Some don’t like Lent because it is too somber, serious or shame filled. Lent should never be a season of shaming, but it can be a time of serious reflection.
The fact of the matter is that we are sinners. We are broken. We choose our way long before God’s way. The image of God within us is marred, distorted and incomplete because of our choices. I get it, we don’t like to be told those things nor do we want to own that part of our lives. Yet, it is the truth.
That is only part of the equation. If we don’t see ourselves as sinners then we don’t need Jesus. Saint Paul reminds us that, “Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6b) If you don’t count yourself among the ungodly, then it is difficult to receive the forgiveness of Jesus not to mention the adoption into God’s family.
Lent is the time to think about our great need for a savior. Lent is a time to face the fact that without Jesus we would be totally lost. Lent can be a time of great joy because we are reminded of God’s mercy towards the broken, lost and forsaken (us).
When we start playing the comparison game, we lose perspective. Remember when Jesus told the story of the Pharisee (religious leader) and the tax collector (despised) who went to pray? The Pharisee started his prayer this way, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11).
This guy thought, “Well, I am not so bad, compared to other people.” God isn’t grading on the curve. We all need what Jesus offers.
The culturally despised tax collector approached God, “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (Luke 18:12)
Clearly, we need to take the approach of the tax collector. This isn’t just my opinion, Jesus thinks so too.
Jesus said, “I tell you that this man (the tax collector), rather than the other (the Pharisee), went home justified (accepted) before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14
The Church takes 40 days to consider our need for what Jesus offers during Lent.
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness contemplating and being tempted.
The children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness attempting to be faithful after turning their back on God’s promises.
40 is a number of testing and trial in the Bible. I don’t think we are being tested by God but I do believe that Lent is the time to wrestle with our misperceptions about ourselves. If we engage, we will celebrate Good Friday and Easter morning with greater appreciation, greater joy and greater assurance of Jesus’ love in our lives. Amen.
We begin a new sermon in the letter Saint Paul wrote to the church in Galatia. We often want to add requirements the free gift that Jesus offers all. We spend the next 6 weeks getting ready for Easter by going back to the basics. At the end of the message is a wonderful song performed by Robby Wingfield.
Did you see this news story from last week? It warmed my heart, and it has something to teach us…
An Austrian man who fled the Nazis with his family during World War II has bequeathed a large part of his fortune to the French village whose residents hid them from persecution for years.
Eric Schwam, who died at age 90 on December 25, wrote the surprise gift into his will for Chambon-sur-Lignon, located on a remote mountain plateau in southeast France that historically has a large Protestant community known for offering shelter to those in need.
Schwam and his family arrived in 1943 and were hidden in a school for the duration of the war. They stayed until 1950.
He later studied pharmacy and married a Catholic woman from the region near Lyon, where they lived.
A local government official said that Mr. Schwam asked that the money be used for educational and youth initiatives, in particular scholarships.
Around 2,500 Jews were taken in and protected during World War II by Chambon-sur-Lignon, whose residents were honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center.
Over the centuries this village has taken in a wide range of people fleeing religious or political persecution, from priests driven into hiding during the French Revolution to Spanish republicans during the civil war of the 1930s, and more recently migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
As it turns out, Mr. Schwam’s estate will end up being a gift of approximately $2.4 million USD.
Honestly, I am more touched by this city’s kindness than I am about the gift.
This town didn’t take in this Jewish family thinking, “What’s in it for us?” They welcomed the stranger because it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t just this one Jewish family, it was 2,500 people—that’s as many residents as were living in the town at the time. This means that they welcomed one refugee for every citizen! I think Israel has it right, this town is definitely numbered among the “Righteous Among the Nations.”
This town knew something about oppression. This town was predominantly protestant (like us Lutherans) and had faced persecution by the Roman Catholic majority of France over the years.
The people of Le Chambon acted upon their conviction that it was their duty to help their “neighbors in need.”
Many factors joined together to create this generous spirit: the history of Protestant persecution as a religious minority in Catholic France; empathy for Jews as the people of the Old Testament and a shared biblical heritage; and, last but not least, the powerful leadership and example of the pastor and his wife, André and Magda Trocme.
That’s right, the local pastor of this town led the charge to hide and save as many Jewish people as he could.
Of course, the government suspected that something “big” was happening in the town of Chambon and they investigated.
At one point, the authorities demanded that the pastor cease his activities. His response was clear-cut: “These people came here for help and for shelter. I am their shepherd. A shepherd does not forsake his flock… I do not know what a Jew is. I know only human beings.
May we only see human beings when gaze upon others. Lord, let the silly and superficial things that divide us fall away so that we can truly see the image of God in each other.
God grant us the vision to see those who are in need and the will to serve our desperate neighbor regardless of their background or ethnicity. Amen.
We continue the story of Queen Esther and we see that the first dinner party ends with Haman getting upset and King Xerxes suffering from insomnia. There are lessons to be learned from Esther, Haman and Xerxes. We can grow from this story!
What are you doing to grow your faith in Christ during the pandemic? Have you seen this time as an opportunity to grow?
