Monday, August 27, 2012

Proper 16 of Series B (Isaiah 29:11-19)

“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ: spiritual blindness is a crippling disease. The darkness it brings is pervasive and deep, enveloping one’s entire life. It is a hereditary disease, caused by sin, that fundamental corruption that we all carry. Sin makes us blind from birth, blind to all that our God is and says. Spiritual blindness hides our Creator from us. Spiritual blindness makes His words like a sealed book. “And the vision of all this has become for you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.’” Spiritual blindness hides God’s declarations of judgment and grace; Law and Gospel are incomprehensible to the blind. Therefore, spiritual blindness can only lead to empty worship. “The Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.’”

The spiritually blind worship, but their worship is empty, meaningless. They are in church on Sunday, singing the songs, praying the prayers, standing up and sitting down, but as God says, “their hearts are far from me.” Their hearts are following their own idols, thinking of other things, not the higher things of God, for they are blind to them. They do not see the glory of God, and so they glory in everything else. Their worship and prayers are empty, for their heart is far away, in other places. Why are the spiritually blind at worship? Because it is expected of them. The Lord says, “Their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” The spiritually blind draw near to the Lord with mouth and lips, but these pious acts mask the truth. Their fear and worship of God isn’t motivated by love for their Creator or appreciation for His salvation, but a sense of human responsibility. They come because they were told to, because it looks good to others, because there is an image to uphold. The spiritually blind worship because they obey the commandments and expectations of men.

The spiritually blind go through the motions on Sunday morning, but the rest of the week they reveal how empty their worship is. The Lord accuses them: “Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, ‘Who sees us? Who knows us?’” The spiritually blind think that they can worship on Sunday morning and then live their lives their own way Monday through Saturday. The wise of this world think that they can hide their ways from God. They do their deeds in the darkness, hidden in the valleys of this dark world. They think that they can pursue their wicked acts in secret, saying “Who sees us? Who knows us?” They pretend that they can get away with the sins they commit in the darkness, far from the prying eyes of man or of God. The spiritually blind think that if they put in their time on Sunday, if they offer up their prayers, then they have a blank check the rest of the week, they can live in open defiance of God’s commands.

But the Lord knows that in their arrogance they have reversed reality, placing the creature above the Creator. “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me;’ or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” The spiritually blind deny the Lord’s distinctiveness, His sovereignty, and His wisdom. They deny that God is any different from them; indeed, they are the gods, they make the rules, they call the shots. They deny God’s authority, claiming that He has no ownership over them, no right to tell them what to do or how to live. They deny God’s intelligence, that He would know how they should order their lives. For this they are praised as wise, applauded by their peers for asserting themselves above God. They declare, “I know my own path, I know how I should live; I’m a law unto myself, no one, not even God, can call me a sinner or a hypocrite!”

The spiritually blind have reversed God’s orderly creation, reversing it through sin. His accusation rings true: “You turn things upside down!” The only solution for the Lord is to turn His world back, to launch a great reversal of His own. He will reverse the wisdom of the worldly wise. “Behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” Those who hid their way from the Lord, committing their dark deeds in secret, will find their ‘wisdom’ hidden from them. For God is doing a marvelous thing, wonder upon wonder. He is coming to destroy the wisdom of the wise, to shine a light in the darkened valleys of sin. He is coming to reverse man’s reversal, to set things right again. He is coming to do this marvelous thing with the advent of Jesus Christ. He has come to enact God’s great reversal. Jesus has come to hide the wisdom of the wise, to call the arrogant to repentance.

So heed His call, you spiritually blind! Repent! Cast off your empty worship, your arrogant sinning! It is you and I who are infected with spiritual blindness, who have turned things upside down through our sinning, our rebellion against our maker, the One who formed us from the dust of the earth. Humble yourselves, making yourselves low before your Creator, your God come in the flesh. Bow the knee before your Maker, crying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus will destroy the wisdom of the wise in repentance; all will be humbled by His proclamation of the Law. But that is His strange work; it is necessary, but not the reason for which He came. He brings low the arrogant and hides the wisdom of the wise with the Law so that He can lift them up again with the Gospel. Jesus has come to reverse the fortunes of the weak. “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” That day has come with the advent of Jesus Christ. He has come to open the ears of the deaf, the eyes of the blind. He has come to give joy to the meek and to lift up the poor. He has come to exalt those who in repentance and humility trust in Him and to bring down the world’s exalted and arrogant ones. He has come to enact God’s great reversal.

“Behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, and wonder upon wonder.” Wonder upon wonder—God’s great reversal, His exaltation of the poor and humble, will be accomplished by the One who humbled Himself to be born in a stable. The great reversal defines the life and work of Christ. Wonder upon wonder—the ruler of the universe lay in a manger! Wonder upon wonder—God Himself walks this earth as a man! Wonder upon wonder—a dusty rabbi teaches with power and authority, even raising the dead! Wonder upon wonder—the holy Jesus eats with sinners! Wonder upon wonder—God the Son hangs upon the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of His creatures! To deliver you and me who had turned things upside down, God turned this world upside down. Wonder upon wonder—at the moment of the cross, in humiliation, pain, and suffering, all things are turned right again! The reversal was accomplished, you were delivered from your sin, your spiritual blindness was healed through the power of His forgiveness. Wonder upon wonder—the man who was dead now lives, the firstborn of the dead, so that all those who die in Him will live too!

Jesus has come to turn everything on its head; all that was upset by man’s sin, even death itself, will be put right again. The world is changed, and on the Last Day, the creation itself will be turned upside down: “Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?” Until that Day, the great reversal is enacted in this world through the Holy Spirit. Wonder upon wonder—water and the Word open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, calling on you to believe on the Lord who reversed this creation’s sin! Wonder upon wonder—the Gospel goes forth from pulpits and Christian mouths to the farthest reaches of this world, exalting the humble and lifting up the poor, giving to you eternal treasure, the forgiveness of sins. Wonder upon wonder—Jesus lifts you and me up from the dust of repentance and forgives our sins, opening our spiritual eyes to see Him in faith.

Spiritual sight is a beautiful gift. The light it brings is strong and bright, enveloping one’s entire life. Jesus gives us sight in our new birth, so that we see all that our God is and says. Spiritual sight reveals our Creator to us as a God of love. Spiritual sight opens up His words to us, breaking the seals so that His grace can be proclaimed to us. Spiritual sight reveals God’s declarations of judgment and grace; Law and Gospel are the daily diet of the one who sees. Therefore, spiritual sight can only lead to true worship, worship that receives forgiveness from the Lord’s bounty and gives Him thanksgiving and praise. We worship because Christ has great gifts to give, and we need those gifts to open our eyes each day, forgiving us for our spiritual blindness and rebellion. We who are poor and meek rejoice in our God, for—wonder upon wonder!—He reversed our sin with His sacrifice, and He reverses our sin each day with His forgiveness, so that we will exult in the Holy One of Israel forever, with eyes fully open to the reality of our Lord’s grace and love in heavenly glory. In the Name of Jesus, who opens the eyes of the blind, Amen.

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