Second Sunday in Lent
(Reminiscere) + March 17, 2019
Text: Genesis 32:23-33
In Hebrews 11, the
Apostle defines what faith is: “Faith is
the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For
by it the people of old received their commendation.” (Hebrews
11:1-2). We don’t see God, but we
believe on account of His Word. We see
the world as it is, not as God first made it, and not as it will be.
But that’s a hard road
to walk, because while we believe the world belongs to God, and so do our own
lives, we see so much evidence to the contrary.
Take for instance Jacob
in the Old Testament lesson. Jacob
wrestled with the God who had made great promises to Him, but at the moment, he
was going into tremendous danger, toward his brother Esau. He lived between the reality of what he knew
and what God had told him. Earlier in
chapter 32, Jacob prays,
“O God of my father Abraham and God of my
father Isaac, O Lord who said
to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you
good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the
deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your
servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become
two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my
brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and
attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you
said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the
sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)
That’s how it is for us
as well, because our faith is often in conflict with the observable facts (and our
perception of those facts).
In the First Article of
the Creed, we confess God to be the one who has gifted us with life and limb,
and He is the provider for all that we need in this body and life. However, isn’t it a major occupation of ours
to second guess that truth? When we see
someone who lacks in these first article gifts, we think, Hey God, what about them? As
when we see the riches of food and medical care for us, but people in other
corners who barely scrape by or have to go without.
When things aren’t
given to us (and maybe to someone else instead)—or worse what we have is taken from
us—then we can be indignant toward God and doubt His sovereign rule and
But living by faith is
not first about what our eyes see, but what we believe from the Word of God: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give
them their food at the proper time; You open your hand and satisfy the desires
of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:16-17) In light of this truth, when we
see people who have been robbed or cheated of what they need to live, that’s
when Christians are called upon to intervene
with acts of charity. Yes, the world is
full of examples which preach against the truth that God provides. That’s why
Jesus says, “that they may see your good
works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16) because
in providing for those in need and those abandoned, you’re setting right the
Father’s provision and mercy, in spite of the evil that’s befallen them.
The Second Article is
even more about faith. We’re taught by
Scripture to believe that we are lost and condemned persons, that sin and death
are blights upon creation and ourselves.
But day after day, we’re indoctrinated with the idea that people are
sophisticated animals. If there is
morality, it’s only because people before us have taught us to think that
way. And if that’s the case, we can live
however we want—do what we want as long as it’s not illegal (and we don’t get
caught), think whatever we want (unless our own quest for personal improvement
tells us otherwise), say whatever comes to mind (unless we care how it would
affect others). This narrative considers
religious people to be an oddity, surely not the work of anything
supernatural. They must just be
infatuated with tradition and mystic thought. This existence without objective sin and
accountability, without a solid answer to the meaning of death, leaves people
Whenever we come
together as the Church in such a world, it is for sanctuary, for refreshment in
what is true. We gather around the Word
of the Lord because only He can see us and the world we live in without the fog
of human and demonic deceit. So, enter
sanctuary with Him and say, “I, a poor,
miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have
ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But
I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of
Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings
and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me,
a poor, sinful being.”
By faith, we don’t only
believe that we are sinners, failures, condemned to die. We believe in Jesus Christ, true God and true
Man, who has redeemed us from the slavery of sin and the hopeless march toward
the grave. With His holy, precious blood,
He has purchased us to belong to God—out of this rotting world—and given us a
hope and a future. The Father does not
condone the evils we have done, yet He has mercy on us by counting the
righteous life of Jesus for us, so before the unseen God, we are counted
innocent and blessed.
We also believe that
this salvation isn’t just at work in us, but all over the world. Now, granted, the world is a big place to
imagine, so when we hear St. John say, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and
not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), it’s a little hazy. But this matters to us because of the part of
the world God has put us in—our family, our friends, the community we live
in. When we see apathy toward God’s
Word, ungodly living, people missing from the pews, it’s a painful challenge to
us. When we hear discouraging news from
around the country—that all the major protestant churches are seeing declines
in membership—we can
start to doubt the effectiveness of God’s Word in people’s hearts.
