Jeremiah 31:34

“No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

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I am indebted in the following to an article by my friend Prof. James Nestingen for background on the texts for Lent.

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 These words of the prophet Jeremiah were addressed to the people of the northern kingdom one hundred years after God’s jugment resulted in their defeat at the hands of the Assyrians. They have been a colony of a pagan empire ever since, cut off from all other connections. Hope has not merely been diminished by their experience, it has been shattered.

 Despite the wishful thinking of those who trust in progress the endless round of history shows us that this world is as much the land of the dying as it is the land of the living. The world is a graveyard. Where is the basis for hope?

 Into the ancient despairing community – and ours –  Jeremiah speaks tenderly of God’s promise. All that now separates will one day be destroyed. Sin will be forgiven, not even remembered.

 Until that Day when Christ restores all things to Himself, Jeremiah’s words remain for us words of hope and promise. Easter and Good Friday are inseparable. The Risen Christ bears His wounds. Until the new age drives the old into passing, God’s friendship with us will bear the marks of the cross, and Lent, as any other day in the life of faith will be a time of repentance. God’s idiom – His unqualified commitment along with His ruthless way of shaking His people right to the limit – will expose all of our attempts to make do without Him even as it shows the way to the freedom that establishes the way in Christ.

 

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

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Romans 4:1-5

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,…”  

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No one wants to hear the old slur, “You’re a good for nothing!”  Even those who live by expolitation, robbery or handouts take offense at such a comment. But the fact remains that to live in the world means you have to be good for something. God has set it up that way. To not contribute, to not carry your weight is to call your worth and value into question.  So, we learn from an early age. And because the world operates this way it is easy to assume that the same equation applies to our relationship with the Living God…and, in fact, it does. How human beings live, our thoughts, words and deeds, our works and ways matter.

 We were made to love God  and our neighbors as ourselves. That is our purpose, that is what we are good for (or should be), that is what justifies us, to use Paul’s language. So, how are you doing? Want to boast about how well you are fulfilling the law of love? Neither do I. And if that is the case, the questions can rightly be asked of us, ‘What are you good for? If not for love then what?’

 St. Paul knew the Abraham story well enough to realize that it was not Abraham’s performance that made him a part of God’s people and plans. God made promises to Abraham and Abraham trusted those promises. End of story. Paul drew the proper theological conclusions from this and in the light of the cross and resurrection declared that faith is God’s singular way with us, the ungodly, the good-for-nothings. And this is so for no other reason that God would have it so!  God gives us the righteousness of His beloved Son as gift, apart from our demonstrating that we have earned it or deserve it, and shows the world once and for all that He intends to run the world – and the future he will bring – according to His grace.

 

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

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1 Peter 2:4-5

“As you come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…”

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 On the bookshelf in my church study is a well-worn little songbook of photocopied pages. The cover has a drawing made with an ink pen. The entire book is bound with tape. It is among my most prized possessions.

 The year was 1983, the 450th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. A group of us from the United States was traveling through what was then East Germany, visiting many of the places where Luther lived and worked. Among the stops was the city of Leipzig where Johann Sebastian Bach created some of the finest sacred music ever written. After a tour of churches where Bach had worked, and an organ concert, we found ourselves at the end of the day sitting down to dinner in the hostel where we would spend the night.  A group of  young people served our tables. Among them, however, one stood out. I had noticed her earlier when we entered the lobby. She was standing off to one side smiling, eyes bright, greeting us in German and obviously glad to see us.

 The others, rather stern faced, went about their work in a rather perfunctory fashion with hardly a word to any of us. Later I discovered that working here was considered to be a very good job for young people and those who got these jobs were usually members in good standing of the communist party. A group of Christians from America represented tourist dollars but that was about it, as far as most of these young people were concerned.

 As we sat talking at our tables after dinner our group leader, Pastor Herb Brokering, came over and whispered quietly in my ear to follow him. As we walked down a long hallway Herb motioned for me to keep silent. He looked around to make sure no one was around then quickly opened the door to what turned out to be a very large linen closet. Herb motioned for me to follow then closed the door behind us. It was pitch black. I heard him fumbling for the light switch and when it finally went on, there, sitting on a small stool was the smiling young girl who had greeted us earlier in the evening. We sat down and Herb, who spoke fluent German, introduced me to the young girl. Her name was Gerlinde. On her lap was a guitar and a small, worn songbook.

