Amazing Grace

Sunday, March 26, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 9:1-41

“Surely, we are not blind are we?”  Some of the religious leaders asked Jesus this question, and it’s one that is a good question for us to ask today.  “Surely, we are not blind are we?”  It seems like an odd question doesn’t it, especially if you think you can see well.  If you have 20/20 vision, and you don’t wear glasses, you might think that this is a pretty ridiculous question to ask.  But Jesus is not concerned about whether we see only with our eyes.  He is concerned about whether we see with our hearts.  Our reading from 1 Samuel says, “For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  These words were spoken because Samuel was wondering who God was going to choose to be anointed as the next king.  Samuel was looking at the outward appearance and qualifications of many candidates, but God…..God chose based on David’s heart.  God sees a person as a whole, not just the way they look, or how they act, but what their heart is like on the inside.  God knows our motives.  God sees things that others can’t see.  God sees our possibilities and knows our potential.

That isn’t what people always see.  Last week, we heard in John’s gospel about a woman who had an encounter with Jesus as the well.  She was considered so unimportant that she wasn’t even called by her name.  The only thing that people saw was that she was divorced several times.  They didn’t see her like Jesus saw her.  Today we hear about a man who was born blind.  Again, this man doesn’t have a name in our story.  The only thing that people saw in him was that he was blind.  They saw him as “the blind man.”  It’s unfortunately an all too typical response.  Individuals are not seen as whole people, but rather seen and identified by certain characteristics or worse, flaws.  The divorced woman, the blind man, the widow, the orphan, the victim, the liar, the tree-hugger, the loner,  …Fill in the blank.  You get the point.

Individuals are so often seen only from one point of view.  They are seen holistically.  As in the case of the man in today’s story – he’s seen as the blind man and the sinner.  In fact, when Jesus cures him of his blindness, people don’t even believe his story.  They can’t believe that he was ever blind.  They think he must have been faking it.  In part, it’s because they are so used to knowing this person as “the blind man” that they can’t even see him as anything else.  If his blindness was a punishment for some sin he or his parents were guilty of, then they would have to rethink how they understood things that you can’t explain.  That would require them to change the way they look at everything.  What if people suffered not because of God, but because of the sinfulness of the world we live in?  If this man was not a sinner then they would have to rethink the way they treated him.  They would have to consider that maybe they should take care of him instead of judging him.  If Jesus truly performed a miracle on the Sabbath day – a day when the law said no work was to be done – then that would mean they had to reconsider whether their laws needed to be revised or even if they were good laws at all.  It would mean they would have to look at their faith in a whole new light.  And if Jesus truly was sent by God, did that mean he might actually be the Messiah?  Looking at things in a new light causes people to be uncomfortable whether thousands of years ago or today.

Imagine if we turned all the lights off and sat in total darkness for a few minutes.  It would be shocking at first, but eventually our eyes would adjust to the darkness.  Then, if all of a sudden, bright lights were turned on, we would be quite uncomfortable, until we once again got adjusted to the light.  This is what happens when we experience the light of Jesus.  Jesus’ light is the light of truth, yet if we have been used to living in darkness, it can be not only uncomfortable, but even a little painful at first.  We think we have been seeing just fine, but once Jesus’ light is shined into our lives, we realize that we have actually been blind.  Jesus’ light shows us how to see clearly.  Jesus’ light shows us how to see like God sees – through the eyes of love.  We no longer see people as one dimensional individuals, but as people worthy of God’s love and compassion.  When Jesus first encountered the man in our story it says he “saw a man blind from birth.”  Jesus didn’t see him as a blind man, but as a man.  He didn’t see his limitations; Jesus saw him as a complete person.  That’s how Jesus sees each one of us.

“Surely, we are not blind are we?”  It’s a question that we need to really be honest in answering before God.  How do we see ourselves and others?  What are we focusing on?  Are we only focusing on what is wrong in our lives, instead of what is right?  The temptation is to look in the mirror and see our flaws, or the flaws of others.  It’s as if we’re looking in the rear-view mirror of a car all the time.  We look at what we’ve done wrong, what mistakes we’ve made, what wrongs other people have done to us, how things used to be, but God wants us to look out the front windshield, which is larger for a reason.  We need to look to the future and leave the mistakes, and disappointments of the past behind us.  Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, all our mistakes are forgiven and left in the past.  We have been found and saved by Jesus.  Isn’t it time we let them go?

