Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 20:40 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If we have learned anything in the past few years, with the advent of ubiquitous cell phone cameras, it is that what once might have gone unnoticed can now be made immediately available over the entire internet. People do or say something stupid—or at least what a lot of people think is stupid—and soon everyone will be talking about it. And we also know just how little privacy we have. Maybe you’ve had this happen, where you are having a conversation with someone about something, and all of a sudden you have multiple ads on your phone or computer for that very thing. In fact, this happened to a friend of mine the other day. There were a few of us talking about baseball, specifically the St. Louis Cardinals, and he was scrolling through his phone at the same time. All of a sudden he had three advertisements for stories about the St. Louis Cardinals, though he had never searched for that topic, nor is he a fan of them.
All of this to say that what Jesus said twice in the Gospel of Luke is happening in real time: “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). And then, four chapters later: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2). We think that what we do is hidden or covered, and that is less and less the case. And we haven’t even said a word about God, who actually does know all things—unlike Google, who only makes us think they know all things.
Evil will not stay hidden forever. It gets exposed all the time in public and shameful ways. And when it comes to our sin, none of it is hidden from the God who made us. We can try to cover it up, to hide it, to pretend it doesn’t exist, but God already knows. And the psalmist recognizes this when he tried to keep his sin to himself and not confess it. “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away.” Literally, my bones got old and tired, “through my groaning all day. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” This groaning is the out-working of hidden sin and guilt; it is the word that’s used for the roaring of a lion. This sounds like a punishment, that God’s hand presses down, and gets heavier and heavier. And my strength, my vitality, the sap of life, gets turned into drought, as in the hottest part of the summer. It not only sounds like a punishment, but it can seem like one, too. But it is not. It is God’s pressing down until we stop covering up our sin, which He knows anyway. It is what some Christians have called God’s “alien” or “foreign” work. In other words, God is not aiming at crushing you; He is aiming at confession. And so David does: “I made known my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” As the proverb says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
David thinks that hiding his sin, covering it up, will make it go away. But God refuses to let you hide it. He will bring it to light one way or another, in order to bring you to confession. He will not leave you in your sin, to waste away, to let your spiritual and physical life dry up. Instead, He uncovers your sin in you in order to cover it up somewhere else. In you it will never stay hidden. It must come to light. So God buries your sin somewhere it can never be uncovered, somewhere it can be hidden forever: He buries it in and with His Son, who takes up the cry and groan and roar of the sinner as His own. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from saving Me, from the words of My groaning” (Psalm 22:1)? Then He puts all your sin, and the death that comes with it, into the ground. And when Jesus rises from the dead, He leaves it all there in the ground, and He will never resurrect it. You have died to sin, and your life now is Christ. Blessed are you! Your transgression is forgiven, which means that it is lifted up and taken away from you. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are you! Your sin no longer needs to be covered by your fig-leaf attempts at concealment, because now God Himself has covered it in the blood and death of Jesus. Blessed are you! Yahweh counts nothing against you, because He already counted it against His Son.
It is a strange predicament in which we find ourselves, both covered and uncovered. Our sinful nature thinks we can cover our sin, when we can’t. And then when God says He covers it forever, we have trouble believing it. But let God be true and every person, including myself, be a liar: we can never cover our sin and make it go away. That rug under which we try to hide all the dirt of our thoughts and words and actions will be pulled out from under us every time by the hand of God, heavy upon us. God will have it uncovered. But He is not a viral cell phone video, trying to expose it and us to the world’s shame and disapproval. He uncovers our temporary hiding places in order to make that covering eternal. Even though we can still see and feel our sin, God does not. He who felt the nails and the thorns and the spear and the death refuses to look at our sin anymore. He surrounds you with the joyful shouts of your deliverance and salvation, like Moses and Miriam looking down on the vanquished Egyptians. He surrounds you with steadfast love, so that your sin and death will never have the last word. He Himself is your hiding place and refuge from your sin. When your sin is uncovered, take refuge in His absolution. When your sin is uncovered, take refuge in His Body and Blood, by which He put your sin to death. When your life is sapped like walking outside when it’s 110 degrees, confess your sin to the God whose forgiveness is infinite in the risen Jesus, and take refuge in the cool of His hiding place, in Christ the rock where He refreshes and renews you. And know that the day is coming when all sin and evil will be gone, also from your feeling and sight, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
And for us who have had our sins covered in Jesus’ crucified flesh, the work of Jesus continues in the world. Do not get sucked in to the way this world treats sin, trying to uncover it all but never knowing anything about how God covers sin with forgiveness. Instead, hear the proverb:
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12). This is what the love of God in Christ does, and so it is what the love of those who belong to Christ does. Do not be tempted into exposing sin, unless that is your vocation in this world. If it is not your job to uncover sin and try criminals or judge them, or you have some other authority that God has given, such as parent, leave it to God. Vengeance is Mine, saith Yahweh. We, whose sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus, will fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation—not only by lying, but by gossiping the truth. Instead, cover up your neighbor’s offenses. Defend her, speak well of her, and explain everything in the kindest way. As Paul writes to Timothy, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:25).
Nothing we hide will ever stay hidden, but when God hides our sin in Christ, it can never be exposed and held against us. He covers us with baptismal water, and even when we confess our sin, we approach Him in the Name He has put on us. We “look to Christ upon the tree, His body broken there for [us]; [we] lay before Him all [our] sin, [our] darkest secrets from within. Lord, may Your wounded hand impart Your healing to [our] broken heart[s]; Your love alone can form in [us] [hearts] that serve You joyfully. From Your own mouth comes forth a word; Your shepherd speaks, but You are heard; through him Your hand now stretches out, forgiving sin, destroying doubt. Baptismal waters cover [us]; Christ’s wounded hand has set [us] free. Held in [our] Father’s strong embrace, with joy [we] praise Him for His grace” (LSB 616).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/30/22