But hoping against temporal facts and experience is
what faith does. When Jesus says that
not even the gates of hell shall prevail against the Church and the confession
of His Name, that’s the truth that endures in spite of people’s fickle hearts
and membership trends. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or
strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit
has called me by the Gospel…in the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and
sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ
in the one true faith.” And this is
why the Church in every place does well to pin their hope and trust firmly in
the means of grace—the Word of God, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. This is how God has promised His Spirit is at
work and His Kingdom will come, so this is where our faith relies on Him to
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things
not seen.” Faith is the assurance
and conviction in what God has spoken, and His Word endures forever. But faith does one more thing: It holds God
to His Word. That’s what Jacob was doing
as he wrestled with God, and that’s what the Canaanite woman was doing with
Jesus. In spite the immediate facts,
these examples of faith held God accountable to His Word.
So, as we move though
this temporal life, this world that is not as God made it and not what it will
one Day be, we cling to God and keep
on Him to do what He says He will, today and to eternity. That’s the basis for prayer, which we will
hear more about next Lord’s Day. Amen.
In Martin Luther’s
Large Catechism, he explained the First Commandment this way:
What is to have a god? What is God?
2 Answer: A god is that to which we look for all
good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is
nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have
often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
3 If your faith and trust are right, then your
God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then
you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That
to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.
So when the First
Commandment says, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things,”
it’s true. When we give our fear, love,
and trust to the Triune God, the God who revealed Himself in the Bible, we keep
this Commandment. However, whatever we
give our fear, love, and trust to other than God is an idol, the work of human
hands and a sinful heart.
Of course, it would be
nice to think we’ve avoided this if we don’t have a little golden statue, and
we haven’t set up an altar dedicated to our 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Perhaps we’d like to excuse ourselves by
using the Reformed numbering of the Commandments, which spells out the command
about idols: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” (Exodus 20:4 KJV)
But God sees through
our veneers, right to our heart. He sees
the honest truth better than we know ourselves.
Our fear has not been in Him
alone, but rather in what other people would think if we didn’t go along with
them. Our love has been to make
“sacrifices” to so that we could fulfill our own passions, rather than being
devoted to our Heavenly Bridegroom. Our
trust has not been in Him alone, but in the daily bread which His hand gives at
times or takes away at others. We’ve
felt safe when the account balance is high, but freaked out when we saw a
Whatever those things
are that we fear, love, and trust in—and they are many and varied—those are our
idols. And God jealously desires to
topple every single one of them, so that He alone is your God. He is the only God you need, and the only one
who will never fail you.
Yet, the Commandments
don’t end with the First. There are nine
others which more accurately strike at our hearts and—when reconciled—lead us
in a God-pleasing life. Each of the
Commandments stems from this First, because when our fellowship with God is
broken, it ripples to all the rest of our life.
This is the point the Small Catechism makes by beginning each by saying,
“We should fear and love God so that…”
Now, Luther wrote that whatever you put your trust in is truly your God,
but it works the other way too: how to we live in regard to the other commandments
shows what sort of god we have.
Let me give a few examples:
The Fourth Commandment
says to “Honor your father and your mother”
This, we know applies not only to parents, but also other authorities: “Be
subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13)—in the
government, in school, and in the Church.
But say you have a beef with one of those authorities. Should a child trample his mother’s flowerbed
because she didn’t let him watch a movie?
The Lord commands us to pray for and honor government authorities, but
can’t there be an exception for Kate Brown or Donald Trump? The Lord says we should obey our pastors and
submit to them as to the Lord, but can’t we vote with our offering dollars or
our feet if we think he’s a flake?
In this case, you are
picking and choosing who is a gift from God for your good, and who you can just
live without. You raise yourself up and
make yourself wiser than God. If this is
how you treat the commandments, then your god is liable to make mistakes. Maybe he will also forget to care for you
One of the most popular
uses of the Law is to point fingers at others.
Take the Sixth Commandment for instance.
“You shall not commit adultery” is more often turned into “They shall
not commit adultery” rather than examine and discipline our own sexually purity
and how we love and honor our spouse. If
you’re quick to point out how other people are fornicating or perverted in
their desires, maybe the reason behind it is personal. Have you examined your own impure desires
that you hide from others. Have you
considered that you’re actually more concerned about a loved one, but strangers
are an easy target?
