+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 3:14-15
Theme: Divine Healing
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God is gentle with us beyond our comprehension. How tenderly a mother nurses a newborn; so God is with us. God often yields to our weakness. He capitulated to our need preeminently in Christ. Had He not done so we would have no access to Him and thus no salvation. Of course in condescending to us the Son of God was not compromised in His integrity. Yet He was made vulnerable to our sin and Satan’s fury to the point of death. The miracle of the gospel is that redemption was accomplished through sacrifice. All other interests we have pale in comparison.
As we journey through Lent we remember that Christ’s suffering was not arbitrary. He wasn’t simply a victim of circumstances. Your sin and mine drug Him to the cross. Our Lutheran forefathers expressed it in this way, “The knowledge of original sin is absolutely necessary. The magnitude of Christ’s grace cannot be understood unless our diseases are recognized…We must acknowledge that our heart is, by nature, destitute of fear, love, and confidence in God.”1 Now that is a conviction with some gravity. But an essential one if the work of Christ is to have any enduring meaning in your life.
If deep down you don’t really believe you are a sinner; if you believe you have a fair chance of standing in your own righteousness before God then Holy Communion is not for you. You will only invite God’s judgment. If you think your piety represents fair value, that it counts for something in gaining God’s favour, then you should be back at question number one, “I ask each of you in the presence of God who searches the heart: Do you confess that you have sinned, and do you repent of your sins?”2 No “keeping up of appearances” will do you any good here. The heart must be laid bare; the conscience stripped of all protective excuses. Only then does the Holy Spirit find an appreciation for grace. Only the sick need a physician.
The Old Testament reading contains the account of the bronze snake God commanded Moses to lift up on a pole. When the people looked to it they were healed. Jesus draws the comparison to Himself. He would be lifted up on the cross. Healing can only be found in the shadow of the cross. Only then can renewal and strength be found to live the sanctified life. The Christian life is the continual act of detaching from worldliness and embracing the kingdom. Such healing is always a work in progress.
If we are healed from some severe or life-threatening illness the memory of it is not automatically erased. We don’t proceed as if nothing ever happened. The threat from which we are rescued changes our perspective and generates gratitude for our restoration. So too, reconciliation doesn’t bring with it amnesia about the past. Forgiveness does not induce forgetfulness. When we forgive someone a wrong committed against us, we do not inadvertently forget the past. But what forgiveness does do is free us to “intentionally” forget the past. We should never think that forgiveness is not valid if memories linger or we still feel resentment. We believe that the certainty and stability God’s promise is greater than the uncertainty and volatility of our emotions. The key is that the relationship goes forward on the basis of Christ’s pardon. That is, we go forward believing that if Christ can forgive the most reprobate of sinners, we too can forgive those who have wronged us.
Because this is really quite beyond our own ability our efforts at forgiving are lived surrogately through Christ. He is not simply an anchor in the past. He is power and strength for the present. The Scripture says, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”3 When we are clothed baptismally with the righteousness of Christ we are prepared for action. We are not static saints. We are not like nicely dressed mannequins in store-front windows. We are dressed for battle. We are fitted with divine weapons to venture into the fray. Luther was always eager to remind people that faith is an active thing. St. Paul compares the Christian life to an Olympic race.
To live baptismally is to live from the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”4 It is not optional for us to forgive others; it is an infallible sign and fruit of faith. That doesn’t make it easy. We are not puppets of the Holy Spirit. Our self-serving motives are not easily quenched. So we struggle. But we struggle knowing that the “foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.”5 He will never forsake us. Not in the hour of our struggle. Not in the hour of our weakness. Not in the hour of our death. Certainly not before the throne of judgment. Then all the concerns of this life will melt away. Meanwhile, you are salt and leaven in a world always trying to co-opt your allegiance. The hymn writer says it this way:
“And now we watch and struggle,
And now we live in hope,
And Zion in her anguish
With Babylon must cope.”6
Sometimes it helps to look at things from a little different angle. An elderly man took his little grandson for a walk around the local cemetery. Pausing before one gravestone he said, "There lies a very honest man. He died owing me $400, but he struggled to the end to pay off his debts. If anyone has gone to heaven, he has. "They walked on a bit further and then came to another grave. The old man pointed to the gravestone and said, "Now there's a different type of man altogether. He owed me $600, and he died without ever trying to pay me back. If anyone has gone to hell, he has." The little boy thought for a while and then said, "You know, Grandpa, you are very lucky." "Why?" asked the old man. "Well, whichever place you go to, you'll have some money to draw on."
That’s what you might call hedging your bets-spoken innocently by a child. But it doesn’t work that way with God. As soon as we wander off into the mindset of negotiation, or worst-case-scenario, or contingency plans we are not seeking to live in relationship with Christ but to assess our risks; we are not walking in the Spirit but stepping to the cadence of the Old Adam. You cannot assess the benefit or liability of keeping God at arm’s length. That is not the conviction of faith. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already.”7 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”8
Dear friends, in this life we are always patients of the Great Physician. He treats us gently but He cures us permanently. The bronze serpent was a means God provided to strengthen the faith of His people. It was not magical. It was tied to God’s word and promise. Since the coming of Jesus we have still more certain means: the word of forgiveness, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. These are of the lifeblood of the Christian life. They are so because the Crucified One lives and reigns eternally. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday in Lent
18 March 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 AP II (I) original sin
2 Lutheran Hymnal, p.6
3 Galatians 3:27
4 Matthew 6:12
5 1 Corinthians 1:25
6 Lutheran Hymnal 493
7 John 3:18
8 John 3:36