Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (C)
October 21, 2007
Text: Luke 18:1-8

Beloved in Christ, the time between our Lord’s first and second coming, which is to say, the time of the New Testament, is, in truth, short. But to the faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus, it can seem so long. It can seem so long to the faithful disciple of the Lord who is awaiting deliverance from a fallen world, deliverance from sin, deliverance from death, deliverance from temptation and suffering. It can seem so long when one has to wrestle with all the consequences of the fall: cancer, heart disease, addiction, terrorism, violence, loneliness, depression, just to name a few. Yes, the time is short, but it can seem so long. And it is so hard to wait. “Nonetheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8; ESV). Will He find those who cast aside their itching ears to embrace His sound biblical doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3)? Will He find those who remain in the Church despite persecution from the world and temptation from the devil? Will He find those who continue to pray, “Thy Kingdom come?”

The old cliché says that prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian’s faith. There is actually a great deal of truth to that. If you want to take the pulse of your faith, look at your prayer life. Do you pray often? Do you pray at all? It is the task of faithful disciples to pray continually until the Day of our Lord’s reappearing, the Day of our deliverance. The parable our Lord tells in the Gospel lesson this morning is meant to encourage us to pray continually and to pray boldly. “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). That is the task of the Christian, to pray and believe in these gray and latter days. Pray without ceasing, says St. Paul (1 Thess. 5:17). The Christian is to pray for himself and others, for the Church, for the preaching of the Word, and the propagation of the faith. He is to pray for the government and all who are in authority, for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger living among us, for the sick and those in prison, for those trapped by sin and those who err and are estranged from the Church, for the homebound and those who travel, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, for protection from all calamity by wind, fire, and water, and most of all that our Lord would come and deliver us. In other words, the daily prayer of the Christian is “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

But we so easily become weary of prayer. We so easily tire of asking God for help and deliverance when He seems to be hidden, or perhaps not even listening. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). We often feel like Jacob, wrestling with God for His blessing. And it often seems that God wounds us before He lets us go (Gen. 32:22-30). He takes so long to answer. In the mean time, the cancer progresses, the loved one dies, Osama continues to wander free.

Beloved, don’t lose heart. We do well to learn from the widow in Jesus’ parable. She knew that the unrighteous judge did not fear God nor respect man. And she knew that as a widow in the ancient world, she had no social standing. It was inappropriate for her to ask for justice from this judge. But she asked anyway. And though the judge refused to give her the time of day, refused to grant her petitions, she continued to persistently ask. Everyday she plead before the judge, “Give me justice against my adversary” (Luke 18:3). Now, even though the judge did not care for this widow, and even though the judge did not care about the commandments of God or the welfare of other men, he did have a reputation to watch out for. And lest his reputation be besmirched by the continual pleadings of this widow, and because she continued to pester him, he granted her petition. So do not let the point be lost on you. If the unrighteous judge answered the petitions of the persistent widow, how much more will God, who is righteous and just, ever-faithful and merciful, longsuffering and loving, how much more will He grant the petitions of “his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (v. 7). Of course, the answer is that God will most certainly grant the petitions of those who cry to Him for deliverance day and night. God has a reputation to watch out for, after all. He has given His promise. He is always faithful to His Word. God promises justice and deliverance for His people. Furthermore, Jesus promises “he will give justice to them speedily” (v. 8).

But why, then, does it seem like it takes so long for God to deliver? Dear friend, it is because you are looking in the wrong place. Jesus already has delivered you from all that troubles you in this fallen world. Deliverance for the widow and for the disciples and for you and for me came shortly after Jesus spoke this parable, as He entered Jerusalem to be our paschal Lamb. Your deliverance came in the form of the cross and suffering. Your deliverance came through the blood of God’s Son, shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins. That is the deliverance you need. That is the deliverance for which you yearn. And it is yours, freely, for Christ’s sake. In this life, though, it is hidden under the suffering of Christ’s holy people. It is yours now, but it is hidden. But the day is coming when our Lord will return, and that which is hidden will be brought to light. Just as your deliverance was hidden under Christ’s crucifixion, so it is made manifest in His resurrection. Jesus has conquered sin, death, hell, the devil, cancer, heart disease, terrorism, and every other evil. And though you have to suffer now, for a little while, the time is short. Jesus is coming again. In the mean time pray, and do not lose heart. Believe, trust in Christ, for your vindication is coming. Continue to wrestle. God will bless you. He has promised it. And the crosses you bear now are not even worth comparing to the blessing He gives you in Christ.