Are we blind to the grace that God continues to pour into our lives, or are we always wishing we had more?  Every day we can thank God for the many blessings we so often take for granted – food, clean water, shelter, clothing, friends – basic necessities of life that are actually luxuries to some.  We can go home from here today and feel safe in our homes; that is a gift for which we can give thanks.  God blesses us each and every day, and this brief hour in our week should be just the beginning of the time we give thanks to God.

Are we blind to the suffering of people in our families, or communities, or even in our country because we think that their suffering doesn’t affect us?  We as disciples have a responsibility to help care for our neighbors.  Jesus wants us to use the grace and light and love he has blessed us with to be a blessing to others.  Our time, talents, money, possessions, and anything else we have are to be used to better the lives of all people, not just ourselves.

When the man’s sight in our story was restored, he was filled with so much joy, that he couldn’t contain it.  Some people tried to run him out of town, but that didn’t stop him. And we can’t let that stop us either.  That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  It means that we rejoice in being found by God, and then going out and finding others and sharing Christ with them.  God’s grace is so amazing.  It has no limits.  God continues to find us wherever we are, and shine divine light into the darkest corners of our lives.

God’s gift of grace – God’s salvation, and forgiveness – is transformative.  It opens not only our eyes, but our hearts.  Because of that grace we can stop looking behind us, and look forward.  We can live into the promise of presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives right now.  Because of Jesus we can live every day in gratitude.  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”  There’s nothing more amazing than God’s grace.  Live your lives in gratitude for God’s amazing grace.  Amen.

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Not Just Another Unimportant Story

Sunday, March 19, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 4:5-42

 

As the woman approached the well she was startled to see Jesus sitting there. She was shocked when He started to talk with her. First, he wanted a drink – from her – and then he started asking her personal questions. Why would this total stranger do that? …..She wondered. No one wanted to hear her story. It was just another unimportant story from an unimportant woman. She doesn’t even have a name in this story. That’s how unimportant she is. No name – just a woman of no importance. She was after all a Samaritan – those people who were enemies of the Jews. They didn’t worship in the same place. They were avoided at all costs. To make matters worse this woman was, well, a woman. Her feelings, her beliefs, were unimportant. Women in that day were barely higher in status than dogs. And she was a Samaritan woman – a double strike against her. And further, Jesus seemed to know she had been married five times. Her story just keeps getting worse. The story of her life seems to be filled with one sordid tale after another. Five husbands, and the one she was currently with was not her husband. It’s outrageous! What a story! It’s no wonder she came to the well at noon. No one else came to the well in the sweltering heat of the day. Other women would go early in the morning before the sun was up or they would go to the well in the cool of the day instead to draw water from Jacob’s deep well.

But not this woman. This woman was out at high noon – the hottest part of the day. Why? Was she just lazy or over slept? Highly unlikely. She knew no one would be gathered around the public gathering place at the well. No one would be there to give her the dirty looks. She wouldn’t have to hear the whispers of contempt or pity. She wouldn’t have to endure the ridicule. No, it was necessary for her to go at that time. She expected, however, to find no one there. No one to make her feel more isolated than she already felt. No one to meet who would really see her or listen to her story.  The well after all at that time was the place to meet people – especially a future spouse. Sometimes, when she went to the well she would think about all those famous couples who met there.  Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, and there he met Rebekah. Jacob met Rachel at the well.  And the great prophet Moses met his wife Zipporah at the well.  But not this woman.  She didn’t even hope to meet anyone at the well.  She felt that the possibility of a good relationship for her was over. After all, she was quite a sinner wasn’t she?  Her life was so hard and so filled with one tragedy after another.  She felt she must have sinned to be forced to live this life.  It’s easy to come to that conclusion. It seems obvious from what we read of her story. Even Jesus brought up her past relationships. How painful to be such an outcast. But do we really know the whole story?

There are so many people like this woman at the well, people who have no name because no one even cares enough to know their name.  People make judgements based on the way they look, or a story they’ve heard about them, but they don’t talk to the person to get to know them and to find out who they really are.  They don’t want a relationship with these people.  It’s easy to make quick judgements like this.  It’s easy to listen to gossip as if it were the gospel truth.  It’s easy to write someone off without even getting to know them.  That teenager with the purple mohawk…….might just be the kindness young person you could meet, but without getting to know them, you’d never know.  That stocky guy with all the tattoos that rides a motorcycle and looks like he could really mess you up….he could be the most compassionate person in the world, but you’ll never know it without getting to know him.  That tall guy I saw coming out of the dollar store last year with flaming pink hair, a pink dress, and high-heeled pink shoes…….I don’t know his story, but he got a lot of looks.  (Okay, honestly, I’m just jealous that he had better legs than me!  And I could never walk in those high heels!) But seriously, no one knows why he was dressed like that.  Maybe it was dare?  Maybe not.  But this was a person, a person that might have felt very isolated and alone, like the woman at the well in our story today.