The old adage is true, one can sometimes “make lemonade out of lemons.” I hope you have seen this as a time to build up your faith instead of losing it in the despair of this past year.
Or if you already have a “spiritual routine” in your life, I hope you have continued.
There are 168 hours in a week and if you devote one hour a week to spiritual matters that is only .6% of your entire week. Not even a full one percent! If our only spiritual endeavor is worship, you are starving your soul!
There are lots of tools available to you. Daily broadcasts from church, a once-a-week Bible Study on Wednesdays, free daily devotionals that we will mail to you. Bruce Ewing writes a daily devotional that can be emailed to you. There are also podcasts, audio books and even just plain old regular books to read!
Besides studying scripture throughout the week, I also listen to audiobooks whenever I am in the car. Most recently, I have been listening to “The History of Christianity, Volume 1.” It is not a devotional, but I am refreshing myself on the history of the Christian church.
Honestly, I want you to be ready for the day you meet Jesus face to face. We all share the same destination. Whether you believe it or not, a part of this life is getting ready for what awaits us in eternity. A part of my calling is to help you get ready for that day.
I am reminded of something that Pastor Paul wrote to the church of Corinth about this very idea. He reminded them to get ready too.
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any person builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day (of judgment) will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what they have built survives, they will receive their reward. If it is burned up, they will suffer loss; they will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1Corinthians 3:11-15
Our foundation is faith in Christ alone. I think we can all agree on that. However, what we build on that foundation might not be godly. To put it another way, the things we invest our time, money and effort in this life may not be of God. Of course, we still have our faith in Christ, but not much to show for it.
Saint Paul reminds us that the fruit of our labors will be put to the test (a refiner’s fire) at the end of our lives. The things we did that lift the name of Jesus and helped others will remain. Everything else will be burned up. It is clear that there will be nothing to show for our selfish earthly labor.
Paul makes the point that any Christian living an unfruitful life will still enter into heaven because of their faith in Christ, but it will be like escaping a fire with only the charred clothes on their back.
I don’t know about you but I don’t want to get into heaven “by the skin of my teeth.” (That phrase also comes from scripture originally. Job proclaims it in the book by the same name in chapter 19, verse 20. “I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth.”)
I don’t think you want to enter heaven with only your soul either. Now is the time to get ready. It is never too late.
Jesus reminds us that the things we do today, have eternal consequences.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19–21
Every time you spend time in God’s Word you are storing up treasure.
Every time you help someone in need, you are storing up treasure.
Every time you meditate, contemplate and act on the love of Jesus you are storing up treasure.
We don’t need to add to the chaos of this world by chasing our own dreams and agendas. As Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
Friday is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The United States officially recognizes the 3rd Monday of January as a federal holiday in his memory and in his honor.
He was murdered in Memphis Tennessee on April, 4th 1968 following a speech to the sanitation workers of that city.
There is no doubt he is a martyr for the cause of justice and equality. The Lutheran church designates his birthday (January 15th) as a “feast day” or a “memorial day” for Dr. King. We recognize him both as a martyr and a “renewer of society”.
I have heard the talking heads on TV say a specific phrase too many times as it relates to violence, hate and white supremacy, “This is not who we are.” It seems that if they say it enough times, it will be true. That is not how it works. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of hate, violence and white supremacy in our nation.
It is disheartening that I (as a pastor) in 2021 need to state that I am against white supremacy, bigotry, racism and prejudice of any kind. It is also disappointing to see people deny or ignore the evidence that this kind of hate is still strong in our country today.
This past week on the news I saw individuals wearing anti-semetic (anti-Jewish) clothing mocking the holocaust and expressing that more deaths should occur because of their ethnicity. We all have seen the violent deaths of various people of color on the news this past year as well.
To be crystal clear, I am wary of anyone that attracts or tolerates that kind of hate. I am suspicious of anyone that a hate group (or racist individuals for that matter) supports unless that person denounces it from the mountaintops clearly and articulately.
There is no room in our country or even our world for racism and systems that reinforce such inequality.
For a moment we had Dr. King who reminded us that yes indeed, “This is who we are,” but that we do not need to be stuck here. That God has something better for us.
God’s just ways are ahead of us if we embrace Christ. We can leave hate behind and rid it from our society if we stand for the justice that God brings. It is time pray for God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In the words of the prophet Amos, we should yearn for what God offers. And it is this…
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:24
This is why we need to pray. Nothing happens on its own. It takes will and determination to stamp out racist and prejudicial hate.
Dr. King reminds us it won’t be easy, but something better is waiting for us if we do the work…
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now.
I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land… Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis, TN, April 3rd 1968
As we step into the new year, we we are invited into something amazing. Listen in as we explore one of my favorite chapters of the Bible: Isaiah 55. This is another team project that includes a song sung by Robby Wingfield within the podcast.
Just before Christmas we said goodbye to our beloved Siberian Husky named Trinity. She was our three legged dog whose personality (read: sassy) dominated any room she occupied. She also occupied a large part of our hearts.
