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Archive for February, 2010

The Danger of Partial Obedience 

A Sermon 

Preached on February 7, 2010, by 

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,

 At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. (Mark 6:20)

      It’s been a long time since I was addicted to watching soap operas.  In my teen-age years I was addicted to a couple of them.  Believe it or not, when I was in seminary, I watched one regularly during the lunch break between classes.  If you have ever watched the soaps, you know how complicated the relationships can become.  People get married, have children, then they get divorced and wind up marrying their brothers-in-law and their sisters-in-law, It gets very difficult to keep straight exactly what category of kinship they have with one another.  As complicated as our soaps may be, they are not more complicated than the relationships that existed in the family of Herod the Great.  Herod the Great was the ruler of Judea at the time that Jesus was born, the Herod who ordered the slaughter of the Innocents.  Herod had many different wives and many children by those different wives.  I won’t try to give you a complete genealogy of Herod’s descendants, but for the purposes of our text this morning, let me give you a brief history of the relationships that are relevant. Herod the Great had a son, Antipas, who is the Herod in our text who had John the Baptist executed.  Herod the Great had another son, Philip, who lived in Rome and was married to Herodias, the Herodias in our text for today.  Herodias was a granddaughter of Herod the  Great by one of his many other wives.  Herod Antipas went to Rome and convinced Herodias to leave her husband, Philip.  She did so, divorced him,  and married Herod Antipas.  So, Herodias is Herod Antipas’ sister-in-law and niece, and now, wife.    It is little wonder then that a prophet like John the Baptist would tell him that he has broken the law of God.  As is often the case, Herodias, the wife, is the one who really gets angry with John the Baptist.  I can just hear her saying, “Who is he to say that we shouldn’t be married?  Who is he who to think that he can rebuke a king and his wife.”

            But Herod’s relationship to John the Baptist was rather strange.  Though John the Baptist had rebuked him, Herod had a great deal of respect for John.  Herodias had tried to convince Herod  to kill John the Baptist, but Herod wouldn’t do it.  We are told that Herod feared John.    It’s an interesting thing how people feel about a real man of God.  They may not like him, they may not agree with what he says, but they respect him.  They are also a little afraid of him.  Sometimes, it’s a kind of superstitious fear.  It’s almost as though they consider it bad luck to do something bad to the preacher.    Herod probably had just enough of the fear of God in him to worry him that if he did something to John the Baptist, God might pour out his judgment on him.  It was difficult not to respect a man like John the Baptist.  Here was a man who had lived in the desert as a mark of his dedication and preparation for the service of God.  It was obvious that John was no hypocrite.  Verse 20 says that Herod knew that John was a just and holy man.  The word for just means “righteous.”   John was a man who kept the law of the Lord and walked in his way blameless.  He was a holy man, a saint, one whom God had set apart to fulfill the special task  of preparing the way of the Lord and to make his paths straight.    He was not like many of the other religious leaders that Herod knew and had on his payroll.    John was a true man of God and didn’t care if rebuking a king would cost him his life.  Such a man gains the respect even of those who disagree with him.  Herod feared him.  This passage also says that Herod observed him.  The word translated “observed” means either “to preserve,” or “to ponder.”  If we take the meaning to be “preserve,” it means that Herod protected John, though Herodias wanted him dead.  If it means “ponder,” we see that though Herod was not willing to be obedient to what John said, he did think a great deal about what John taught.

            As a matter of fact, the passage tells us that Herod heard John gladly.  I’ve known many men like Herod—men who had very little interest in living godly lives, agreed with very little I had to say, but for some reason loved to hear strong preaching; and the more I got worked up, the more I preached against sin, the better they liked it.  Herod must have been something like that.  He heard John gladly, even though John told him to his face he was an adulterer.  In some ways, Herod was like the stony ground hearer in our Gospel reading for this morning.  Jesus said that the stony ground hearer was one who heard the word and received it with “gladness” (Mark 4:16), but because the word does not take root in their lives, they fall away when times of tribulation or persecution come.  But perhaps Herod was more like the one who received the word among the thorns.  They are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of this world, and the lusts of other things choke the word, and they become unfruitful.   Or as Luke puts it, the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, choke the word (Luke 8:14).  That would describe Herod perfectly.   Herod is a great example of a man who was a hearer of the word, but not a doer of the word, though he “did many things.”

