This was written for our church newsletter.
There is no question that we live in a very individualized age. No longer do we have to settle for just “coffee” when we go to the coffee shop. We can now have it iced, hot, blended, 2% or non-fat, with room for cream or not, in a mug or to-go cup. Our phones and computers allow us to set up our personal preferences. Customization is the key word of our age. As consumers, we expect businesses and restaurants to cater to our tastes and preferences or else lose our business. “Have it your way” has become something of a mantra for 21st century Americans.
Many events are life-changing for the ones involved, but not all events are world changing. Many of us remember the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That was certainly a moment in history that far reaching consequences. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called the Bombing of Pearl Harbor “A day that will live in infamy.”
And then there was the famous crossing of the Rubicon River by Julius Caesar in 49 B.C. which led to the creation of the Roman Empire. In 1972, just a couple of years before I was born, President Nixon became the first U.S. President to visit China. Nixon would call this week-long visit “The Week that changed the world” because of the far reaching and long-lasting effects it would have on the world stage.
While all of these events were world changing in one way or another, none of them comes even close to matching the universal impact of Holy Week. If ever there was a “week that changed the world,” this was it. Beginning on Sunday, as Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, and culminating in his death on Calvary and his bodily resurrection on the third day, this week not only changed the world, it changed God’s relationship to the world forever.
By today’s standards, I should not be a Christian today, much less a pastor. The Church in which I grew up had no active youth programs. The pastor who confirmed me was old and not very hip. He would stand outside and smoke cigarettes with a couple of the other men during church events. We sat at a card table every Saturday for two years plowing through the Catechism. I learned everything by rote. Our church services were anything but exciting. We sang hymns and liturgy out of a hymnal that was published in 1941. The most I remember about VBS in the summers (which was two weeks long) was painting the same ceramic figures every year, Koolaid and cookies for snacks, and singing “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (TLH 451–still remember the hymn number) during music time. Our organist had no idea how to play Matins or the Te Deum, but she tried anyway. Communion Sundays (once/month) lasted about 15 minutes longer than non-communion, so when I saw p. 15 in the bulletin I wasn’t too excited.
When Jesus cast out demons, when he raised the dead, when he performed signs and miracles, he was carrying out His Father’s will. Like Moses in the Old Testament reading, he was doing these things by the “finger of God,” that is, by God’s Spirit and authority.
And in all of these works, whether he was preaching, healing, or raising the dead, he was ransacking the devil’s kingdom. He was plundering his castle, so to speak, and binding the strong man. Jesus said so himself: “When a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides the spoil.”
The devil’s goods were the souls of Adam’s fallen sons and daughters. And he guarded those goods with all his might. But his might was no match for the stronger man, Jesus Christ. Immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus set to work dismantling the devil’s armor. Everywhere that Jesus went he set the captives free by his preaching and teaching.
Beloved saints in Christ Jesus:
What does repentance look like? This is the question that we are considering during this Lenten season. And we are doing so from the perspective of several Biblical figures that repented of their sins and found in Jesus the complete and total forgiveness of their sins. We are exploring this topic because there is so much confusion in the Church these days over the issue of repentance and what it entails.
Today many people believe that the Church should not make anyone feel uncomfortable. Many churches pride themselves on being welcoming of sinners, but you will hear no calls to repent and turn from sin so that they might live. Pressure is often put on pastors to turn a blind eye to the sins of church members, or at least to relax a little bit. Although this desire to make sinners feel comfortable is often well-intended, it is misguided.
It reveals a lack of understanding of what repentance is, and what the Lord desires from us when we fall short of his glory and break his commandments. Coddling sinners and making them feel comfortable when they turn away from God’s Word only makes things worse, and it keeps them from enjoying the richness of reconciliation that God has won for us in Christ Jesus.
What does repentance look like? This is the question that we are going to be addressing throughout this Lententide, and hopefully coming to a better understanding of the nature and fruits of repentance.
I would not be exploring this topic if I did not think that there was a weakness in how we commonly approach the issue of repentance. There often seems to be a reluctance to call sin what it is, and to call people who are sinning to repentance. There is sometimes this attitude like, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” Or, “But Pastor, aren’t we supposed to be forgiving?”
I’m not sure where this reluctance comes from. Perhaps there is a fear that if we take someone else’s sin seriously, we might have to take our own sins seriously. Perhaps it comes from a lack of solid teaching on the subject. Or it may just be that we are too worried about coming across as being too strict or unforgiving. Whatever the case may be, there seems to be a desire on the part of many church goers today to just sweep it all under the rug and not actually deal with it.
This is the second time in recent years I have watched the Lombardi trophy being caressed, fondled, and kissed by the winning team. As I watched this, I thought, “Why is this kind of adoration acceptable to many American Christians, but not reverence toward the things of the true and living God?” What if a Lutheran pastor in a mid-Western parish, after explaining to his members what he was doing, were to genuflect (bow the knee) and kiss the altar, which is the symbol of God’s presence in the Church? What kind of outcry would ensue? What would happen if a pastor elevated the Host and the Cup during the Lord’s Supper, and then reverently knelt to one knee in adoration of the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and the wine? More than likely this would be seen as “Catholic” (and therefore, bad) or even as an idolatrous practice by evangelical Christians. Is there, perhaps, a disconnect in the minds and hearts of God’s people today?