All over the country – in our own neighborhoods and communities, and even some here today – there are people who are thirsty. They are in need of someone to see them, someone to hear their stories. But it’s so easy to judge people by their appearance or by what we think is their story. The homeless are often seen as lazy. Addicts are too often seen as those with no will power. Those suffering from mental illness are often seen as those who just don’t try hard enough. Those who are in horrible relationships are too often seen as somehow guilty or responsible.  People are stereotyped by their race or religion. But the truth is we don’t know the real stories, even though we think we do. It’s easy to judge. It’s easy to think we are better than those who act or think different from us. We don’t want to sit down and really listen to their stories. And so people all around us are thirsty with no one to quench their thirst. They go through life alone with no one really seeing them. No one willing to hear their story.

That’s what’s so shocking about the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s gospel. She wasn’t expecting anyone to be there at the well. Yet there was Jesus waiting for her. Yes, he was waiting for her. Jesus did not have to go through Samaria to get to Galilee.
In fact, Jews avoided going through Samaria – the enemy territory. They avoided it at all costs. But John’s gospel points out (in the beginning of the story that we didn’t read) that it was necessary for Jesus to go through Samaria. God was up to something unexpected and God was going to work through Jesus. He could have taken the easier route, but he didn’t.

Jesus went right through Samaria and waited at the well just for this woman.  He didn’t care about the looks that he would get for talking to her.  He didn’t care that people might make comments about a single young rabbi talking to this woman.  Jesus went anyway.  And as the Samaritan woman approached the well, Jesus asked her for a drink. And she couldn’t believe He – a Jew – would talk to her a Samaritan woman. But He did. Jesus was willing to be vulnerable and ask for help. He needed a drink and she could provide something of value to Him. Her life was not unimportant to Jesus.  Jesus wanted to hear her story, in her own words. And she hesitantly told Him the truth – which Jesus seemed to already know – but He wanted to hear her tell it. Her voice was important to Jesus.

What she didn’t hear from Jesus was condemnation. He didn’t judge her lifestyle. And maybe we shouldn’t either. They story says she had five husbands, but what it doesn’t say is why. We make the assumption she was a promiscuous woman, but we don’t know the whole story.  It could very well be that her husbands all died. Maybe she had to bury five husbands. Can you imagine that kind of pain?  Once is tragic enough.  Maybe they divorced her – which in those days a man could do for any reason if he just got tired of a woman.  It could be she couldn’t have children so she was of no use to them once they found that out.  Marriage was not like it is today.  There was no equality at all for women then.  Maybe the man she was living with was due to a Levirate marriage, which meant that by law she was forced to marry her dead husband’s brother and produce an heir in order to survive, but he refused to marry her because she couldn’t.  Maybe she was trapped in a life of abuse, and poverty, and oppression.  Can you imagine the heartbreak when she thought that she had found love only to have it taken away from her again and again. There are any number of scenarios.  And then, like today, when someone faces trial after trial they think they must have done something wrong and God is punishing them.  When we judge them, it adds to that belief.  We don’t know the reason for her situation, but what we do know is Jesus didn’t condemn her. He didn’t say she sinned.  Jesus was focused on her thirst to be seen, and heard, and loved as a human being.  He wanted her to know that he would not abandon her like everyone else.

That’s why Jesus showed up at the well that day and that’s why Jesus shows up today. Because Jesus wants not only to hear our stories, but wants to be a part of them and wants us to be a part of His story! Jesus wants a deep relationship with us.  Jesus was willing to go to the places that people avoided and is still willing to go to those places. Jesus was willing to die for each and every one of us to bring us back from a life of sin and death and separation from God into a life of living water! Our stories – our lives – matter to God! That is why God sent God’s own Son to earth – so we would never be alone! Jesus is the great I AM who shows up in the messiness of our lives to give us what we thirst for – God’s unconditional love and grace found in Jesus.