            It seems that Herod was willing to put some of John’s teaching into practice.  Perhaps Herod even repented of some of his sins.  But riches, pleasures, cares, and lusts kept him from making a thorough repentance.  He was willing to do many things, but he was not willing to give up his beloved Herodias.  Finally came the time when Herodias’ daughter, whom we know as  Salome, danced before him.  It is here that it was revealed that though Herod was willing to do many things in response to the teaching of John the Baptist,  he was still ruled by his lust, particularly his sexual lust.  After Salome danced, Herod promised to give her whatever she wished, up to half of his kingdom.  If that’s not a man ruled by his lust, I don’t know what is.  A man who will give up half of his kingdom to a girl because of a dance is a slave to his passions.  But we shouldn’t think it strange or unusual for a man to give up so much because of uncontrollable lust.   Haven’t we seen politicians, ministers, and family men give up half their kingdoms and more for much the same reason?  These were men who did many things, who in many other areas of their lives were very good men, fulfilling their responsibilities, and keeping some of God’s commandments, but there was one powerful lust that ruled their lives for which they were willing to sacrifice almost everything.  Herod is an example of an incomplete repentance—a man, in some ways, wanting to do what was right, but at the same time holding on to his most beloved sin.  Because of his unwillingness to obey God completely, we find him willing to kill the man of God, the man that he feared, the man that he knew was a righteous and holy man.  He was willing to kill him for the sake of a rash oath he had made to a woman.  No doubt, this sinful act resulted in an even further hardening of Herod’s heart, for we find that when Jesus Christ was brought before him, that Herod mocked the Son of God.  Herod, who had seen that John was a just and holy man, had now become so hardened that he could not recognize the same in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are told that our Lord Jesus Christ did not say one single word to Herod, which may be the Scripture’s way of saying that Herod’s conscience had been seared with a hot iron, and it was useless to speak to him.  This is the kind of hardening that results when we are unwilling to let go of our dearest sins.

            Today is Sexagesima Sunday, approximately 60 days before Easter.    It is part of our pre-Lenten season where we begin to prepare our hearts for the season of Lent.  Our Church calendar had us read this story of Herod on the Tuesday before this Sunday.  Herod is a good example of the person who will start out to live a righteous life, but will ultimately give in to the pleasures of the world.  How different he is from the Apostle Paul.  In our Epistle Reading for today, we find the great apostle who describes his life as

…in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.  (II Cor. 11:23-26)

  Paul represents that soil that received the word of God and brought forth fruit.  Herod allowed what other people thought of him to rule his life, so much so that he was willing to kill John and support the decision to kill Jesus. Paul did not let beatings, prisons, and many other kinds of suffering deter him from following Christ, and as a result, he bore much fruit.  Herod allowed the lusts of his flesh to choke the word of God.  Paul was willing to turn his back on all the pleasures of this life if only he might serve Christ and spread his gospel. 

            During this season of Lent, like Herod, we will probably “do many things.”  We will realize that we are doing some things that we shouldn’t do, and we will repent.  But will we stop short?  Will we be willing to give up that Herodias in our life? Will we be willing to stand firm for righteousness and holiness even when the lusts of the flesh lure us away?  Alexander MacLaren described Herod in this way:

Herod was a weak-willed man, drawn by two stronger natures pulling in opposite directions.   So he alternated between lust and purity, between the foul kisses of the temptress at his side and the warnings of the prophet in his dungeon…  Thus he staggered along, with religion enough to spoil some of his sinful delights, but not enough to make him give them up….  We do not make up for such cowardly shrinking from doing right by pleasure in the divine word which we are not obeying.  Some of us think ourselves good Christians because we assent to truth, and even like to hear it, provided the speaker suit our tastes.  Glad hearing only aggravates the guilt of not doing.  It is useless to admire John if you keep Herodias. 

One of the reasons we fast during the season of Lent is to give us an example of how we need to be in control of our bodies, our appetites that may get out of hand, out of control, and dominate our lives.  Lent is a time to strengthen our resolve to overcome those things that lure us from giving Christ first place in our lives.  Lent is a time when can show that following Christ is more important to us than yielding to those pleasures which may not be in accordance with God’s will. 

