Sunday, March 1, 2015
Matthew 15:21-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; Genesis 32:22-32
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your Lord Jesus teaches you a hard lesson in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” And, then, He continues saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is a hard saying, indeed, particularly in these days when “your enemies” drive you out of your home and your village, enslave your wives and daughters, and relish to make a spectacle of cutting off your head, crucifying you, or burning you alive. Truly, it is very hard to love your enemies and to do good to those who hate you.
But, what if it is the LORD who is your enemy? What if it is the LORD who permits cancer to wrack your body, unemployment or underemployment to reduce you to dependence upon the charity of others, or who takes your child, or your husband, or anyone you love from you in sudden and violent death? The LORD would never do such a thing, you say? No? Well, just ask Job, or Jacob, or St. Paul, or, how about Jesus Himself. The LORD may not directly cause the suffering and tribulation that befall you and those you love, but He, nevertheless, does permit them to befall you. Indeed, Satan had to ask God’s permission in order to afflict Job. The LORD permitted Satan to take everything from Job, even his own physical health, just shy of killing him. And, it was none other than the LORD Himself, or, the Angel of the LORD, who wrestled all night with Jacob, finally putting his hip out of socket. Yes, Jacob got his blessing, but he limped away permanently wounded. Likewise, St. Paul pleaded three times with the LORD that He would remove the “thorn in his flesh” which afflicted him as a “messenger of Satan to harass” him. The LORD refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And, it is. It truly is.
Perhaps the Canaanite woman understood and believed this best. She didn’t ask for a blessing. She didn’t ask for healing. She didn’t ask for relief. But, what did she ask the Lord for? She asked the Lord for mercy. Above all else, she believed that the Lord was merciful. However, she also believed and knew that He owed her nothing. That is why she asked for mercy. If the Lord would only show her mercy, it would be enough. His grace would, indeed, be sufficient for her. But, the Lord didn’t answer her a word. He ignored her. Are there not times when the LORD seems to ignore your prayers? Indeed, there are. Mine too. Still, she persisted in crying out to Him and to His disciples. Finally, He did answer her saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” How’s that for an answer? It was better when He said nothing, right? Yet, even this rebuke did not deter her, but she came and she knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Now, it’s important to note that the Greek word that is translated here as “knelt” is the same word that is translated “worshipped” in other places. So, the Canaanite woman knelt down and worshipped Jesus. Like the tax collector in the temple, the thankful leper, and a myriad of others suffering from various diseases, conditions, and demon possession, she asked for nothing more or other than mercy. However, once again, Jesus rebuked her saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Ouch! That one had to cut to the heart! A little study of first century Jewish culture reveals that the Jews hated the Canaanites, and that “dog” was a common derogatory term the Jews used to call the Canaanites.
But, here’s where the Canaanite woman’s faith truly shines. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t care what Jesus calls her. She knows He’s right. She is a dog, an unworthy dog, a dog sinner. And, moreover, Jesus knew that she freely confessed this of herself from the beginning. That’s why she only asked for mercy, for mercy is when God does not give us the bad things that we deserve for our sins. She knew that she was a poor, miserable sinner and that all that she deserved was temporal and eternal punishment, therefore, she pleaded for mercy, she prayed for mercy, in her worship of the Lord. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” She had great faith in Jesus, that He was merciful. Her desire was for His mercy. Therefore, she received mercy – the Lord did not give her what she deserved, but He gave her what she did not deserve. That is grace, when God gives us the good things that we do not deserve. “Return to the LORD your God,” whether He ignores you, rejects you, or insults you, “for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Jesus was for her, even when He was against her. And, Jesus is for you, even when He may seem to be against you. Paul Gerhardt expresses this concept so perfectly in his hymn “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me” saying, “When life’s troubles rise to meet me, though their weight may be great, they will not defeat me. God, my loving Savior, sends them; He who knows all my woes knows how best to end them.” Yes, you must accept the fact that, when you suffer trials and tribulations, “God, your loving Savior, sends them,” but, you must also trust that, because He sends them, they are also good for you in some way in which, perhaps, only God will ever know. Why is that? Because God is good. God is the very standard and measure of goodness. If anything is good, it is only good in relation to God. And, so, as blessed Luther has taught you, you must not call good evil, and evil good, but you must call a thing, simply and plainly, what it is. This is the Theology of the Cross, and this is the theology of Jesus. Suffering is, simply and plainly, that, suffering. God is not the cause of suffering, but He is the God and Master of suffering. That is to say that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” But, let’s face it, the way of escape the LORD provides is sometimes death. But, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that is precisely what death has become, a “way of escape.” For, if even death cannot hold you, then what have you to fear? And so, you face your trials and your tribulations, you face suffering, you even face death, in faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, that you may endure it. Moreover, you face these enemies in the sure and certain knowledge that God is the Master of them, and that He uses them for your good, and for the good of His children, often in ways we cannot imagine or know, in and through His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ.
