My congregation's theme for Lent this year is "From Garden to Glory." A talented member of the church made this bulletin board. I was especially impressed by the cross with the different scenes from Jesus' life.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. For me, this isn’t just a busy time of the year, but one of the most meaningful times.
I talked with someone earlier this week, though, who mentioned that she found Lent to be kind of depressing. She wasn’t saying she didn’t like it or didn’t believe in it, necessarily. She just thought it was depressing. From a certain standpoint, I can see her point.
In Adam we have all been one,
One huge rebellious man;
We all have fled that evening voice
That sought us as we ran.
We fled our God, and losing him,
We lost our brother too.
Each singly sought and claimed his own;
Each man his brother slew.
It is kind of depressing to think about my sin. It can be depressing to realize that, try as I may, I’ve messed things up. I’ve fallen woefully short of God’s will for my life in pretty much every way possible. It might, I suppose, depress me to know that, even on my best day, I don’t deserve anything good from God in any way.
But your strong love, it sought us still
And sent your only Son
That we might hear his shepherd-voice
And, hearing him, be one.
O Savior, when we loved you not,
You loved and saved us all;
O great good Shepherd of mankind,
Oh, hear us when we call.
But Lent isn’t meant to keep us in any sort of despair or state of depression. The remembrance of our sin needs to be followed by the remembrance of what God did about our sin. Namely, he sent his Son to live perfectly in our place and pay the price our sin owed. This news isn’t depressing; it’s the opposite. It’s pure joy.
Send us your Spirit; teach us truth
To purge our vanity.
From fancied wisdom, self-sought ways,
O Savior, set us free.
Then shall our song united rise
To your eternal throne,
Where with the Father evermore
And Spirit you are one. 1
So, I know I’m looking forward to this Lenten season, and I hope it’s a blessing for you, too. Yes, it can be depressing to stare our sins straight in the face. But looking into the face of Jesus’ love from the cross and the empty tomb brings joy and peace now and forever.
The small child puts her hands on her hips and a look of concern on her face.1 “I’m hungry. When are we going to eat? Can I have a snack now? Aren’t going to eat today? Did I mention I’m hungry?!” Be patient, little child. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You’re not going to starve. Be patient.
An older child throws down his pencil and crumples up the sheet of paper he’d been writing on. “I don’t get this homework! Why do we even need to do this anyway? I’m never going to get it, so I might as well not try. Is this class, is this school year ever going to be done?!” Be patient, child. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You will get what you need to get and finish what you need to finish. Be patient.
A young adult rolls her eyes. She’s fed up. “This is so ridiculous! I don’t really need your rules, and I don’t see what the big deal is that I can’t do what I want. I just want school to be done. I just want to move out of here and get on with my real life.” Be patient, young woman. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You’ll have plenty of time to live your own life. Be patient.
A dad with young kids is starting to pull his hair out. “I don’t see how I can possibly keep up! There’s too much to do at work. I know I need to spend more time with the kids, but where am I supposed to find more time in the day? My wife says she understands, but I know she’s getting frustrated with it all. How am I going to get through this week, this month? How am I going to get through today?” Be patient, young father. Things aren’t what they seem to be. You have the time that you really need for what’s really important. Be patient.
A mom who’s no longer young but not really old yet wipes tears out of her eyes. “I just miss the kids so much. Why don’t they call every day? When is the next time that I’ll get to see the grandkids? — I’ll barely recognize them! Why did everything have to change?” Be patient, mom. Things aren’t what they seem to be. Your kids are still your family. Now God blesses you with other things, in different ways. Be patient.
An old man shuffles through his small room. He sits down with great effort. “I’m just so tired. I survived cancer. I survived losing my wife. And I’m still surviving every day. So why aren’t I happy about it? Every morning I pray. I tell Jesus I’m ready to come home. I’m ready for heaven. But it seems he’s not ready for me.” Be patient, old man. You don’t know the purpose of your life right now. But God knows. Be patient. Continue reading
OK, we’ve got you all checked in. You can go ahead and take a seat and we’ll call your name when the doctor’s ready to see you. Famous last words. The Bible does not teach purgatory, but sometimes when you are sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, you wonder. You wonder if you maybe already know what it’s like to wait forever.
