to pornography, from unfaithfulness or callousness toward our spouse, from every dark and dirty misdeed that we would hide if we could. Like Adam and Eve, He calls us out of hiding, answering our shame with His forgiveness and steadfast love.

Do not be afraid to call out to the Lord in the midst of sin and distress. He hears you. He does not answer with what is fair. He answers with love, with mercy, with forgiveness. For the sake of His Son, Jesus, whom He loves; whom He sacrificed in bitter pain and suffering; who died to pay the debt of our sin—for the sake of Jesus, He hears and answers you. Do not be afraid, but call out to Him:

            O, from earth to heaven restored, Mighty, re-ascended Lord,
            Bending from Thy throne on high, Hear our penitential cry!

In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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