That is why St. Peter exhorts you saying, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, […] For, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that Name. […] Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” The point is that the LORD will enable you to persevere, to hold on, through suffering, and to not let go of Him – just like Jacob while the LORD wrestled with him all through the night, even putting his hip out of socket causing him lifelong disability and pain; and, just like the Canaanite woman who, even though Jesus ignored her, rebuked her, and insulted her, refused to let go, but cried out saying, “Yes, Lord, You’re right! I am a dog sinner. But, Lord, even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.”
Truly, a crumb from the Master’s table is all that you need to persevere in this life, and to live forever thereafter. His grace is sufficient for you. Yet, your merciful and gracious LORD gives you so much more than that! He gives you His own body as bread to eat, and His own blood as wine to drink, not crumbs, but all of Himself, the very Bread of Life Himself, whose flesh and blood bestow the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to all who eat and drink and believe. Apart from Him, you can do nothing, but with Him, you are “able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Moreover, when you suffer, you participate in Christ’s sufferings, who suffered for you. Even more still, He is with you now to strengthen you and to be your strength. You can bear all things through Him who strengthens you. You can endure all things through Jesus who is your strength.
To be a Christian is not to have all things go easily for you. You know that the Lord never promised such a thing, but He promised the complete opposite saying, “If you would be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me.” But, to be a Christian is to bear all things, to bear your God-appointed cross, in patient hope and trust in the LORD who has promised to be with you always, to preserve and keep you through life and death, and to bestow upon you life that never ends. He, who has borne the cross for you, will strengthen you to bear your God-appointed cross through the valley of the shadow of death, which He has already traversed, through death, which He has already defeated, into life forever in His Father’s house. It’s not about success. It’s not about prosperity. It’s not about piety. But, it’s about faith and trust in the LORD and in His Word, even when He seems to be against you. He is never against you, but He is always for you. Even when He sends trial, tribulation, and suffering, He is for you. Don’t let go, but cling to Him always. He will bless you. Even if it sometimes hurts, He will bless you. He loves you, and He loves you so much that He will do whatever is necessary to have you as His own, even permitting you to suffer pain and loss. Christ be your strength through life and death. Christ be your sustenance along the way. Christ be your one thing needful, even your life.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
John 9:1-7; 2 Corinthians 5:12-19; Isaiah 8:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus regularly commended those who believed the Word of the Lord without signs, even as He chastened those who demanded signs in order to believe. Nevertheless, the Lord often performed signs before the people, and, in some occasions, God the Father even commanded the faithful to ask for a sign. One such occasion was in Isaiah chapter seven where the LORD commanded King Ahaz to ask for a sign from the LORD to confirm what the LORD had promised in His Word. But, Ahaz refused. Ahaz did not fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things, and so, even when the LORD commanded him to ask for a sign, he would not. Perhaps he believed that the LORD was trying to trick him? Perhaps he believed that the LORD could not help him? Perhaps he believed that prayers and devotion and the Words of Holy Scripture are useless in the face of real-life trials and tribulations, not to mention the fierce army of the Assyrians? For whatever reason, Ahaz refused to ask the LORD for a sign. Thus, the LORD gave Him a sign of His own choosing, “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel,” the sign of the virgin birth of the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The LORD desired to bless Judah and Jerusalem, and still He would; but because of Ahaz’ lack of faith and trust, the blessing would come only after a chastening at the hands of King Rezin and the Assyrian army and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, King of Israel. The LORD said that Ahaz and the people of Judah had refused “the waters of Shiloah which flow gently and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah.” That is a symbolic way of saying that Ahaz and Judah had refused the blessing the LORD desired to give. Because of this, the LORD would still give His blessing, but now it would come following the invasion and devastation of Judah at the hands of the Assyrians and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Nevertheless, the LORD would bless His people, as Isaiah prophesied saying, “Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us.”