When the Samaritan woman realized who Jesus was she was so excited that she dropped the jars of water she was filling up from the well, left them behind, and ran off to tell others about Jesus. She was seen and heard and loved by Jesus, the Messiah! He brought her back to life not by judging her, but by loving her just as she was. This changed her life because now she knew she was not alone in the world. Jesus saw right through her and said you are important to me! She became a witness, a disciple, to Jesus. He turned her life around and she had to tell that story to others!

What about us?  Jesus has done the same for us.  Jesus has saved us and wants a deep relationship with us.  Through our baptism we too hear that we are a beloved child of God.  God comes to us through Jesus, through the gift of grace in Baptism, through the gift of grace in Holy Communion, through the gift of grace encountered through the loving relationships we have with each other.  God was willing to be vulnerable in becoming flesh and blood in Jesus.  Are we willing to become vulnerable in being honest and open with God and with each other?

Relationships happen when we are willing to be authentic and honest with who we are, and to allow others to do the same.  The woman at the well was transformed because God was revealed to her in open and honest communication.  God is always revealed when we are vulnerable enough to open our hearts.   Jesus showed us how to be good stewards of our relationships both with God and with each other.  We cannot have a good relationship with God if we shut others out.  We must be open to listen, to help, and to ask for help.  We must be open to see God in unexpected places, and people.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, pray that the Holy Spirit opens each of our hearts.  We all long to be seen and heard.  We all long for a place to belong.  We all long to go to that unexpected place and find Jesus waiting for us.  The Good News, the Great News is that Jesus is already there.  Our greatest relationship is with Jesus, who will never abandon us.  We need to share this life-giving news with others.  We need to share our relationship with Jesus so that others can have a relationship with him too.

All around us people are waiting to experience the living water of life that is Jesus.  Like the woman at the well, out of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us, we ought to be compelled to share this story with others.  Through really seeing others, and listening to their stories, we show them the love of Jesus, and Jesus is revealed through them.  The well of sorrow is deep, but God’s love and grace is deeper. It’s deeper than our pain. It’s deeper than our failures. It’s deeper than our disappointments. It’s deeper than our broken dreams. God’s love and grace is never-ending. That’s not just another unimportant story.  That’s the greatest and most important story we can ever share.  Nothing is more important than our relationship with Jesus.  It’s life-giving.  Share that story with someone today. Amen!

Counting Your Blessings

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 3:1-17

It’s the middle of the night and you can’t sleep.  There’s so much on your mind: worries, concerns, doubts, questions that you need answered.  You keep tossing and turning, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t get to sleep.  What do you do?  Maybe you finally get up and turn on the television, hoping it will help you sleep. Or you might search the internet either by your computer or phone, looking for something interesting to read or listen to.  You might listen to some music to help relax you.  Maybe you read a book, or even go into the kitchen to fix something to eat.  Perhaps you go outside into the dark to gaze into the heavens.  But maybe it’s just one of those nights where no matter what you do, you can’t fall back to sleep.  What do you do?

That was the case for Nicodemus.  It was one of those nights for him.  You see Nicodemus had a lot on his mind.  It was brewing for a long time.  As a Pharisee who was respected by the religious leaders, he was at a crossroads.  He was taught certain things in his Jewish faith.  He followed the laws of God handed down by the prophets.  He was certain in his faith, and held onto it with conviction no matter what anyone told him.  That is, until Jesus started preaching and teaching.  Nicodemus watched Jesus from a distance and saw the signs or miracles he did.  And the things Jesus did and said made Nicodemus question the things he had been taught.  Jesus made Nicodemus question his faith.  Nicodemus couldn’t discuss this at length with the other Pharisees because they saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo.  Jesus was interpreting the Scriptures in a whole new way, and that made them uneasy.  Who was Jesus that he could preach with this kind of authority?  They were keeping an eye on Jesus, because they didn’t want him to lead people away from the teachings of the synagogue. This put Nicodemus in an unusual predicament.  If he started hanging around Jesus, the Pharisees and others would accuse Nicodemus of betraying the Jewish faith, and he would be ostracized from them.  But Jesus said things that Nicodemus wanted to know more about.  He believed that Jesus came from God, otherwise he couldn’t do the miracles that he did.  But Nicodemus wasn’t sure.  His loyalties were divided.  He didn’t want to upset his friends.  And he didn’t want to go against the Roman government even though they were not caring for the poor and the oppressed.  Yet, Nicodemus  wanted to know more about Jesus.  What was he going to do?