It’s not always that bad, of course, but most of you have probably experienced extra long waits in waiting rooms and know exactly what I mean. And every time you go sit to wait you’re wondering, Is this going to be one of those times? Oh, please don’t let it be one of those times! But you know you have to prepare for the fact that it could be one of those times. So you just hope there’s something in the waiting room to keep you occupied.
The usual suspects are magazines, most of which probably don’t interest you, many of which are probably many months old. Then there’s the TV mounted on the wall that is usually either permanently on a channel you don’t want to watch or its remote is being guarded by someone who is really into something you definitely don’t want to watch. Or, there could be some quietly non-offensive music playing, but that’s sure not going to make the time move faster. This is where I hope my phone gets enough service to work in the office, or I try to make myself a reminder that next time I’ve really got to bring a book to read.
I guess what I’m getting at is that we don’t like to wait. Or, at least, we want something to do when we know we have to wait. This End Time season of the church year fits very well with this. We know this world won’t last forever. We know Jesus will come again. We know we have to wait for it. The question is, what do we do while we wait?
Thankfully, the last couple of Sundays have shown what we don’t have to do while we wait. We don’t have to panic. Last Sunday we talked about the Last Judgment, that Jesus will return, as he promised, to judge the living and the dead. But instead of panicking in fear and terror at that news, we learned the comfort of knowing that Jesus is coming back to take us home, to save us and rescue us forever.
In the same way, we’re thankful that we don’t have to work harder to get to heaven while we wait for Jesus to return. We don’t have to be afraid that somehow we won’t do enough, that somehow our good won’t outweigh our bad and that Jesus will come back to punish us. Reformation Sunday a couple of weeks ago cleared that up as we remembered that we are saved by what Jesus has done — by grace alone and not by our own efforts.
But today, I have some things that we can do while we wait. Because until Jesus comes, we can’t do nothing. We can’t go hide under our beds and hope it all ends soon. No, we know and we can be confident in exactly what to do. That’s our goal today. While you wait for Jesus, for the end of the world, here’s what you do: Rejoice! Pray! And never be afraid!
One hundred fifty years is a long time. I realize this is obvious, but I’ve been amazed over the past year at my church – St. John’s Lutheran Church in Two Rivers, Wisconsin – with the thought: this congregation is 150 years old. With everything that can and does happen over that period of time, it’s still kind of shocking to me that a group of Christians can start a church in 1863 and have it still exist in 2013.
We realize that our church isn’t still around because somehow this group of people in Two Rivers, Wisconsin are better or more faithful than any other people anywhere else. It’s been because God has been with us. And finally, it’s his Word that has really stood the test of time here, not us. There is no one in my congregation that I know for a fact is descended from a founding member of our congregation in 1863. There probably are some, but none that I know about for sure.
That’s why we’ve picked Isaiah 40:11 as the theme verse for our anniversary year: The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. People come and go; buildings come and go. But the pure teaching of God’s Word is what never disappears, and we’re thankful that it’s been going strong here in our part of Wisconsin for 150 years. Continue reading
We love it when things are free. We really do. Even hearing the word — free! — gets our attention. It doesn’t matter how old I am, when I see one of those free sample booths set up at the grocery store, I start to get excited. Free food! Whether or not I’d want to eat it on a regular day, I want to eat it when I see one of those booths, because… did I mention it’s free?!
So our text for this morning should definitely make us perk up our ears and listen. Jesus is talking about freedom there in the Gospel of John. He’s not talking about free food, he’s talking about us — that’s you and me — being free. More specifically, he says the truth will set you free. (Jn. 8:32) And he says that he, Jesus, is the one who does the setting-free. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
Free indeed! It sounds exciting, and it is! Jesus sets us free, the truth sets us free, and we get it all for free. Happy Reformation! What more is there to say?