 Gerlinde began to speak as Herb translated. When she heard a group of Lutheran Christians woud be staying at the hostel she was overjoyed. She was a Christian and was praying for an opportunity to share something of her faith with us. But there was need to be careful. The others who worked there were not Christian and some were quite hostile to the faith and would be quick to report her. But she was willing to take the risk.  Here is the text to the first song Gerlinde sang to us that evening. 

 

                                       The Temple

 
 
We are being built into a temple, a dwelling for our Holy God.
 
This house of the Lord is the congregation, the pillar and the truth’s  foundation.
 
Shaped like beautiful gemstones, by His mercy through the Word,
 
when we love and trust each other the temple will grow more and more,
 
then the temple will grow more and more.

 

Gerlinde and I took turns singing songs of the faith with her guitar- quietly to be sure – for the next half hour. Herb translated her singing into English and mine into German. Finally, sensing we had  stayed about as long as we dare, the three of us prayed together and got up to leave. Gerlinde, her eyes filled with tears pressed  the little songbook into my hand. One by one we quietly slipped back into the hallway.

 The next morning, our group gathered in the lobby after breakfast to await our bus. Herb and I were talking together when, suddenly, Gerlinde walked through the lobby carrying some linen towels. The three of us made eye contact and smiled. The temple had grown a little more.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

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2 Corinthians 6:2

“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

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The following devotional was written by my father, Rev. Carroll N. Anderson, for a 1959 edition of ‘Christ in Our Home’.

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“Lent” means spring. Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent. Many parts of our land are mantled with snow, but we know that the promise of Spring, with it’s new life from the soil and the clean, new look in nature, is already here.

 For the Christian the Lenten season is climaxed on Easter day, the day of our Lord’s entrance into new life from the tomb of the dead. Nature springs into new life every year. Christ emerged from the tomb only once. He has defeated for all time the power of death. Christians, therefore, properly rejoice on Easter day.

 What about today?

 Christian people meet for public worship on the first day of each week because this is the day on which Jesus rose from the grave. It is the fact of His resurrection that gives hope to repentant sinners. Because He lives, we too shall live.

 Today, your pastor preaches the Gospel – the Good News of God’s love for sinful people. You join with the congregation in singing hymns of praise to your Redeemer. The Holy Spirit speaks to the hearts of the hearers. The power of the Word of God makes this day the day of salvation. This is not just another Sunday, not just another Sunday in Lent.This is the day in which God’s message of forgiveness reaches into countless lives.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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1John 2:1

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;”

 
                              

T. F. Gullixson was president of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, during the middle years of the 20th century when my father was a student there. Some time ago my dad recalled a sermon he heard T.F. Gullison preach  titled, “Beware the Downward Pull’. The title speaks volumes.

 In this age of technology and impersonalization, the conduct of the individual becomes less and less of an issue. All kinds of morally and ethically destructive behavior is tolerated – if not sanctioned.  One person has described life in these times with a heady phrase – ‘chaotic syncretism’. That’s a very erudite way of saying, ‘Anything goes.’  T. F. Gullixson was onto something. The gravitational effect of sin on human moral and ethical conduct is obvious. Someone once said, ‘Character is measured by what you do when no one is watching.’  How many of us could stand the scrutiny of ‘deeds done in the dark’?

 The new life in Christ is meant to redeem us from eternal death and free us for love of God and the neighbor. As Lutherans, we know that the Christian life is not a call to moral and ethical ladder climbing in order to make ourselves acceptable to God. We are, in the end, saved by grace. At the same time we are called to struggle with sin, to ‘Beware the downward pull’ of sin. For what is at stake is freedom, the costly freedom Christ has won for us on the cross.  When we allow our basest impulses, lusts, and desires to drag us down we cheapen the life of freedom for love that God has given us. Such a self-centered life is of little good to itself or the neighbor. The writer of 1 John wanted more for those whom he cared about, “I am writing these things to you so that you might not sin.” This little letter toward the end of the New Testament could easily be titled, ‘Beware the Downward Pull.”  Read it for yourself.