Like Nicodemus, we’re all faced with this question of loyalties on a daily basis.  Are we going to follow the example of the people we are close with even if they are saying or doing what may be contrary to Jesus’ teachings?  Are we willing to risk the tension, anger, and possible alienation of family, friends, co-workers, and others for choosing Jesus’ way of life over the way we’ve always lived?  Are we willing to risk possible legal action taken against us, if we stand up in opposition to a law or action that would threaten the life of someone else?  These are tough choices.  Choices that people make every day.  And if we don’t make a choice and say we are not going to take sides, that in itself is a choice.  Doing nothing is just as much an action as any other action.

Today, as we celebrate Girl Scout Sunday, these girls have made a choice.  They didn’t have to be here this morning, but they chose to be here out of gratitude.  They understand like Abram in our first reading, that they have been blessed to be a blessing.  Throughout the year, they do countless acts of service to help others – not because they have to – but because God has put in their hearts a spirit of generosity and gratitude to be a blessing to others.  Each of these girls goes to school with others who don’t go to worship, who don’t take time to get to know God better, and yet they don’t mind standing out from the crowd because people matter to them more than doing what is best for them as individuals.  They work together as a group and have made the decision to make the world a better place.  They are aware that there are many people who can’t sleep at night because they don’t have the basic necessities in order to live, and the Girl Scouts do what they can to help others sleep a little better at night. It’s what we are all called to do, and these fine young women are an example to us all

We make decisions every day, and what we do or don’t do has an impact on others whether we realize it or not.  Sometimes we want to do the right thing, but we are afraid of the consequences. Nicodemus faced that very dilemma, which is why he finally did something.  He needed to finally get some answers to the questions he was tossing around in his head, which is why – he went out in the dark of night so as not to be seen and talk to Jesus.  If his friends saw him he would have lost everything – his position as a religious leader, his status in the community, his friends….but getting to know Jesus was worth the risk.  Is it worth the risk to you?  That’s at the heart of this story today.

When something is that important to you, you’re willing to take risks, to do anything to get it, and to keep it.  Many people put things on the top of that list of treasures.  They value homes, or possessions over people.  Some value status over relationships.  Others value maintaining power and control over everything else.  Jesus treasured all of God’s creation over everything else.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”  God loved the world that much that God gave everything.

How does this make you feel when you hear this?  Let it sink into your soul today.  God gave up God’s own life, so that you would have eternal life.  God gave everything in order to save the entire world, the entire cosmos.  There is no way to ever repay that kind of love.  It seems too good to be true, but the miracle is that it is true!  God loves the entire world that much!  And this doesn’t say just a few select people, or certain groups, or only if you do the right things, but the Scripture actually says the whole cosmos.  And Scripture goes on to say that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  The reason God did this is so that all of the world would be saved.  God treasures all the world that much!

Really internalizing this, really believing this and accepting this gift from God is what it means to be born again.  Being born again is not making a decision to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, because being born again is not something we do, but something Jesus did.  We are born again because Jesus was lifted up on the cross.  We are born again because Jesus gave everything – his own life – for us.  We are born again because Jesus made the risky choice to save us.  That’s what it means to be born again.  We are born again because of Jesus’ choice not ours.

We come to Jesus out of gratitude for that great gift.  It’s the reason we are here each week – to thank God for the gift of Jesus.  It’s the reason we give of our time and talents out of gratitude for what God has done for us through Jesus.  We have been born again because of Jesus.  And because of that we have nothing to fear.  What could people take away from us that could cause us to fear?  Our life?  We have eternal life – Jesus made sure of that!  Once we really understand that there is nothing that can keep us down.  There is nothing that can keep us awake at night.  There is nothing that can keep us away from Jesus.

The next time you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, don’t let anything else steal you away from your sleep.  Steal away to Jesus.  Talk to him, listen to him, give all your cares to him, and count your blessings instead of sheep.  God loves you more than you could ever know.  As we journey through this season of Lent, let us journey in gratitude sharing of our time and talents for the gift of being born again in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Feasting on the Word

Sunday, March 5, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 4:1-11

This past Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of Lent –not just for we here at Christ Lutheran Church, or churches all over the country, but for the Christian Church all over the world.  Lent is one the oldest rites in the Christian tradition.  It has long been associated with those who were being prepared to receive baptism and become members of the church. This process of preparation for membership is sometimes described as the Catechumenate — coming from the Greek word catechism, which means “teaching.” The ones involved in this process are referred to Catechumens.