If you’re quick to find
fault with other people’s walk with the Lord, you have a god who is vengeful
before he is ever merciful. But conveniently
enough for you, this god only condemns other people. Be careful with such a god, because with the
True God, there is no partiality.
Lastly, consider the
temptations which we see unfold in the wilderness for our Lord: “Command these stones to become loaves of
bread…throw yourself down…All these [kingdoms] I will give you if you worship
me.” Here, the desire is to take
advantage of one’s status before God and use it as license for disobedience. “If
you are the son of God” surely it wouldn’t be too bad for you to indulge in
a little anger, a little keeping money for yourself, a little gossip. God won’t be too harsh with me, because after
all, I’m His beloved child! Push the
envelope and see if God do something to stop you.
When we presume on
kindness and forbearance, our god is no more than a capricious rule-giver who
wants to squelch our fun. We are found
to lack a fear of God’s righteous wrath and anger. “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
(1 Corinthians 10:22)
Your God—the true One,
who gave you these Commandments—calls you to repent, and live a life of
repentance for all your sins…all your idolatrous caricatures of the true
God. He alone has the power to kill and
make you alive. Your sin justly deserves
what Jesus endured—punishment and death, forsaken by God. Jesus, who is the Son of God, never wavered
in His fear, love, or trust in God. And
you, with all your idols, have been crucified with Christ. Your sins are washed from you. Your idols are
Now rise with Christ to
live a new life. In this new life, the
Commandments become your treasured instruction, more precious than gold (Psalm
19). “We should fear and love God so
that we do not…but” instead do what is pleasing to our heavenly Father: call on
His Name in prayer and praise, hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn
it, love and cherish our parents and other authorities, help and support our
neighbor’s health and life, lead a chaste life and love our spouse, help others
to improve their possessions and income, stand up for the reputation of others
and put the best construction on their actions, and support and build up our
neighbors’ property and household.
Through Jesus Christ,
your God has done good to you, saving you from justly deserved wrath and
lavished upon you the blessing of a thousand generations to those who fear
Him. Now, we pray for a heart that
gladly does what He commands (we sing the Offertory). Amen.
so the Lord shows compassion to
those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we
heard earlier tonight. But dust?
Any intelligent person knows that people are carbon-based lifeforms,
comprised of complex amino acid chains, DNA, and that we are capable of
tremendous intellectual power and creativity. Dust seems far too insignificant a substance
for such a noble creature as man.
But that goes to the
question of origins. Where does man come
from? Where is He going, and what is significant about his existence? “Then
the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis
2:7) Our origin is from God. Our
existence is from God. We are
self-aware, moral, intelligent, and creative because God made us in His
likeness. All of human life exists and
depends on God.
God remembers that
people are dust, but do people often remember that? They go about their daily routines, make
plans for what they’re going to do, undertake projects, worry about how other
people think of them, plan and fret about the future. Most of the time, they live without a need
for God (a 2018 study found 36% of religious “nones” agreed that religion was
irrelevant to their life). But
how quickly all that comes unraveled!
On August 17, 1999, a
7.6 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit, Turkey, 100 kilometers east of
Istanbul. In 37 seconds, 17,000 people
were killed and 500,000 were rendered homeless as 20,000 buildings were
destroyed or heavily damaged.
We forget how we are
dust, but God has His way of reminding us.
Sometimes it’s evil that happens to us or our loved ones, other times a sudden
illness, still other times a natural disaster like in Turkey. The bottom drops out of our plans for the
future and we’re left scrambling. We’re
found to have taken the whole thing for granted, and we wish we could go back
and do it over.
The Lord, however, never
forgot that we are dust, and in His fatherly compassion, He was moved to
act. His Son came down and entered our world
through the womb of a young Virgin named Mary.
The Man of heaven became a Man of dust with us. Jesus has compassion on us as He humbled
Himself with us to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. He faced evil done to him as he fled into
Egypt, as lies were told about him, as He was condemned on false charges. He lost family and friends to death, and He
wept over the curse we are under. He
bore anguish and pain in His own body as He was scourged, compelled here and
there by soldiers, crucified, and the life ebbed out of Him. He was made dust, and to the dust He
returned, buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.
