Worms Like Us
Did you sing it? Did you sing "for such a worm as I?" You wouldn't if we had been using our other hymnal or any other modern hymnal. Even the Wisconsin Synod hymnal doesn't sing, "for such a worm as I." All have changed to the less offensive "for sinners such as I," or the downright meaningless "for such a one as I." So called "worm" hymns are not popular in these very modern times. Educated, enlightened, technically sophisticated people don't like referring to themselves as worms. That seems like an unnecessary shaming, an uncalled for embarrassment. So we change our hymns. Worms become sinners and sinners become "for such a one as I." But that's another way of saying, "That's just the way I am."
But honestly what better way to describe sexual sinners such as us then worms? When we talk about the 6th Commandment we are talking about the sore spot of every human heart. I have never found anyone who is not convicted by this Commandment. Even though adults can give the impression to kids that sexual sins are something only young people struggle against, we know better. Most adults know the shame of sexual sins, most adults have felt like the lowest of the low, like a worm, because of them.
Sexual sins are powerful and plentiful. Adam and Eve first realize they are fallen from grace because of their sexual sins. That's why the very first thing they do is put on fig leaves to cover their nakedness. From then on the Old Testament seems like one long catalog of sexual sins. Leviticus forbids every sort of aberrant sexuality because that is what Israel was tempted by. From Judah sleeping with a cult prostitute, to David taking another man's wife, to Solomon having hundreds of wives, sexual sins plague the Church. Male prostitutes found in the land of Canaan when Israel got their eventually move into the very temple of God. Sexual sins are so prominent that God typifies His Church by an adulterous woman rescued by marriage who goes back to her adultery.
Who isn't plagued by sexual sins? Where in the world can you go to get away from sexual temptations? Our fallen world well knows the power of sexuality and the lure of sexual sinning. That's why the ad industry constantly dances sexual images and innuendos before our eyes, and why the Internet introduces the most abnormal sexuality in the most normal of searches. Even if you could somehow avoid these, you cannot avoid the revealing way people dress. Well then, should we all move into caves in the hill country? St. Antony, a fourth century church father, tried this. But he found that the dancing girls he moved to be away from came with him into the cave to dance on the walls at night. The problem isn't just outside of us, it's inside, so who can escape sexual sins?
We are helpless and hopeless against our sexual sins. This is the message we need to get to our kids. Too often, the only message our kids get is that sexual sins are wrong and must be avoided. This, of course, is true, but if they don't know how helpless and hopeless sinners are over against sexual sins, we have given them a false sense of security. Just as our world teaches them sex outside of marriage can be safe if they take the right precautions, well-meaning parent's have taught kids they can be safe from sexual sins by the power of the Law. Obviously, such parents have forgotten what happened to some of their kids when they were learning to ride bikes. The kid who thought he or she could control the bike right from the get-go was the one who ended up flipping the bike on the gutter or sideswiping the parked car. We need to get across to our kids that not only our we as low as worms when it comes to sexual sins, we are as helpless.
The only answer for worms is the Worm, Jesus. Think that's too harsh a thing to say about Jesus? Don't you see how He was shamed in our text? Before we go over that, see how Herod sends Him back to Pilate. We read that Herod dressed Jesus in an "elegant robe." The Greek word is "shinning." This is the noun form of the verb used to describe Jesus at the Transfiguration. His faced "shined." The shining robe reminds us that Jesus is holy and pure. As impossible as it is for us to imagine, Jesus had no sexual sins. He was a shinning example of purity, chastity, and decency.
However, He was tempted sexually for Hebrews tells us He was tempted in all ways like we are. But Hebrews goes on to say, "yet without sin." The temptation to lust was present but He booked no cruises on the lust boat as we do. Sexual thoughts came to His mind, but He did not secretly enjoy them as we do. Temptation flitted here and there about His head, but He did not let them nest in His hair as we do.
But look how the sexually chaste and pure Jesus is treated? As the worst sexual sinner of all time. And that is what He is was before the throne of the Holy God who put on Him all of our sexual sins. Jesus was spit on because He was guilty of our disgusting sexual sins. Jesus was struck and slapped by Roman guards as gladly as prison guards today strike and slap child molesters. A crown of thorns was gouged into His head because our minds spew forth such vile sexual thoughts. And while the shinning robe of Herod stood for Jesus' holiness, the purple robe the soldiers put on Jesus stands for His incredibly filthy sinfulness which was really ours.