“God is with us” is the very meaning of the name of the promised Virgin-born Son, “Immanuel.” God had promised Ahaz and Judah that He was with them. That is why He commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign from Him to confirm His promise. But, Ahaz refused in unbelief and lack of trust. Nevertheless, the LORD would keep His promise, in His own way. He would be Immanuel, “God with us,” even though His people disbelieved and did not trust in Him. Thanks be to God! Yes, thanks be to God, indeed, that God is with us still, despite our unbelief and lack of trust!
We might like to think that we are not like King Ahaz, that we would not refuse a sign from the LORD. And, yet, that is precisely what we do when we fail to make use of His Word and His Sacraments. For, these are miraculous signs from the LORD, every bit as wondrous as the Virgin birth, and yet we often take them lightly, treat them irreverently, or disregard them altogether, just as Ahaz and Judah disregarded the waters of Shiloah. We see these signs, these Sacraments, only according to their outward form: We see a sinful man spouting out lackluster words, ordinary water from the tap, tasteless bread, and cheap wine, even though the LORD has promised in them and through them forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Man looks on the outward form; God looks on the heart.
And so, the disciples saw only a man blind from birth. Thus, they asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” But, what does Jesus answer? Jesus looks not upon the wretchedness of man or the uncleanness of sin, but Jesus trusts in the Word of the LORD. Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of the God might be displayed in him.” This was, non-coincidentally, the same explanation that the LORD God gave to Job for his sufferings and loss, “… that the righteousness of God might be revealed.” What does this mean? How is the righteousness of God revealed in Job’s suffering and in the blind man’s blindness? Though Jesus does restore to the man his sight, it was not physical, but spiritual light the man truly received. Indeed, following his healing, the man continued to suffer as the Pharisees interrogated him and threw him out of the synagogue. We must not judge by what the eyes see or by what human reason and worldly wisdom determine reasonable and wise, but we must believe and trust in the LORD and His Word. The Word of the LORD alone is the light that scatters the darkness of sin and death, the light over which the darkness has not, and cannot, overcome.
Jesus is the work and righteousness of God. Though He came in an outwardly unimpressive way, as a weak and tiny infant, conceived in a scandalous manner, in humility and lowliness and, perhaps, even poverty, the son of a carpenter from backwater Nazareth, He was the Light and the Life of God breaking into this world of His own creating to heal it, redeem it, renew and restore it. Jesus plunged Himself into the river with sinners so that, as they came up cleansed, renewed, and restored, He came up bearing their sin and uncleanness upon Himself so that He might take it to the cross and there suffer and die, the sinless for the sinful, the clean for the unclean, the righteous for the unrighteous, the Son of God as the Son of Man, that sons of men might become sons of God. He was Immanuel, God with us, in the water. And He is Immanuel, God with us, in the water still. Even as Jesus sent the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam, the same waters of Shiloah refused by Ahaz and Judah, so He sends you to be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation in Him. He offers you, He gives you, He commands you to receive this sign.