But unlike our dust,
which stays in the ground, His Spirit returned to Him and He rose to be a living
creature once more. Like no other, He
rose so that He might restore life to our dying and dead dust. “The
first Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
(1 Corinthians 15:45) Jesus rose from
the dust, never to die again, so that He could break the power of sin and
death, and so raise up the sons of Adam, the man of dust, of you and me. St. Paul continues: “48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of
the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just
as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of
the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:48-49)
It takes a reminder
from God to remember that we are dust.
As painful as this discipline is, God is doing it for our eternal good,
because if we forget that we are dust, the danger is that we will return to the
dust, never to rise again (Psalm 140:10). Unless we remember that we are dust, the Man
from Heaven does us no good.
Yet, “The Lord shows compassion to those who
fear Him.” He comes to you when you
are bowed down, trembling as your frame of dust threatens to crumble. The Man of Heaven comes again and breathes
His life into your dust. When you were
baptized, in the water and the Word, God took your lifeless dust and made you
into clay (Isaiah 64:8). Day by day,
even with dust upon our heads and under the shadow of death, He is shaping us
into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
Every time you confess your sins and the Absolution is spoken, it says “He breathed on them and said ‘Receive the
Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you withhold
forgiveness, it is withheld.’” (John 20:22-23) The Absolution truly has the power to restore
your life, even as you sit in dust and ashes.
If you live try to live apart from it or without it, how can your dust
He has still one more
way that He remembers you in your dust.
Recall His Word through St. Paul: “Just
as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of
the man of heaven.” The Son of God’s
lifeless clay rose to new, eternal life, and that is what He gives you in His
Supper. Each time you receive His Body
and Blood, united to Him with faith, He is strengthening you with the power of
His resurrected flesh. It’s the
unfortunate state of the Church in our generation that we minimize the Supper’s
importance and think we can make it by without this. Someone has told you (and now it’s become
entrenched as tradition) that Communion only needs to be offered every other
But this teaching does
not come from your Lord who says, “Do
this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me”
and who says in John 6: “Truly, truly, I
say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you
have no life in you.” (John 6:53) It
is only hubris that says we can have life apart from our incarnate, crucified,
and risen Savior—His Body and His Blood and His Holy Spirit breathed on us in
See all the ways that
the Lord shows compassion to you, O man of dust! As a
father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those
who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we
are dust.” And on the Last Day, He
will raise you from the ash heap to be with Him forever. Persevere in this hope, beloved. Amen.
Some argue that “often” does not necessarily mean weekly, but if we stay in the
way of the Law and look only to satisfy the minimum requirement, we can also go
without having midweek Lenten services because the Old Covenant only required
corporate worship once per week.
Christians are privileged to receive it “as often” as we gather.
The Lord often
confounds our understanding—He chooses the least, the lowly, and here in
today’s Gospel it is a blind man that sees while the disciples are dumbfounded.
But on the cusp of the
holy 40 days leading to the crucifixion of our Savior, is it any wonder that
God confounds our thinking and teaches us that all our thoughts and desires are
dust and ashes? We do not know how
deeply sin has corrupted our innermost thoughts and degraded our will so that,
as it is quoted in Matthew 13, “This
people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and
their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with
their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”
And sometimes it makes
us angry. Though we are dust, we presume
to talk back to God about His ways. How
dare you hold out on us! We demand that
you release your secrets to us, God! Tell
us what’s going to happen in the future, tell us why you let evil prosper, tell
us why parents must bury their children!
This Gospel falls in a
long succession of humbling and contrary teachings in Luke 18: After the story
of the persistent widow, the Lord asks, “When
the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Then the sinful tax collector goes down to
his house justified, “for everyone who
exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be
exalted.” Then even infants are
blessed by the Lord, because “whoever
does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Lastly, someone who is successful in the
world with money and power is denied the Kingdom, for “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a
rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
He kicks out every prop we would by which we would hold ourselves
up. The last of them is our
intellect. We are so convinced that our perception
of things is correct! But, we can’t even
trust our eyes or our mind when it comes to the things of God.
Jesus plainly tells His
disciples what must happen to Him: “See,
we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of
Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be
delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and
spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and
on the third day he will rise.” From
this side of the resurrection, I think we give ourselves too much credit. We know the end of the story, so a part of us
looks down on the disciples here and at Emmaus who are blind and deaf to what
Jesus is saying. But even though we see
it with our eyes and hear it with our ears? Do we see as we ought?