Our Lord has not left us without a means for strength and perseverance in prayer. He has given us the Word, the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures inform our prayers. They are God’s part of the conversation. There is no prayer without the Scriptures. The Scriptures are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). God speaks to us, and then we speak back to God what He has first spoken. God has provided for the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the Word in visible form, the holy Sacraments, baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means by which we are strengthened to continue praying and believing without losing heart. These are the divine promises that assure us of an answer to prayer. These means keep our heart beating strong and steady. They teach us how to pray and open our lips to show forth God’s praise (Ps. 51:15).

So always pray and do not lose heart. Set aside regular times for prayer everyday. Pray, of course, whenever the Church comes together for that purpose. But pray also at home and at work and in the car and on vacation. Set aside time for formal prayer, remembering too that you can pray to God whenever and wherever you find yourself in need. Call upon God’s Name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. And if ever you do not know what to pray, use the words God has given you in the Lord’s Prayer and in the Psalms, and the words of your fellow saints, such as those you find in the Catechism and hymnal. Pray Luther’s morning and evening prayers, and his prayers at meal times, which are well worth memorizing. They can be found in the Small Catechism. Pray the collect printed every week in your bulletin. Pray the prayers in the front cover of your hymnal, and those found in the section titled “Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings.” Sing the hymns. Check out a copy of the Lutheran Book of Prayer. Use Portals of Prayer. But whatever you do, pray. Our Lord commands it. And He invites you to make use of this enduring gift. For God has promised to hear and answer. And whatever the answer is to your particular petition, be it “yes,” “no,” or “wait,” you know that the ultimate answer is Jesus Christ on the cross. For on account of the sin-atoning work of Jesus, you have a loving Father, who wants to hear you, and has promised to give you every grace and blessing according to His good will and in His time.

Jesus bids His Church to always pray and not lose heart. That is our task until the Lord returns and all that is wrong in the world is made right again. In the mean time, you have heard God’s gracious promises in Christ. The Son of Man finds faith on earth in the Holy Church, where His promises are freely offered. Come and collect them. Come and receive His body and blood in the Supper. It is the answer to your prayers. For whatever troubles you, here is the medicine of immortality. Here you have a glimpse of the deliverance which is now hidden under the cross and suffering. Here you have a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. And here your prayers are united with those of angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven and all the saints in every place. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Anonymous E. Davis said...

I always enjoy reading your sermons each Sunday. I wish I could head up that way and listen to one in person, but alas, my field work congregation keeps me busy (that, and Drs. Rast and Fickenscher). One thing that I noticed from this pericope that has got me thinking, is from v. 8. When Jesus asks the question, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" the αρα in the Greek implies that the answer he is looking for is 'no.' However, I agree that, as you said, "The Son of Man finds faith on earth in the Holy Church, where His promises are freely offered."

So now, the good Lutheran question, "what does this mean?" I think a key here is the difference between εκδικεω - 'give justice' which the judge does (v.5), and ποιεω εκδικησις - 'create justice' which God does (v.7-8). To simply give justice to the unjust is unacceptable, but to create justice for the unjust is the only hope which the unjust have. This exactly what God does by sending Jesus to the cross.

So when the Son of Man comes, he does not find faith, because we are unjust. However, by making us just, He places faith in us. Through the hearing of the Word, the pouring out on us in baptism and the placing in our mouths His body and blood, He puts faith in us where previously it was not found. When Jesus comes to us, faith is not found. But once He gets there, faith cannot help but be created and sustained by these things.

I have been mulling over that all week, and thought I'd bounce some of it around here, since at my field work congregation the guest pastor found an easier text to preach on.

P.S. Megan asks how Sarah was doing, she is better at remembering that kind of thing than I am.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Pastor Krenz said...

Thanks for your comments. You make some excellent observations. The Son of Man finds faith only where He has given it. And He gives it only through Word and Sacrament, where He has promised to give it. You point out something that I probably should have made more explicit in the sermon this morning, which is that the Son of Man does not find faith on earth unless He gives it. My concern was to point out WHERE we should expect Jesus to find faith, namely, the Church. It is only the Church that prays, because there is no faith outside of the Church. That point is not necessarily the thrust of the text, however, which may mean that I've taken a bit of homiletical license.
Sarah is doing well. Greet Megan for us. We keep you all in our prayers and hope you find a time to come and visit. You are always welcome.
The Lord be with you.

2:26 PM  

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