     During Lent, we are often made painfully aware of these two strong natures pulling in opposite directions.  We find in ourselves a desire to obey God, and at the same time, the desire to follow our own desires.  Years ago I heard a preacher who said that most people have just enough religion to make them miserable.  They have just enough religion to let them know that what they are doing is wrong, but it doesn’t give them enough power to quit.    As we examine ourselves during the season of Lent, we often find ourselves miserable because we realize how weak we are when it comes to resisting sin.  But Lent is not profitable to us if it only makes us miserable.  We must come out of the Lenten season with the power of the resurrected Christ who rose from the dead to deliver us from both the guilt of sin and the power of sin.  If the season of Lent does not result in a resolve to truly repent, a resolve to give up even the most darling of our sins, if it does not result in sincere, agonizing prayer to be delivered from all our sins, then, like Herod, our “doing many things” will only result in making us more hardened in our hearts.  Nothing hardens us so much as being convicted for our sins, and then refusing to repent of those sins.  During this season of Lent, let Herod’s life and hardness of heart stand as a warning to us of the danger of hanging on to the things of this world.  Let us set the example of the Apostle Paul before us, who truly meant it when he said, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8, NIV).  When you see the things of this world, will you be like Herod, or like St. Paul?  Will the things of this world be everything, or will you, like St. Paul, see them as rubbish when compared to knowing Christ?  With these thoughts in mind, Dean Henry Alford’s prayer that I included in your order of service today is so appropriate.  Let this prayer be in our hearts constantly as we enter this season of the year:

O Thou Sower of the good seed in men’s hearts, grant to us that we may not receive it by the wayside, so as speedily to lose it:  nor in shallow soil, so as to hear with joy, but, having no root, in time of temptation to fall away:  nor among thorns, so that it is choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life.   But break Thou up our fallow soil, that we, receiving Thy seed into good and honest hearts, may keep it, and bring forth fruit unto life everlasting. Save us from a trifling spirit:  save us from sudden and passing excitement:  save us from an heart divided between the world and Thee.  Give us earnestness, strength of purpose, simplicity of faith, warmth of love, that we may inherit the blessing which Thou hast promised to them who are doers as well hearers of Thy word; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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The Pierced Soul–Sermon

The Pierced Soul

A Sermon 

Preached on January 31, 2010, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 AND when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.  ( Luke 2:22-40) 

     Today is Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Lent,  so we are now in the pre-Lenten season, a time when we need to begin preparing our hearts for that serious time of reflection and repentance, as well as meditation on the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This Tuesday is also the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or, as it is sometimes called, The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  As we read the story of the presentation of Christ in the temple, the words that are spoken by Simeon help us to prepare our hearts for the season of Lent.

            According to Old Testament law, after a male child had been born,  the child had to be dedicated to the Lord,  and the mother had to be purified.  According to Exodus 13, the firstborn male child had to be redeemed by means of a sacrifice.  In Ex. 13:12-15, we read,

That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’s.   And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.   And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:  And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. 

The Jews had to observe this custom to remember that when God delivered them from the bondage of Egyptian slavery, he killed the firstborn of all the Egyptians.  All the firstborn of Israel would have been killed, as well, if they had not sacrificed a lamb and put the blood of that lamb on their doorposts.  When the angel of death saw that blood, he passed over their houses and spared the firstborn.  Therefore, all the firstborn males of Israel, from that time forward, had to be redeemed by means of a sacrifice.

     Also, according to God’s law, after a child was born, the woman  was considered ceremonially unclean and could not join in worship with the people of God.  Leviticus 12 tells us what the woman must do in order to be purified:

 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.  And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.  And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.   And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:  Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.  And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.   (Lev. 12: 1-8) 

 As you can see, a woman was considered to be ceremonially unclean for 40 days after the birth of her child.    Normally, a lamb was sacrificed as a burnt offering, and a pigeon was sacrificed as a sin offering.  But since Mary and Joseph were poor, they did not have to offer the lamb.  They could offer two pigeons instead.

