Luke 15:4

 

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

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She turned the house upside down.  After weeks of searching, in between the usual routines of living, she finally found it, clutching it againt her breast in tears. No, it wasn’t a nine-carat diamond ring or a winning lottery ticket. It was an old pen, tarnished by time and no longer serviceable. During their college years, her husband wrote her every day they were apart with this pen. The letters, carefully wrapped in a bundle, had been destroyed in a fire years before and not long after her husband’s death. The pen was all she had to remind her of those letters.

 On the surface, of course,  there was no value to be perceived in this old writing instrument. To anyone else it was fit for nothing but to be discarded. But for her it represented the one she had loved and who loved her.

 The story of the Good Shepherd goes even futher.  Unlike the pen in story above, there is nothng intrinsically lovable in us that God should seek us. This can come as something of a shock to a creature that is convinced it is the center of the universe.  The fact is that human beings are expendable assets in this world and not all that lovable. Nevertheless, the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to seek after the one lost sheep. The self-righteous who heard Jesus tell this story had long since convinced themselves that they were better off without those who wandered away from righteousness. Good ridance. They also might have questioned the wisdom of leaving ninety-nine sheep defenseless in order to search for one.  Isn’t a bird in the hand worth more than two in the bush? The math doesn’t work!  Well, maybe not in our calculations but God’s math is different. It is the mathematics of grace.

 The grace of God is extravagant beyond calculation.  The Good Lord does not wait for us to make our way back to Him. Not only can we not do so, we do not want to do so. The Good News is that God seeks us in our bondage to sin, in our lostness. God has taken the initiative not because He has lost something that in and of itself has infinite worth but beacause He chooses to do so, out of sheer grace and mercy.  Thanks be to God!

 

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

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photo from flickr and heavenboundiwillbe

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John 8:36

 

The following article comes from the CrossAlone website. The author is a good friend but publishes these articles anonymously.

 

“We are called to discipleship, to follow Jesus, it is said — to a kind of discipline, to walk in his steps, to deny ourselves, take up our cross. What can this mean in concrete terms?

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Sometimes references are made to various Bible verses – to turn the other cheek, to sell all you have and give it to the poor, to visit those in prison, to feed the hungry, and many more.

In a certain sense we depend on our churches to develop programs so that we can get with the program and live the Christian life both at home and at work. Does it really work? Do we really do it? Do we do it with joy?

It turns out to be a struggle and one more thing we have to do in addition to the dishes, the laundry, and getting to work on time. Do we get a “power surge”?1 Purpose in 40 days? A “centered life”?

There has to be a better way. And there is.

It starts with distinguishing between law and gospel, which is basic to our Lutheran heritage. The law shows us our need of a savior, and the gospel shows us the Savior we need.  And the Savior we need is the one who finished salvation on the cross.

Therefore we are free.  Through baptism we have entered into “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).  “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

How does this shape the Christian life? It is neither a discipline, nor discipleship, nor a system of do’s and don’t’s for Christians who are “real” Christians. “The law says ‘do this,’ and it is never done.  Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done” (HeidelbergThesis #26; LW 31:56).

Each one of us is called by law and gospel and therefore given a calling. We are put where we are in this world of space and time to point to Him and to oppose the evil around us in our particular situations. As Luther famously said, “We are perfectly free Lords of all, subject to none, and perfectly dutiful servants of all, subject to all” (Luther’s Works 31:344).

On the one hand, the Lord’s will is done even locally without our prayer. We are free from the burden of having to build the kingdom. On the other hand, because we are free from sin and death and from the worry about past, present, or future (simultaneously and totally justified and sinful), we are free to take care of our neighbor, to fight the powers of evil. As homemakers, factory workers, judges, and engineers, we use our common reason (Rom 13:10).

In the conflicts and ambiguities of life we will at times do the wrong thing, but we are forgiven through the cross.  1) The real temptations are spiritual pride and spiritual despair, thinking that we are building the kingdom (good people doing good), or that everything we do is useless.  2) Because we live by faith alone in the cross alone, the result of what we do is hidden both to others and to us, for we live by faith alone and forgiveness. Luther often cited Isa 64:6: “All our righteous deeds are filthy rags,” as a way of helping us remember that the Lord alone is building his kingdom his way and not our way.

Therefore “not the purpose-driven life, but the forgiveness-given life.”

 

 

 

 

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Hebrews 12:2

 

 

‘Let us look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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When Linda and I visit Rome we stay at a hotel in the Piazza della Rotunda (location of the famous Pantheon). Just around the corner is the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, built over the site of an ancient temple to the goddess Minerva, thus the name (Saint Mary on Minerva).  The church is distinctive in several ways; it is the only Gothic style church in Rome, contains the burial place of St. Catherine of Siena, Fra Angelico, works by Bernini and the statue pictured above by Michaelangelo, Christ the Redeemer.

 Michaelangelo’s design captures something of what the writer to the Hebrews proclaims. The great sculptor depicts Christ embracing the cross and the other instruments of His passion, yet even here, after the Resurrection, the Lord’s face is turned away from the cross, “despising it’s shame.”  Suffering and death are now subject to Him. The victory has been won and the promise of the new age to come is secure. Now Christ Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, the place of power, language which underscores the certainty that God’s work of Redemption will be carried to completion. 

 It is fitting, it seems to me, that this depiction of the Risen Christ should embrace the cross. For the message of the Gospel – Christ crucified and risen for sinners – is now  the instrument used by the Risen Lord to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the faithful. Jesus has turned the tables. Now suffering and death, though no less real, have lost their hold, their sting. Although in this old age of sin we must endure suffering and death, the crucified and Risen Lord assures us that the new age has begun. One day, on that great and glorious Day, the work of Redemption will be complete and “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” will lead us into the joys of God’s eternal kingdom.

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

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photo by Pastor Mark Anderson

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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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