This past Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – began with us being marked with a cross of ashes on our foreheads, as a way to remember that though we are sinful, we are also loved and treasured by God.  However, this wasn’t the first time we were marked with a cross on our foreheads.  At our baptism, we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  We heard those words at our baptism, and they marked the beginning of a new life for us.  At our baptism, we entered into the Christian community.  Our life was intrinsically connected to Christ.  In our baptism, we were claimed as beloved children of God.  Jesus heard those words as well, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  And then, the Spirit led him into the wilderness, where he would be tempted by the devil.

There’s a false idea that once we are baptized, once we allow the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to follow where God is calling us to go and do what God is calling us to do, that everything will be great.  Jesus’ baptism shows us that this is not the case.  As soon as Jesus was baptized, the devil was hot on his trail, because now Jesus was a threat.  Now Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit and that was a threat to the devil.  It was a threat because the darkness does not like the light.  It was a threat because the glory of God shown in Jesus, so the devil tried to stop it. .  The devil knew Jesus was the Son of God and so did Jesus.  On a typical day, the devil wouldn’t even have come close.  But this wasn’t a typical day; the devil waited until Jesus was physically weak, tired, hungry, and feeling empty.  That’s when humans are the most vulnerable, and Jesus was no exception.  While he was fully divine, he was also fully human.  Temptation strikes best when we are feeling hungry and empty.

When we’re empty inside the temptation is to fill it with something that will make us feel full: food, alcohol, work, and any number of other things.  They fill a void, but only for a little while.  When we are feeling empty, dejected, alone, lost, discouraged, and hopeless, the devil has a chance to get a little bit closer and tries to lead us in the wrong direction.  The doubts and insecurities creep in; the fears and worries try and take hold.  The tempter tries to make us either think less or ourselves or more of ourselves than we ought.  The main purpose is to think of ourselves and not God.  When we are hungry, we are the most vulnerable.

And many people are more than just hungry; they are famished.  They are famished physically and spiritually.  Today, more than ever, we seldom feast on God’s word.  Parents aren’t teaching their children about their faith, they are bringing them to Faith Formation activities on Sunday mornings, adults aren’t coming to Bible studies, and people in general aren’t studying Scripture together.  Society as a whole – and that includes those in our congregations – are starving for God’s word. As a result, it’s harder and harder to avoid temptations.

Jesus knew this. And this is why the devil was not able to succeed in causing Jesus to make the wrong decisions.  Jesus understood that what satisfies us more than anything else is God’s word because even when we are physically hungry, God’s word gives those who are hungry hope to not give up.  God’s word gives those who have food a hunger for justice for all.  In both cases, God’s word feeds the hungry.

This Lent, as we heard this morning, the Council and Renewal Team are focusing on stewardship.  This week, we heard Kris Stroup talk about stewardship of our faith.  How well we take care of our faith and share our faith story determines how we will grow spiritually both individually and as a congregation.  Congregations that grow, first must grow spiritually.  From about 8:50 – 9:20 am on Sunday mornings you can join a Bible study on the book of Acts right here.  It’s 30 minutes with Jesus, but 30 minutes that could change your life.  This year, as in the past, Christ Lutheran Church and St. John Lutheran Church are also offering mid-week Lenten services on Wednesday evenings. We’ll gather for a light dinner at 6:00 pm and a brief worship service at 7:00 pm.  In celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we’ll  explore Luther’s Small Catechism together. As Luther guides us through the the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

We know that it’s not easy to give of your time on Wednesday evenings to come out when you’d rather just stay home and relax, but what we’re hoping you realize is that this spiritual discipline of Lent can change you.  It can fill you with God’s word and deepen your faith.  This spiritual discipline can feed your soul so that, like Jesus, you can resist the temptations that try and stop you from living as followers of Jesus Christ, so that you can let your light shine.  This Lent we are asking you to be a good steward, a good caretaker of your faith by being here on Wednesday evenings and letting God feed your soul.  What better food can you receive?

St. Francis of Assisi understood that in giving we receive.  His famous prayer is an example of being a good steward of one’s faith.  St. Francis – born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named Francesco, was born into a wealthy family. Yet when he had a vision from God to rebuild God’s church, Francis gave away all he had and lived among the poor.  While God may not be asking us to give away all we own, what God does ask of us it to grow closer to God through being good stewards of our faith.  Francis – like Jesus – understood that it is God’s word that fills us like nothing else.

 

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Throughout these 40 days, perhaps this could be our communal Lenten prayer.  Let us invite and allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, to be instruments of God – for peace, for love, for compassion, for letting God’s light shine through us.  Let us feast on God’s word. Amen!