Yes, that purple robe is something to focus on. Do you know how they made the color purple back then? It came from a kind of worm that when squashed produces a purple-like color. In Psalm 22, the suffering Savior describes Himself "as a worm and no man." The worm Jesus calls Himself is the very one they crushed to make the color purple. But you don't really see the significance of this fact till you know that when Isaiah says our sins are scarlet, he uses the same Hebrew word used for that worm. Jesus is clothed with a purple, deep blood-red, scarlet robe because He is covered with our sexual sins. Our sexual sins that when exposed make us blush hot with shame were fully exposed to God the Father on Jesus and He punished them without mercy.
Dear friends, the only release, the only relief from our sexual sins that debase us so in thought, word, and deed is found not in the glorified Christ but in the gorified Christ. Not in king Jesus reigning powerfully from heaven, but in Worm Jesus standing brutalized and shamed before men. The Church of all times has known this, but because the modern Bride of Christ has lost its stomach for seeing herself as a harlot, as an adulterous woman, as a worm, she finds more comfort in an exalted, powerful Christ. Only worms need a Worm to be saved.
As I said, the Church of all times has known this. In the Old Testament Church some reading the passages about how much Jesus would suffer concluded that the Messiah would be blind and a leper. In the Middle Ages when the bubonic plague ravaged the land killing whole villages, their thoughts did not rise to an exalted, pure, undefiled Jesus sitting loftily in heaven. No, Christians flocked to a crucifix in the church of Monte Lupo which was horribly marked with ulcerous, bloody sores from head to toe.
Look at the ancient Orthodox crucifix. Below the traditional cross piece, you will see one about where the feet are, but it's not horizontal as the other cross piece but tilted at a sharp angle. To some among the Orthodox this symbolizes that Jesus was a man of suffering and sorrows His whole life to such an extent that He went through life with one leg shorter than the other. Or consider a poem written in World War I, the first war fought with truly modern methods of killing men. The resulting horror devastated many. One poet wrote, "We need Thee O Jesus of the scars." Then there was a church in France that had a statue on it's steeple of the Virgin Mary holding a Baby Jesus. Through repeated shelling the statue leaned and leaned till it appeared that Mother Mary was pitching her Baby into the terrible war below. This comforted the soldiers being brutalized by the conflict.
If you want a current version of a depiction of Jesus that borders on the horrible, but Christians nonetheless find comforting, go to the Lutheran Church on the campus of Texas A&M University. The corpus, or the body on that cross is contorted and twisted violently. The mouth is open and you can almost hear Jesus screaming.
Friends, a Jesus who was not a Worm would not have come low enough to reach us. Just as God had to descend into the dust that these bodies are made of to truly reach us, so He had to descend into the slime of our sexual sins to redeem us. We need to see a Jesus shamed, slapped, mocked and spat upon. We need to see a Jesus who is punished like we know in our hearts we ought to be or we will live our whole lives with one eye always looking over our shoulder. For unless Jesus was truly and completely punished as sexual sinners like us deserve, God will indeed come looking for us one day. Conversely, if Jesus was indeed punished as we deserve, than God cannot come looking to punish us, not now, not ever.
Paul says clearly the power of sin is the Law, and the way out from under the Law is not to keep it, because we can't, but to die to it. If we raise our kids, if we live our lives, with God's "No," ringing in our ears, we will be powerless over against our sins, sexual and otherwise. We keep sin very much in power because we keep the Law very much in power. We act like we are under the Law not under grace. Under the burdens of the Law rather than under the blood of Christ. We act like we are worms destined to be crushed rather than people whom Jesus redeemed by being crushed as a worm in our place.
But keep the analogy going. Don't stop at Jesus the worm tortured, condemned, and dying gorily on a tree. The worm became a butterfly, did He not? Is not that why a butterfly is a symbol of Easter, because Christ having died as a worm covered and encased by our sins, rises from the grave as a butterfly "rises" from where a slime encased worm once was?
And have not we also dear worms, so been raised? Does not St. Paul tell us pointedly, "We were therefore buried with Christ through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father we too may live a new life?" Now Paul doesn't say, "Get out there and start living a new life." That would be the way of the Law, and no help at all.
No, Paul promises us that as Christ was raised to live a new life, so you have been raised in Baptism. As little as a worm having been through the cocoon can ever be a worm again, so little can you baptized Christians be anything but butterflies in the eyes of God. Butterflies don't ooze around in slime, they fly and flitter in the air from sweet flower to sweet flower. Do butterflies ever get their wings wet and even slimy? Of course, but they easily dry out. They certainly don't become worms again simply because they get wet or slimly sometimes. So it is with us dear friends. Even our sexual sins, worm-like though they be, cannot return those of us in Christ to being worms. By repentance and forgiveness, we return to the Worm who saved us and made us butterflies forever. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek IV (3-29-00) 6th Commandment