Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lent Midweek

John 4:5-30, 39-42 - Lent II-V/Midweek - March 7 (14, 21, 28), 2012 
Thy Will Be Done

On Ash Wednesday, when we began this midweek Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer, I used my daughter Nadia as an example of a child asking something from her father.  Just as the words “please” and “thank you” teach children that the things they receive from their parents are undeserved gifts, so also the words “Our Father” teach us who it is that gives us everything we have. 
Although at the time my daughter didn’t have the foggiest idea the point I was trying to make, she sure thought it was neat that I said her name.  So did her big brother.  In fact, after church, my son asked me why I didn’t mention him.  He said, “I want you to talk about me in your sermon.”  Well, as with other silly requests that little boys make, this was a fine opportunity to teach yet another lesson: You can’t always get what you want. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lent 5

John 8:46-59 - Judica, Lent V/Annunciation - March 25, 2012 
Of God 

When children are naughty we discipline them.  Proverbs 13:24 tells us, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”  Now, this isn’t to say that you have to spank your kids.  I suppose it depends on the child.  Some children need no more than a furrowing of the brow and they tear up and begin to step in line.  Whereas with others, before they even begin to take you seriously, you need to threaten to thrash the living daylights out of them, as my mother would put it.  Whatever works.  Children need to be taught to listen to their parents. 
It is our job to discipline and correct our children.   It is a sin not to do this.  The 4th Commandment gives a special responsibility to parents as well as to children.  Of course parents should not be overly harsh.  St. Paul tells us, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”  It is to our children’s temporal and eternal benefit that we teach them to listen to the words that we say.  When they know that our authority is real, then they learn that God’s authority is real.  When we teach them that our authority is a sham or that our threats are empty, then they learn that God’s authority is a sham and that His threats are empty.  Children need to be taught the truth about God. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lent 4

John 6:1-15 - Laetare, Lent IV - March 18, 2012 
Bread of Life

For 40 days, Jesus fasted in the wilderness.  He went entirely without food, and drank only water.  He was incredibly hungry.  This exercise was not intended to provide some sort of health benefit.  In fact, by today’s fitness-obsessed standards, this was physically reckless of Jesus.   Neither was this exercise of hunger intended to drive Him deeper into Himself for some sort of soul-searching journey.  No, but as Jesus says in John 4, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”  In His hunger, therefore, Jesus sought the will of His Father.  He did not seek council in the wanderings of His human mind, but found solid refuge in the written word of God. 
And that’s what we do—because Jesus teaches us how.  At the end of these 40 days, when He was tempted by the devil to use His divine power to feed Himself, Jesus resisted by quoting from Deuteronomy 8: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  This was the lesson that God had given the children of Israel by feeding them manna as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  These events were recorded for our learning.  And so by the patience and comfort of the Scriptures, Jesus learned the same lesson Himself during His 40 days of fasting.  He hungered and thirsted for us.  And in His self-denial, Jesus fulfilled what we have left undone. 
It is Lent.  It is a time for repentance.  During these 40 days we give special consideration to the sin of which we ought to repent, and to our need for God to have mercy on us.  We do this first by solemnly listening to His word and consenting to its verdict of guilty; and second by seeking refuge in His word that pronounces us innocent.  We need to hear both words – both the law that exposes and kills us, and the gospel that covers and revives us.  Both words are necessary.  We live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lent 2

Psalm 121/Matthew 15:21-28 - Reminiscere, Lent II - March 4, 2012 

Our help comes from the Lord

Last Sunday, I preached on the Psalm that was appointed for the first Sunday in Lent, Psalm 32.  Psalm 32 is what we call a penitential Psalm, because it teaches us to repent of our sins, to confess them to God, and to place our faith in Him who forgives us our sins for Jesus’ sake.  This Psalm even gives us the very words to use.  And in fact we do use them—regularly, just as we did this morning: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” 
The Psalm appointed for today is different.  It’s not a penitential Psalm.  But in our same liturgy, right before we speak these words from Psalm 32, we pray the words that today’s Psalm teaches us to pray.  See if you can pick these words out as we read Psalm 121 in Jesus’ name: 
1I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help. 
2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. 
These are Your words holy Father; sanctify us by Your truth; Your word is truth.  Amen. 
Imagine in your mind a lady in distress, within a village overrun by bandits, looking with the glimmer of hope in her longing eyes to the distant horizon, where from behind a hill appears the heartening silhouette of what looks like it might be a brave hero coming to offer his help and save the day.  “I will lift up my eyes to the hills,” she says, “from whence—maybe, I hope, boy wouldn’t it be nice if my help were to come.”  Ah, but there’s no confidence here.  There’s no guarantee of rescue.  Her desire for help cannot assure her of anything.