     In our text for today,  Mary and Joseph have brought Christ to the temple in order that these sacrifices might be offered on behalf of Jesus and Mary.  When they come in to the temple, they are met by a godly man named Simeon.  Simeon is described as a righteous and devout man.  The Holy Spirit was upon him, and he had been waiting all his life to see the Messiah.  God had revealed to him that before he died he would see the Messiah.  When Mary and Joseph enter the temple with the child Jesus, God reveals to Simeon that this little baby is the one who would redeem Israel.  Simeon takes the child in his arms and gives thanks to God in the words that we have come to know as the “nunc dimittis,” which we sing near the end of our Evening Prayer service:  “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,  Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;  A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).   Then , Simeon makes a prophecy and tells Mary, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-5).  I am sure that up until this moment, Mary’s heart had been filled with joy.  She has become a new mother.  Not only is she a mother, but she is the mother of the son of God.  She has heard the angel’s announcement that this child would be great, the Son of the Highest, and would inherit the throne of his father, David, and reign forever.  We don’t know how much Mary knew about how all of this would be accomplished, but we can probably assume that she, like most of the people of her day, did not know exactly how Jesus would redeem his people, and how he would come to his throne.  Perhaps she, like most of the Jews of that day, believed that the Messiah was going to be a great deliverer who would free them from Roman rule and set up his throne in Jerusalem.   

     But Simeon’s prophecy acquaints Mary with the truth that the life of this child was going to be difficult.    He tells her that this child would be the cause of the rise and fall of many.  He also tells her that he would be a sign that would be spoken against.  In other words, her son was going to be one who some people would oppose.    When her son is opposed, she would have the reaction of almost any mother: she would be very distressed by the opposition that her son would encounter.  It would hurt her deeply, so much so that the pain would be like a sword piercing through her soul.  The Greek language has different words for swords.  There was a word that was used to describe a small, short sword.  But then, there was a word that was used to describe a large, long, broadsword, which is the word that is used here.    Mary’s pain is going to be so deep that it will be like a broadsword piercing through her very soul.  At this time, Mary probably has no conception of what her son would face in the future, but Simeon has told her that she is going to be hurt deeply by what will happen to her son.

     The deep hurts she would experience would begin very soon.  Not long after these days, Herod will seek to kill the child.  An angel reveals to Joseph that the child is in danger, and they must flee to Egypt.  How deeply saddened Mary must have been!  Here she has the greatest treasure in the world in her possession, and yet powerful people are determined to kill him.  She must have always been looking over shoulder, listening to hear the latest word, wondering what hired assassin might be around the next corner seeking the life of her child.

      Then,  immediately after her son begins his public ministry, the opposition begins.  Though he heals the sick, raises the dead, and does many other wonderful miracles, many people, out of envy and jealousy oppose everything that he does.  Though he is the greatest teacher and preacher that the world has ever known, people want to cast him out of the synagogue, hurl him over cliffs, or stone him to death.  To see her son treated in such a fashion would cause any mother great pain.  Whenever my mother comes to hear me preach, she always sits on the first or second row.  She doesn’t do that because she wants to be close to me.  She does that so that she won’t see the reaction of other people to what I am saying.  Mothers are very proud and protective when it comes to how their sons are treated, and I am sure that Mary was no different.

      But of course, the hurt caused by these events  would not begin to compare with the pain in Mary’s soul when her son was arrested and crucified.  We don’t know how much of the passion Mary may have witnessed.    Did she see the arrest?  Did she see the soldiers beating him?  Did she witness the lies that were told about him at that mockery of a trial?    Did she see the scourging?  We know the women were following, so she may have seen a great deal.  She probably heard the crowd shouting over and over again, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  She probably heard the crowd express how they would rather see a murderer like Barabbas go free rather than her son.  She may have heard Pilate give the permission for them to take him away and be crucified.   She may have seen him walk the via dolorosa with the cross upon his back, for we are told, “And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him” (Matt. 23:27).   Many of the women saw the crucifixion of Jesus, for we are told, “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem” (Mark 15:40-1).  Mary was there  at the place of the crucifixion for we are told,  

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.  They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.  Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.   (John 19:23-25) 

She saw them drive the nails into the hands and feet of her son.   She saw the soldiers gambling for his clothing. She heard all the cruel words that that men said as he hung there between heaven and earth.    She heard his cries of thirst.  But even as he is there on the cross, he expresses his love for her, because he tells John to take her into his home and care for her.  Even his compassion for her while in his own death throes must have pierced her soul.  She heard his plaintive cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Then she saw the agony finally end as he commended his spirit to His father.  As she looked upon her son in those terrible hours of torture and pain, Simeon’s prophecy, “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” must have seemed like an understatement.  What grief could compare to the grief of a mother who saw her son treated in this fashion? 