The sign and sacrament of Holy Baptism is nothing other than the LORD’s naming you and claiming you as His own child in His Son Jesus Christ. Though, to fleshly eyes and ears, it appears to be but lackluster words and ordinary tap water, to the eyes and ears of faith, “it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.” Moreover, it is a Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and thus, it is the entrance into the body of Christ, the Church, and life that never ends.
Indeed, the early Christian Church understood Holy Baptism to bestow five primary gifts: First, baptism cleanses from sin and sickness, washing away both external impurities and internal ones. Second, baptism is an entrance into the Communion of Saints, the Church. In baptism, Christians are “born again” into a new family, the Church, and there are provided with spiritual nurture and support. Third, baptism bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit and His illuminating and sanctifying gifts, giving sight to the spiritually blind. Fourth, in being baptized, the new Christian experiences death to the self and rebirth. Finally, baptism proclaims the eschatological hope we share and confess for restoration in the new creation that will be ushered in when Christ returns.
In refusing the LORD’s command to ask for a sign, King Ahaz did not fear, love, and trust in the LORD above all things. Still, it was, and it is, the LORD’s will to bless His Israel, His Church. He has accomplished this by means of the incarnation, the Word of God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, and by fulfilling the Law for us, and by suffering and dying for our sins, and by being raised again to new life and ascending to the Father. Holy Baptism is the sign the LORD has given His Church that He is still Immanuel, God with us – through life, and through death, into life that never ends. Remember your baptism, and return to your baptism in daily repentance, for it is the work of God and the righteousness of God displayed in you to the glory of His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Genesis 3:1-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Both St. Matthew and St. Luke say that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. St. Mark, less gently, says that the Spirit drove Him or cast Him into the wilderness. Regardless, on this the three Evangelists agree: Jesus did not just wander into his confrontation with the devil.
Immediately after His baptism by John in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit cast Jesus out into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted by the devil. Jesus was chrismated, was anointed by the Holy Spirit for that very purpose: As the new Adam, to resist and overcome the temptation of the devil by the Word of God; as the new David, to slay that demonic Goliath with the five smooth stones of the Word.
But, whereas Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden because of their sin, Jesus, who knew no sin of His own, was made to be sin for us. He was baptized in the sewer of man’s sin, but instead of emerging cleansed in Holy Absolution, He was made to be a curse for us. Nevertheless, His Father loved Him and was pleased with Him, because, though He was innocent, He laid down His life in sacrificial love for you. And, whereas David, a man after God’s own heart, abandoned the Ark of the Covenant on the battlefield, committed adultery with his commander’s wife, and then murdered Uriah the Hittite by sending him to the frontlines of the battle, Jesus is the express image of the heart of God and His glory.
In Adam, we see a man who was holy, free, and without sin deceived by the devil, trusting and fearing him more than God, and submitting himself to enslavement to sin and death. And, in David, we see a man, we see all men, conceived and born in sin, whose every inclination is to sin always. We have battled with the devil and have lost. We battle with the devil every day and succumb often. Thanks be to God that He drove His holy and sinless Son into battle with the tempter for us, carrying the burden of our sin, fasting from worldly sustenance, but finding His strength and placing His trust solely upon the Word of God to resist temptation and to overcome the devil for us and to seal the victory in His death upon the cross.
I think that we are tempted to downplay the humanity of Jesus, to think that resisting the devil’s temptations was easy, child’s play for Him. But, that’s not what the Scriptures teach about Jesus, and that’s not what we confess with the whole Church about Jesus in the Creeds. Jesus is at the same time both God and man. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother. He has a rational soul and human flesh just like you. But the key thing that we must understand and confess today is that our Lord is not a mishmash of divinity and humanity, that is, Jesus’ divine and human natures are not confused or comingled in His person; this is to say that there is not a scrap of human nature in His Godhead, and there is not a smitch of deity in His manhood, any more than there is in yours or mine. Jesus came to save us, in our nature, not to put on some flashy, theandric, superhuman performance that would be fundamentally irrelevant to our condition. Jesus faced the tempter, the devil, in hunger and thirst and in physical weakness, as a man, just like Adam, even more just like David, and even more still just like you.
