Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Lenten Midweek Sermons II
Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, fill me. Water from Christ's side, wash me.
It is a sad state of affairs that we have reduced faith to a mental or intellectual exercise. Many of our fellow Christians reject infant baptism largely because they do not believe that infants and small children have the capacity for faith. Since they cannot understand, cannot express their understanding in words of profession and conviction, and cannot give their consent what they have professed, they cannot believe. The tragedy is that for us Lutherans, we find it hard to disagree with this.
Because we conceive of faith as a work of the mind, what causes that faith and what sustains it (piety), also have become thoughtful processes. It is as if we are truly convinced that faith is the result of having objections argued away so that we can see the truth of it, understand it, and then believe it. Faith becomes a light bulb experience, an aha! moment, if you will. We come to church to have this base of knowledge expanded, to understand God more fully, and to have the world explained to us so that we can use this knowledge to improve ourselves and our world.
So our piety appreciates teaching sermons where we go home with a new idea. Our mind likes explaining sermons where we crack the mysteries one by one until we know God the way we know how to get Him to do what we need or want. In recent times this has become epidemic. Joel Osteen has perfected this technique of teaching a better life now and faith becomes a resource or tool in this pursuit of knowledge that works for our benefit. If we come to church without taking home a new idea, without learning something useful to fixing our daily lives, or solving a riddle of life, we find church not so useful, even a failure, and often say “we are not being fed.”
Faith in Scripture seldom has much to do with intellect. The apostles were hardly the smartest dozen that Jesus could find in Galilee. Jesus insists that even the little ones who believe in Him have it over those who possess all knowledge and have all understanding. He holds up the small child as the example of faith that adults should strive for – turning our whole world upside down in the process.
Growing in faith is not as simple as expanding our knowledge base or understanding what we before we did not get. Growing in faith is increasing trust.
It is not cracking the mystery but believing it. Trusting in what we cannot see and believing in what we do not understand. This faith grows not from reasoned appeals to our intellect but from the mystery itself. By participating in the mystery, we trust what that mystery is and receive what that mystery conveys.
Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, fill me. Water from Christ's side, wash me. In this section of the Anima Christi, we pray the mystery of the body of Christ that was miraculously conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb, lived obediently the holy life we could not, suffering in our place sin’s pain, dying in our place to pay sin’s debt, and rising from death never to die again. We pray this mystery by eating the bread that Jesus says is His body, given and shed for you and for me for the forgiveness of sins and by drinking the wine which Jesus says is His blood, shed for us to redeem us from our lost condition. We pray this mystery by meeting Christ in the water where we died the real and fearful death with Him and rose in the new life that is Christ in us.
This mystery defies explanation. No mind can crack it. All our feeble attempts to explain the mystery are shots in the dark. Our theories of the atonement only detract from the reality of Christ, the Son of God, in human flesh, who lived and died for us, and by this life and death unshackled us from the chains of our sin and from our captivity to the grave. This mystery does not cotton to explanation but asks for appreciation, for trust to believe it and for hearts that worship Christ and Him crucified.
Whether it is Rome and its transubstantiation or Luther’s in, with, and under. Faith does not explain it for it is inexplicable. Faith worships it, receives it with joy, and believes it in with all the heart, mind, body, and strength. The how is not our focus but the what. This is Christ’s flesh and not merely sign or symbol. This is Christ’s blood and not some imagery. This water has the power of the Word in it so that it kills and makes alive and not some allegory or picture. The bread does not point to Christ’s body nor does the wine point to His blood. The water does not point to the cross. These convey what they promise and give us that which they speak. This is a great mystery.
Worship is not about lessons for the mind or the soul but our encounter with Christ in the means of grace. Faith grows from knowing Christ where Christ will be known.
We do not choose a good sermon that makes things clear over the touch of water or the taste of bread or the sip of wine. The sermon and the sacrament impart the same Christ and that Christ works through these because He has attached Himself there. We come to Church not to learn or to have God explained or to find solutions to life’s troubles. We come here to meet Christ where Christ has promised to be.
In this prayer we pray not to see so that we might believe but to believe so that we might see. God is come to us not so that we can explain Him or tame Him from the wildness of His mercy. God is come to us that we might know Him and, in knowing Him, receive the heavenly treasures of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here we pray for faith to receive this body of Christ and His blood, this water of Christ in baptism... to receive it by believing in it.
When the scales fell from the eyes of Paul, he did not understand God. He met God in Christ and trusted that this was the one and only God and that salvation was His alone to give. We think that the scales will one day fall from our eyes and we will get it, get God, get faith, get life... I am sad to say that will never happen. We do not crack God, God cracks us, opens us up by the Spirit, that frail and feeble minds, hearts, and wills may believe in Jesus Christ whom He has sent by receiving the body, blood, and water of Christ that convey Him... Not a memory... Not an idea... Not a feeling... Not a proposition... but the real Jesus whose mortal and glorious flesh are somehow hidden in the appearance of the sacramental means of grace, to be apprehended by faith, to be trusted for salvation, and to result in lives of joy, praise, holiness, righteousness, and good works. There is no short cut here. Only mystery made accessible by the Word of Christ and the Sacraments of Christ. Amen.