Well, I don’t know about you, but there is something else I feel when I hear the word free. I don’t just feel excitement; I also feel a bit of suspicion. I’m suspicious of how free something can really be. I start to wonder what strings are attached. Maybe you get suspicious, too.
I’m here to tell you today that we’re right to be suspicious. The word free doesn’t necessarily mean what people think it means. In fact, here’s a truth that I want you to think about today: When something’s free, someone still has to pay for it. I’ll say it again: When something’s free, someone still has to pay for it.
A friend of mine shared an article with me yesterday that got me thinking. The article is The missing message in today’s churches, an On Faith article in the Washington Post by Pastor Tullian Tchividjian.
While I’d certainly imagine that Pastor Tchividjian holds to some beliefs that I don’t agree with, his thoughts in this article are a refreshing change from what we usually associate with “modern” Christianity.
The hub of Christianity is not “do something for Jesus.” The hub of Christianity is “Jesus has done everything for you.” … The heart of the Christian faith is Good News not good behavior. When Sunday mornings become one more venue for performance evaluation, can you blame a person for wanting to stay at home?
May we all continue to grow in the heart of the Christian faith: Jesus’ love for us, his suffering and death for us, his resurrection for us. Our works will follow, but they are not at the heart. Jesus is.
Sermon preached on October 17th and October 20th, 2013 at St. John’s Lutheran Church for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. Sermon text is 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5. This was the 3rd in a sermon series on 2 Timothy, The Last Words of Paul. This Sunday was also St. John’s last celebration of its 150th anniversary.
The church is not a museum. It can’t be. If the church is a museum, then we’re all wasting our time here. Museums are places where we get to see old things. They’re usually old things that are beautiful, they’re inspiring to many people. Famous museums like the Louvre are full of treasures, beautiful, priceless works of art that are worth seeing and admiring. At museums you’ll find crowds gathered around sculptures and paintings, learning about how things used to be and the incredible things people once made. Museums, you see, are all about the past.
Churches are about the past, sure, but they should be a about more. They should show us right now and point us ahead to the future. But it’s pretty easy to treat the church like a museum.
We can slip into treating the church like a pretty building where you see things from the past. As you enter the old building, instead of gathering around paintings and sculptures, people gather around their memories. Up front is where so-and-so got married. Remember when we went to his funeral, or her confirmation? Remember when people had to sit in the basement because there just wasn’t room in sanctuary?
It’s not bad to have memories and to think about the past when you come into a church. It’s great. But if that’s all you do… If the teachings are just sort of nostalgic memories, and the songs just remind us of days gone by, then we’re wasting our time here. The church is not a museum.
Just look what the Apostle Paul wrote shortly before he died. As he wrote to a young pastor, Timothy, he didn’t want church for Timothy to be only about the past. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it. (2 Tim. 3:14)
Yes, what Timothy learned happened in the past. The people he learned it from — like his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice that we heard about earlier in 2 Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5) — were in the past. But what was Timothy supposed to do with these things he’d learned in the past from people in the past? Was he supposed to admire them like we admire an old painting? No!
The television show Mythbusters has been popular for several years now, and it’s easy to see why. They take scenes found in movies or tv shows, they take popular ideas and then they give them a scientific test to see whether they could really happen or not. Sometimes the ideas are “busted” or proven false, and other times they are confirmed as true.
There are plenty of myths when it comes to our faith, too. There are a lot of sayings that a lot of people would say comes from the Bible, when in fact it doesn’t. “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Nope, not in the Bible. “God helps those who help themselves.” Sorry. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Wait, yep, that one's there (Acts 20:35)! (Had to keep you honest.) Here's another: “money is the root of all evil.” The Bible does say that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10) but that’s a pretty different idea.
The point is that we want to be actually using God’s Word and growing in it, and not being sucked into myths about God or what he teaches, even if countless people might believe them. Well, there are some popular myths that our text for today shows to be untrue.