 Of course we do sin. We do give in to the “downward pull”. Or as John writes,”…the love of this world…the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.”   No one knew better the power of the “downward pull” than Martin Luther. His many years in the monastary brought him face to face with the full weight of sin and it’s effects. Even after the power of the Gospel had set him free, to the end of his life he struggled to live in love and service to the neighbor, a struggle which he often lost. 

 So John also proclaims our Advocate to us, “Jesus Christ the Righteous”.  In our strugglle to live out the freedom God has given us we do and will give ample evidence of our sinfulness. But Christ Jesus has laid claim on sinners. He is our righteousness and will be so all the way to life’s end. For the “downward pull” is not greater than the “upward call in Jesus Chist our Lord”!

 

“May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

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1 John 1:8

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

 

  Who am I?  This most basic of questions demands a response and every human being makes one. Humans answer this question largely by determining their own identity: I am who I choose to be. Yet our insistence on taking life into our own hands is easily distorted and becomes defining of what the Scriptures call ‘sin’ – that willful insistence on stealing my existence from God and resolving every issue down to what I want.

The culture says that we are bundles of largely unrealized wonderfulness only inhibited by the myriad injustices foisted on us by others (who are, apparently, not so wonderful).

The Bible reveals God’s assessment of the human to us. The defining word regarding what it means to be human does not rightly derive from us but the One who created us…from God. And God says we are willful sinners, deserving of His wrath, in need of repentance and forgiveness. Small wonder humans flee from this God of wrath for all they are worth, preferring to “re-imagine” God in kinder, gentler forms.

If, however, there is no need to talk about the wrath of God, then there is not much need to talk about the sin that incurs the wrath. But this avoidance is no answer to the real problem of sin and all it’s consequences.

Christianity is incoherent without the idea of sin. There can be no good news of the Gospel without first understanding the bad news of sin. The mission of Jesus makes no sense if we remove such concepts from our thinking.

Jesus made it clear that the reason he came to earth was to save sinners: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. Take away the doctrine of sin and we take away the doctrine of the Incarnation. Indeed, we take away the entire message of the New Testament.

Because we are born in the darkness of sin, we assume our blindness to be life in the light. But Christ Jesus died for sinners that we might walk in the “true light”, Christ Himself. When we persist in our self-defining intransigence, we remain in our sins. When Christ opens our eyes through the Gospel by His amazing grace, we see our need for a savior and the Savior we need.

 

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Romans 1:16

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God unto salvation…”

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  I don’t remember his first name anymore but his last name was Carlson or Larson or Hansen or Johnson or something like that. OK, I don’t remember his last name either! Anyway, this wiry old Norwegian came up to me after the Reformation Sunday service at First Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, October 1977. During the offering the organist and I had performed a rousing rendition of ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, she on the pipe organ (somewhat nervously as I recall) and yours truly adding a withering obligato on the electric guitar ( a bright red 1966 Gibson 335) complete with distortion pedal and major rock n’ roll attitude. Mr. Han-Carl-John-Lars-son was neither inspired or edified. “I want to congratulate you, Pastor Anderson, he said dryly. “You have managed to overshadow the Word of God this morning and drag Luther’s hymn into the gutter at the same time.” Ouch! At the time of course, I dismissed him out of hand. Now I can only marvel at the miles of passivity that old Scandinavian had to cross in order to confront one of his pastors. I also wish I could sit down with him – which I should have done then – and listen to him. He was onto me. He came from a Lutheranism where laity understood they had a responsibility to the Word of God just as much as the pastor. He was exercising his stewardship of that Word but I was too full of myself to hear him. I was too busy being ‘relevant’ instead of being his pastor.

What I finally did hear while sipping coffee with those old Norwegians – and a few misplaced Swedes – was that faith in Jesus Christ and His promises was the marrow in their lives. And they had not come to this faith because some clergy person stuck his\her finger in the wind and then blathered on from the pulpit about the indelible wonderfulness of now. The message that gripped them was the Gospel; the old, old story of Jesus and His love often expressed in their favorite hymns; Beautiful Savior, The Old Rugged Cross, Abide with Me, and yes, In the Garden. During the years I was their pastor I had to bury some of these folks. Often, in those last days before the end sitting by their bedsides I would sing these old hymns accompanied by a guitar and read passages from the Bible. And that is when I learned something that had taken me too long to learn; if you can’t sing it or say it at someone’s deathbed it probably isn’t worth singing or saying  at all.

“May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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