Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on Quinquagesima Sunday, 2/27/2022. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel at 11am. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Quinquagesima Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel lesson and introit. To read the Bible texts for Quinquagesima, click here.
Today’s Introit was taken from Psalm 31. And even if you didn’t know the number, you probably knew the verse: “Be Thou my strong rock: a house of defense to save me. Thou art my rock and my fortress: Therefore for Thy name’s sake lead me and guide me.”
It is a prayer for rescue, likely written when David was being pursued by Saul. Without going into all the details we covered in our study of First and Second Samuel, suffice to say that it was a time of tension, violence, and injustice. It was a time when Saul, a disgraced and dying star, was lashing out at David, God’s anointed.
David was Saul’s number one target, because David was seen as a threat. He was pursued by Saul’s armies night and day, he and his mighty men of valor.
In all of this, David was courageous. Because of God’s gracious promises to him, David knew that he would live; but he dared not tempt God by being reckless or using poor tactics in battle. Furthermore, he didn’t pretend that God’s promises magically removed his fears.
He pours out his heart to God honestly and fully as he is chased out of his own land. He prayed:
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.
Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
If you have been following the news, and you have, this story might seem familiar. President Zelensky of Ukraine, at the moment of my writing, was being pursued by Putin’s army; a man hunted in his own land. Admired for his bravery, but from a distance. For he is an object of dread – a reproach to the nations. Whispers, injustice, terror, and scheming: a plot to take his life.
The point of this observation is not to make the Ukrainian President into King David, or by some theological sleight of hand, predict and interpret the outcome of present conflicts. But I do want you to take careful note of a critical spiritual point being made before the eyes of all.
David and his men were pursued by a powerful enemy. They were smaller in size and strength, so they were careful; but they were bold. They resisted the best they could as God gave them ability and opportunity.
They did not want to live as defeated exiles, but in their homeland. And look now at the streets of Kyiv. No man between 16 and 60 years old, what we call “fighting age males,” is supposed to leave the country. They are to stay and fight; but not they are not alone. Grandmothers and soccer moms, old men and 20-something code-writers, students and mechanics, are taking up arms, however small, and fighting for their home, their families, and their futures.
Like David and his mighty men, they do now want to live as defeated exiles, but free people in their homeland. I don’t know what the image of a teenage girl holding a Kalashnikov with a look of confusion and resolve on her face does to you. Maybe it makes you sad. Maybe it makes you angry. Maybe it makes you proud. Maybe it makes you wonder what you would do if it were you; if it were this country, this city, your home, your family, your future.
Friends, as far as I know, unless you are part of the hacker group running denial of service attacks on Russian government sites, and some of you honestly could be, there’s not a lot you can do to help directly. But you do have access to the One who can. So, pray that bloodshed cease. Pray that those who crave blood and violence will be brought to nothing. Pray and fast and trust that God will bring good from evil, even though we have no idea how or when.
And remember that you, too, are in a battle daily. The same evil one who poisons the hearts of men and makes them lust for power and glory, has enjoyed free rein in our land. He has compromised our leaders at every level, and on every side of every aisle. He has marched down our streets celebrating our faux liberation. He daily assaults you and yours, and wants you to despair. He wants you to flee and cower. He wants you to give up and accept his rule over you.
Are you one who would defend your land, your home, your family, if a foreign enemy came to our shores? Are you one who would resist by whatever means you had? That’s not rhetorical. Like all the princes of this world, this country and this city will pass away; as will your house and wealth. If you would take up arms to defend them, how much more eager should you be to defend that which is of eternal consequence?
This battle rages daily. If you could put on glasses that revealed the warfare going on around you, you would be horrified. But you don’t need special glasses. You can see…because you have heard.
Like the blind man on the road, who heard the Son of the once persecuted David was passing by, your eyes have been opened. Not only so that you can see the horrors of a 24-hour news cycle, and not only so that you can detect the attacks of the evil one. Your eyes are opened to behold Jesus. So, behold Him.
With Ash Wednesday only 72 hours away, we are on the cusp of Lent. Jesus said:
See, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.
For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him,
and on the third day he will rise.
By that death and resurrection, the battle has been won for you by Christ. Though the world continues to spin, though nations rise and fall, though blood is shed and we see no good come of it, God will have His justice, and our tears will be wiped away because He said so.
In between now and then, we fight because we are at enmity with the evil one. In baptism you were clothed in Christ’s righteousness, a white robe. But that white robe is also a uniform, and you can’t take it off.
I never really liked the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, even if we managed to pull the wrong meaning out of it at times.
You are engaged in warfare, whether you know it not or like it not. So fight. Pray, fast, discipline your body. Hear His Word. Tame your tongue. Guard your mind.
Christ did not die to save nations and empires. He died to save you. And me, and Saul, and David, and Vladimir…
Pray that all of us together would at last rejoice with the blind man who now sees, and that we would behold Christ, and so, have peace at the last.
Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.
Blessèd be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.
I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.
Love the Lord, all you his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!