Jesus resisted the devil’s temptations, not by summoning up His divine power and glory – that’s exactly what the devil wanted Him to do! – but by finding strength and counsel, and by placing His trust in the Word of God, just like you do. The devil tempted Jesus to use His divine power and turn stones into bread that He might eat and satisfy the desires of His flesh. But, Jesus refused, trusting that the LORD would provide all that He needed to sustain His body and life. Then the devil tempted Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, quoting the Scripture saying that angels would bear Him up, lest He strike His foot against a stone. Again, Jesus resisted the devil’s temptation and put His trust in the LORD and in His Word. Then, a third time, the devil tempted Jesus to take for Himself earthly power and glory, and Jesus resisted Him again by putting His trust in the LORD and in His Word.
If Jesus would have used His divine power, He would have blown it for us all. But, because He suffered the devil’s temptations as a man, as one of us, and resisted, placing perfect fear, perfect love, and perfect trust in God alone, he remained innocent, sinless, and holy and He could take His innocence to the cross, bearing your sins, bearing my sins and the sins of the world, and die, the sinless for the sinful, thus breaking the curse of death that hanged over us. And, on the third day, He was raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep.
The devil began his tempting by challenging Jesus’ divinity saying, “If you are the Son of God….” The devil knew full well who Jesus was, but he wanted Jesus to act like Superman rather than like Clark Kent. But, if Jesus were to have used His divine power to resist the devil’s temptation, then that would have done nothing for all us Clark Kents who do not have such power. Jesus is not Superman, but He is the perfect Man, the fullness of what God created Man to be, for you. Though He demonstrated that Adam could have withstood the temptations of the devil if he had placed his fear, love, and trust in God and His Word, He also demonstrated that sinful David, and sinful you as well, can face Goliath-like temptation and overcome by fear, love, and trust in God and His Word. But, more than either of these, Jesus has resisted and overcome the devil for you and has died for you to set you free from his tyranny. So, now, there is nothing to fear from that liar and deceiver. The emperor of this world has no clothes, and his kingdom is slipping through his fingers. The gates of hell are overcome by the Church of Christ in water, word, body, and blood. For, though He would not use His divine power to do what the devil tempted, Jesus uses it now to provide the bread of His body to feed and strengthen you, to call upon all the angelic host to guard and protect you in all your ways, and to exercise His divine power and authority over heaven and earth by forgiving your sins and giving you eternal life.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a forty-day period of preparation for The Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, Easter Sunday. The forty days of Lent are patterned after Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil by His trust and reliance upon the Word of God. Thus, you already begin to see what your preparation is to be like. For, you also must learn to trust and to rely upon the Word of God and not your self or your own works. Indeed, your Lord’s Word to you this day is “Beware,” “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”
But, what does Jesus mean? Truly, we often hear of our being made righteous by God’s decree on account of the innocent shed blood of Jesus, but what does Jesus mean by “practicing your righteousness?” Well, just as no one will call you a runner if you do not run, and no one will call you a singer if you do not sing, so you are not righteous if you do not practice righteousness. That is to say, if you do not bear the fruit of righteousness in your life, words, and deeds, then you are not righteous. That is what St. James means when he says that “faith without works is dead.” And, that’s what Jesus means when He says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And then, Jesus goes on to exhort you to three very specific ways in which you practice your righteousness: Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These have come down to us as the traditional Three Pillars of Lent.