Trinity received her name from my morning Bible Study group when I served Trinity Lutheran Church. When they saw her three legs, they knew immediately that her name should be Trinity and be our church mascot. That was 13 years ago this month.
We mourn her loss because she was a member of our family and we were her pack. I could tell you story upon story of her sassy antics over the years but I won’t.
If you have never had a pet, this might be hard to understand such grief over “just an animal.” Yet, love is love and loss is still loss. Grief is real when you lose someone you love, animal or human.
I am comforted by a moment in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life when a small boy in his church experienced the loss of his dog…
One day, a ten-year-old boy came to see Bonhoeffer. Breaking down and crying, the boy explained that his beloved German shepherd, Mr. Wolf, had just died. The boy sobbed as he told the story, but soon his tears stopped and he asked Bonhoeffer, with deep intensity, “Tell me now, Herr Bonhoeffer, will I see Mr. Wolf again? He is surely in heaven?”
Bonhoeffer explained in a letter to a friend that he was dumbfounded. He didn’t know what to say. Never before had one of his astute professors or gifted fellow students made such an inquiry, a question that Bonhoeffer could see meant so much to this grieving boy.
Bonhoeffer sat with the boy, feeling small next to his important question. Clearly Mr. Wolf had meant so much to the boy. The overly confident protégé, who had always been told he had a brilliant answer for every theological question, now sat humbled by the boy’s love for his dead dog.
Finally, turning to the boy, Bonhoeffer said, “Well, we know you loved Mr. Wolf, and we know that God loves you. And we know that God loves all the animals. So, yes, yes, I think you will indeed see Mr. Wolf in heaven, for I believe that God loses nothing that God loves.”
That is the promise I cling to for every loved one I have said goodbye to. “God loses nothing that God loves.” That includes family, friends and even animals that share our home.
Love is a risky business. At some point we will experience the loss of that relationship. However, I wouldn’t trade the love I’ve received for no love at all.
Below is a previous blog post on the risks of love. It was written shortly after we said goodbye to Momo one of our other dogs in 2018…
Love is a risky business.
Every time you open yourself up to love and to be loved, you also run the risk of having your heart broken.
Friendships sometimes end. Couples divorce. Everyone eventually dies.
Love can be hazardous because heartbreak eventually catches up. That might sound like a negative statement but it is not meant to be. Let me explain…
Humans are amazing! We know the risks of love, yet we give our hearts away anyway! Why? Because we are made for connection.
According to Matthew Lieberman, author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, he suggests the infant’s social needs for connecting with a caregiver who is committed to meeting the infant’s biological needs – food, water, sleep, shelter, safety – is paramount. No connection, no survival. He says love and belonging are NOT conveniences we can live without. As 60 years of attachment research attests; connection is the platform for the rest of existence, thriving and flourishing.
In other words, it is not just a pastor telling you that you need love in your life in spite of the inherit risks. You can’t survive without it.
Even if I wanted to avoid all possible heartache by retreating from family, not make friends, never get married, or ever have children or pets…I am not sure it is possible. Even if it was conceivable, we would be worse off for attempting to do something against our nature.
When we lose someone we love, it hurts because love matters. When there is a relational ending, we are in pain because relationships are important to us.
I was reminded of this on Wednesday night when we said goodbye to our boy dog Momo. It hurt so much to watch him pass. Why? Because we have spent the last 13 years sharing the same home, eating (some of) the same food and enjoying each other’s company (most of the time). A part of our hearts went with Momo as he left us because of the love we shared.
It won’t stop me from loving our other two dogs. It won’t stop me from loving Mrs. Pr. Ben. It won’t stop me from loving my kids or my parents. It won’t stop me from loving at all. As a matter of fact, this loss (and every loss in my life) has caused me to love the people and animals closest to me even more. Weird huh?
As I think about it, a dog’s love for its people is not complicated like human love can be. It is unconditional. Don’t be offended, but I see a little bit of Jesus’ love for me when I see how our dogs love us without reservation or condition.
At the heart of the good news (gospel) about God is His love for us. A big love that never ends in heartbreak.
St. Paul tells us that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” 1Corinthians 15:26
That is exactly what God did on Good Friday and Easter morning. The only way to obliterate death was to destroy it from within. The Son of the Living God became human in order to bring life out of death. Only God could do this. Yet it took God the Son to die in order to abolish death.
In the moment of resurrection, death no longer had permanent power. It went from being a destination to becoming a doorway. St. Paul quotes Isaiah when wrote a little later in 1Corinthians 15 “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (15:54b)
Never forget that all of this was done out of love for us and for creation. Earthly love may be fragile and risky, but God’s love is not.
One of the lesser studied books of the New Testament is the book of Colossians. It is a letter of Paul that paints a different picture of salvation. In Colossians, Paul paints a cosmic view of redemption that involves everything (not just humanity).
I like the version from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.”
“From beginning to end Christ is there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
Like I said, in this life, love can be risky. But I wouldn’t trade all the love I have received over the years for no love at all.
If you see me (and Rachel) online, just know that we are sad right now and tears flow pretty easily. We give thanks to God for gift given at Easter…it is that love that keeps us moving forward.