It’s not that the
disciples don’t get it because they’re unintelligent. They don’t understand because “This saying was hidden from them, and they
did not grasp what was said.” There
were words coming out of Jesus’ mouth, but they were clueless, and this was the
Lord’s doing, a kind of small-scale Babel.
The words had been encrypted (Greek
for hidden) so that they wouldn’t understand it.
These past weeks
leading up to Lent, we’ve learned that grace is undeserved and grace is
passively received. Now is the hardest
lesson to receive, because, as the prophet Daniel said, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” (Daniel
2:28) God’s ways, especially His grace,
is a mystery which He must reveal on His terms.
No matter how much we think we know,
no matter what power we think we have over our heart (or another person’s heart),
God is the gatekeeper of grace.
he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And
hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They
told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried
out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who
were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the
more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped
and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What
do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And
Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”
In this story, nobody
envies the blind man until after he’s received his sight. But eyesight aside, this man is actually our
role model. Would that we were aware of
our blindness and our desperate need to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
asking the Lord to heal us! The man is
blessed because God has given him a sense not worked on earth. In fact, that might be a good prayer for all
of us to ask of God: Restore my sight, so that I might see you, see myself, and
see those around me as I should.
Last week in the
Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, we heard St. Paul talk at length
about his weakness and eventually reached the point where he boasted in his
weakness “so that the power of Christ
may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I wish I could tell you this is an easy process, but we’re not in
control of that, and it’s often painful.
This process of sanctification, being made holy, is compared to
purifying silver from impurities: “Take
away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel.”
(Proverbs 25:4; also Isaiah 1:25)
There’s good reason for this, because silver is extracted from ores that
are mixed with other metals like copper, zinc, gold, and lead. Separating out the silver requires either
extreme heat or acid baths, depending on the source.
We too need to be
purified from our sinful heart. Purging
the alloys of sin from our lives is lengthy process in which the Holy Spirit
leads us through fiery trials, intense temptations, and painful and humbling failures. Sanctification doesn’t happen on our timetable,
but the Lord’s. St. Paul pleaded with
the Lord to take a thorn from His flesh, but the Lord’s reply was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my
power is made perfect in weakness.” How
can it be that God’s will is actually to leave us in weakness? Take for instance a persistent sin—a destructive
tongue, a hot temper, lust, greed, jealousy, or gluttony. You know from the Word of God that these
things are evil, but try and pray as you might, you can’t seem to be rid of
it. What could possibly be the
problem? Am I not trying hard enough? Am I not praying right? What a failure of a child of God I must be!
The life story of John
Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace is like that.
He was shaken out of his proud, libertine life through the humbling
experiences in West Africa and nearly dying at sea. He was converted to God, but his life wasn’t
immediately made pure. He still
continued in the slave trade for another 7 years. He continued in studies for
the ministry, and was eventually ordained in 1764. Not until 1788, 40 years after his initial
conversion, did he publicly renounce slavery and speak out as an abolitionist.
Though it may not
happen on the schedule we think, God’s will for you is your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3)—on His schedule. If you cannot see it right now, continue in
His grace. You will sin, you will be
humbled—but do not despair or give in! As
often as you realize your sin, seek His grace where He gives it—in your
Baptism, in the Absolution, and in His Body and Blood. The disciples were kept from understanding
the crucifixion before it happened, but that was part of His plan. He revealed to them when the time was right, and
on Pentecost, their eyes were opened to truly see, understand, and preach what
this suffering, death, and resurrection mean.
He will open your eyes and give you relief from your blindness in His
Though these are
unpleasant in the moment, the end result can only be credited to God: a stronger
faith, a heart that seeks Him alone, and a more steadfast hope while living in
this temporal life.
And all these teachings
put together—grace undeserved, grace passively received, grace revealed—give
all the credit to God. As St. Paul
writes in Ephesians 2: “By grace you
have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift
of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Rejoice, you saints of God, because He is accomplishing His work in you,
a people who praise and acknowledge Him, and who humbly live by His every Word,
and who prove the mighty works of God in the weak and lowly. Amen.