Now, typically, Protestants, and even some Lutherans, have been quick to call the observance of the Three Pillars man made Roman Catholic tradition. While it is true that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are the largest Christian fellowships that still encourage and practice the Three Pillars, it is simply false to conclude that the Three Pillars are merely the doctrines and traditions of men. They are not, but they are Biblical, even taught by our Lord Jesus Himself, which you heard for yourself in today’s Gospel. Additionally, Jesus doesn’t make these disciplines optional. He doesn’t say, “If you give to the needy,” but He says “When you give to the needy,” “When you pray,” and “When you fast.” However, while they are not optional, Jesus also teaches that they do not constitute righteousness, but rather, they are the practice of righteousness. Thus, you do not give alms, pray, and fast in order to earn or merit righteousness – for, you could never give, pray, or fast enough to make even a small movement towards righteousness – but you give alms, pray, and fast because you are declared righteous by God in the innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ.
That is why Jesus warns you to “Beware,” “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” But, note, the warning is not to beware practicing your righteousness, but the warning is in regard to the reason you are practicing your righteousness. If you are practicing your righteousness in order to be seen by other people so that they will think you righteous, then, Jesus says, you already have your reward; you have the admiration and praise of men. In that case, even though your righteousness comes from God alone through Jesus Christ, you give men the impression that righteousness comes from yourself, or from other men.
And, so, you can easily see why giving alms, praying, and fasting have become traditional Lenten disciplines, for, they are selfless acts, that is to say, they are not turned inward upon oneself, but they are turned outward towards both God and neighbor. Moreover, these disciplines place you in a receptive mode, in a mode in which you are receptive to what God freely provides and gives to you. These works of yours are not your righteousness, for, that comes from the LORD alone, but they are the fruit of your God-given righteousness and, thus, the practice of your God-given righteousness.
The Lenten disciplines serve to reorient you to the two tables of the Law and the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” For, you cannot obey the second table, about loving your neighbor, until you obey the first table about loving God. Consequently, if you obey the first table, then, consequently, obedience to the second will follow naturally as fruit. You will, without even having to work at it, be laying up treasure for yourself in heaven. And, where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.
God knows that you have strayed. I have strayed too. But, do not despair. Rather, take heart and return to the LORD. For, your LORD still says to you, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and nor your garments.” “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” Truly, this is what Lent is all about – repentance. Repentance means, “to turn back,” and repentance, turning back to the LORD, is what it means to prepare for Easter. Lent is an opportunity to reorient yourself in relation to your God. It’s a First Commandment opportunity to return to having no other gods before Him, not even yourself, and to fearing, loving, and trusting in Him above all things.
For, the LORD remains jealous for you. He will not share you with another god, not that there is another. Therefore, “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” In fact, what He desires for you is “that you may become partakers of His divine nature.” Thus, because you could not become what He is, divine God, He became what you are, a human being, in the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ – God became man, that man might become God. And, the Lenten disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, along with other forms of selflessness and self-sacrifice – faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love – “keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But, you must practice these disciplines, and do so with this promise, “if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Yes, practice righteousness, but always recognize and remember that righteousness comes from outside of you, the free gift of God in and through Jesus Christ. So whatever you give away, whatever you pray, and whatever you abstain from, do these things, not because you believe that they please the LORD or merit His favor, but do them because of the righteousness you have received as a free and perfect gift in Jesus Christ. Sacrifice yourself now because of the sacrifice God has made for you in His Son Jesus, who gave up all things rightfully His out of love for His Father and for you, believing, knowing, and trusting that the LORD who made all things and who gave us life is able and willing to give you all things.
And, so, when you give, pray, and fast, you lose nothing at all, but you gain more of what your LORD graciously desires to pour into you. But, He will pour into you and fill you to overflowing so that you will have much to share. Thus Jesus teaches “when,” not “if.” “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This is true all the year round. But, during Lent, it will be a blessing to you to be intentional about believing and trusting in the LORD and His Word. He desires to bless you. May you receive His blessing and be a rich blessing to others to the glory of His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.