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His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

March 18, 2017

Verse: Psalm 136

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Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
March 19, 2017 (also the Feast of St. Joseph)
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Lent 3
His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever; and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever; with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever; and killed mighty kings, for his steadfast love endures forever; Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures forever; and Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures forever; and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures forever … Psalm 136

Beloved in Christ, the text you just heard is a portion of the Psalm assigned for this Sunday. The entire Psalm is printed in the bulletin with the hope that you will take it home; and make it the basis of your prayers and meditations for the coming week.

There is no question that this Psalm was a chief element of Israel’s liturgy, and therefore serves as an admirable example of what Christian worship is all about.

It recounts aloud the mighty acts of God! It declares with clear voice all the powerful deeds he executed “for us men and for our salvation.” But worship is not simply a cold recitation of the facts, the kind you might hear in a lecture hall or a courtroom. But one recounted with great joy, and interlaced with doxology! That is to say, with the worship, prayers, praise and thanksgiving, the redeemed offer their Great God and Savior; on account of the steadfast and enduring love he holds for us, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Israel’s worship was focused on the Exodus. It was the single greatest event of her history; wherein God with “strong hand and outstretched arm” miraculously liberated Israel from her captors. From abject slavery, from miserable and hopeless lives of sorrow, suffering, anxiety and tears; and set them free to be his people! He turned the tables on all their mighty enemies. And in keeping with his steadfast love, he placed all the enemy’s land and possessions into the hands of his people as an inheritance to enjoy; as recounted in today’s Psalm.

Our worship today is the same. It’s focus, however, is not the Exodus, but the thing the Exodus foretold: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where with a strong hand and “outstretched arms,” our Lord and Savior brought us, the New and True “Israel, into joy from sadness.” (John of Damascus, TLH #204). The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Stronger Man we hear of in today’s gospel, overcame the Strong Man. Took away his weapons, plundered his house, released us, his captives, and gives us the inheritance of New and Eternal Life in a world without end! Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever!

But people are so dainty today! In 2014 a 6 year old boy was suspended from school for chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a pistol. People are unhinged! But when the LORD overturned Israel’s mighty enemies it was a violent affair! The 10 plagues he visited on Egypt brought untold suffering, starvation, bloodshed, disease and death on all its people: men, women and children alike; and even on their animals. None was spared.

The same was the case 40 years later when, under Joshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus), the armies of Israel took the Promised Land as their inheritance. It was a ferocious business! They devoted its people: man, woman and child to destruction. None was spared. None escaped. None lived to see another sunrise. What Scripture states is true, that “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

It is fashionable today to draw a moral equivalencies between Islam and Christianity because of the bloodshed recorded in the Old Testament. The argument goes like this: Christians can’t complain when Muslims kill people, because Christians do the same thing. But this is nonsense! Because that was then, and this is now.

In the Old Testament the LORD’s people did what the LORD ordered them to do. They acted in his stead, and carried out his judgment, in real time, on those who transgressed. But there is no such command in the New Testament. Today our war is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. 6:10)

But none the less our enemies while spiritual, manifest themselves in real time. Their aggression against us takes many forms. On the one hand there are the obvious crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, assault, arson, robbery, pedophilia and the like. But there are also psychological assaults, and emotional ones, too, which leave no marks; at least no visible ones. But they bitterly enslave and oppress us none the less. The perpetrators may be strangers, but they might just as often be “those of a man’s own house,” for which you should pray, and expect, God’s mighty deliverance: “for his steadfast love endures forever.”

This is what we do here every Sunday, pray for God’s deliverance, but we do more than that! We participate in it! In the Eucharist, a word which means “to give thanks” and is the church’s way of “giving thanks,” we lowly slaves are joined to our God! And that necessarily means we are rescued from every enemy of body, souls, mind and spirit. At the altar the past events accomplished for our salvation, and the future promises of rest and peace, are brought into the present. Where we don’t simply ponder them; but where we eat and drink them. So that they course through our whole being, to ward off the assaults of the devil, the hysteria of the hell-bound culture and strengthen us against the never-silent sins of the flesh.

And so come to the altar. Take eat! Take drink! Make Eucharistia to the LORD for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever. Amen.