     During this time of year, we go through the life, passion, and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As we do so, a sword should pierce our souls just as the soul of Mary was pierced.  During this season, our daily readings and our readings on the Lord’s Day will take us through those many times when he was spoken against, the many times that he was persecuted, the many times when men plotted against his life.  As we look at the purity and holiness of his life, as we look at all the good that he did, as we look at the wisdom of his teaching, and most of all, as we look at how his great love for sinners was rejected, our souls should be pierced.  As we look upon how the one who was so full of grace and mercy became the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, our souls should be pierced. 

     Our souls should be pierced whenever we consider that our world, especially in the United States, treats our Lord in much the same fashion as he was treated then.  Simeon said that Jesus would be spoken against, and he is still spoken against.  Though he proclaimed himself to be God in the flesh, so many people in our culture hate that truth, and even many who call themselves Christians, even Christian leaders speak against his divinity.  Our Lord taught that we must live in obedience to God’s commandments,  not only in an outward manner, but inwardly, in our hearts.    Yet, our Lord’s teaching concerning righteousness is spoken against.  The teaching of our Lord was that the only way we could be saved was through his death on the cross.  We cannot be saved by living a good and moral life.  We cannot be saved by living in obedience to the Ten Commandments.  We can only be saved placing in our faith and trust in his finished work on the cross.  Yet, this teaching that we can only be saved by the shed blood of Jesus Christ is spoken against.  Think of it!  He came into the world to die, but the very stated purpose for his coming into this world is spoken against.  Though he said that he came to seek and save that which was lost and give his life a ransom for many, his words and mission are spoken against.  Since we live in a country that is increasingly rejecting his teaching and the mission of his life and death,  our souls should be pierced, for it appears that he is being crucified afresh, even in the house of his friends.

      But most of all, our souls should be pierced when we gaze upon the cross and realize that it was our sins that placed him on that cross.  During this Lenten season of the year, we engage in a great deal of self-examination.  We examine ourselves in the light of the Ten Commandments and see how we have broken the law of God.  We look at our Lord’s teaching on the sermon on the mount and other places in Scripture and see all the ways in which we have failed to live up to God’s holy standard.  We take down our devotional books that describe for us how to examine ourselves during this time of year, and we see that, both inwardly and outwardly, we have broken God’s holy law.  Since we have broken God’s holy law, we deserve judgment and condemnation.   But our Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross take our judgment and condemnation away from us by suffering in our place.  During this Lenten season, when our sins are revealed to us in such a powerful way, our hearts should be pierced when we realize that those sins we committed made the cross necessary.  Our sins pierced the Son of God just as surely as the spear of the Roman soldier.  If we realize that our sins pierced him, then surely our souls should be pierced.  In Rev. 1:7 we read, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”  Of course, there were those such as the leaders of Rome and the Jewish religious leaders who were directly responsible for piercing him, but the truth is that we all pierced him.  When we realize that we pierced him, then we are pierced, and like the women gathered around the cross, we lament those sins that placed him on the cross.

     But though our souls will be pierced during this Lenten season, the great grief will be turned into joy.  Mary’s soul was pierced as she saw her son hanging on the cross, but three days later, her Son came forth from the tomb, victorious over sin and death.    Though our souls are pierced because we realize our sins placed him on the cross, we realize that the cross has taken away the wrath due to our sin.   On Tuesday, we celebrate the day that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to offer those sacrifices.  But what we are really celebrating is that Jesus took away the need for those sacrifices ever to be repeated.  He, once for all, became the burnt offering and the sin offering. He took the place of the lambs, the pigeons, and all the other animals that were sacrificed in order that people might be purified.    Jesus Christ, the first born of the father, gave himself  as our Passover lamb, and now his blood, sprinkled on the doorposts of our hearts saves us from the wrath of God.  As we come to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, our souls are pierced because  we realize as we humbly kneel here that our sins made his death necessary; but we are comforted by feeding on his body and blood, for we know that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin, those sins that put him on the cross.  

     The collect for Tuesday’s celebration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple says, “ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy Majesty, that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”   As we look at our sins, our souls are pierced because we know that as long as our souls are in such a sinful condition we cannot be presented to the Father.  But Jesus came to the temple as an infant, the one who would fulfill at that the temple stood for, and all that took place in the temple.  During this Lenten season, let us remember that though Mary’s soul was pierced, and though our souls are pierced, we rejoice that because he was willing to suffer and die in our place, we can be presented before God in the temple, in the heavenly holy of holies itself, with pure and clean hearts.  Amen.

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