Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sermon for 2/28/16: Lent III

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Mercy for the Helpless

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

You’ve heard the old saying. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Too often, Christians are willing to believe that God works against us, that He impulsively seeks to frustrate and torture us. We are convinced that He leaves us to work things out for ourselves before we come to Him. We speak as if the Lord tortures us to make us stronger, that He is purposefully harsh so that we learn to bear suffering and turmoil. We are sure His blessing, His generosity is only a reward for withstanding the test, His kindness the prize for not giving up or giving in. And we are certain that the Lord smiles on us only after we’ve done our part, after we prove to Him that we are worthy of His love, mercy, compassion and goodness.
In all this, we accuse the Lord God of being the devil. After all, that is the devil’s way: to torment and torture, to lead us to despair, to urge us to hide from the Lord, and to drive us to turn into ourselves and rely on our inner strength, our own solutions, our abilities and cleverness, and whatever else we think will straighten us out and make life smooth. The devil wants us to believe that the Lord’s mercy is nothing more than an attitude God has toward us, and that His feelings can change just as quickly as ours do.
In all this, the devil is not alone. Our inborn distrust and our world team up with Satan. Together, they seek to convince us that the war between good and evil is escalating, that the outcome is still in doubt, and that we are caught in the middle. To be sure, we must fight against our flesh, against the desire to give in, against the fears that seek to control us and the passions that seek to drag us to hell. We must fight against all that is ungodly—both within our flesh and in our world. But we fight not because the final outcome between God and the devil depends on us. We fight so that we don’t give into the devil’s lies; so that we aren’t deceived by his tricks; so that we don’t run from Our Lord’s mercy.
Yet in all this—especially as we strive to do what is right, as we wrestle against our sinful desires—we need to hear and take to heart what Our Lord says in today’s Gospel. His words are words of encouragement, words designed to urge us to live in His mercy by living according to His commandments. Sure, the devil still runs about making like he is strong one, acting like he still has a say over life. And many fall for the trap. They fear the strong man rather than hiding behind the Stronger One. But don’t you fall for the trap; don’t believe the lie; don’t give into your fears; don’t be controlled by your passions. For the Lord has released you from Satan’s grip, and has made you His own. “And the Lord showers grace and mercy upon His chosen ones.”
That grace and mercy is Our Lord Jesus Himself, sacrificed on the cross so that His watered blood might be poured over you in Baptism, and His body and blood fed into you in His Supper. There you receive the victory the Lord has already won. There you are given everything you need to withstand the assaults of the devil. And there, in the Holy Sacraments, together with preaching—there is the righteous hand of God watching over you. And in this way, Our Lord shows that He never lets down those who hope in Him, and He never disappoints those who rely on His promised help. As the devil continually haunts you, attacks you, assaults you and accuses you, so our Lord Jesus even more stridently and forcefully comes to your aid and provides His ready help. With these holy and sacred mysteries, Our Lord not only flicks away and casts out Satan with the finger of God; He also strengthens you, comforts and settles you, and keeps you firm in His Word and grace, and He will do so until He calls you to your eternal home. 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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