The final words of our Gospel reading from Mark will serve as the basis for this morning’s
message: Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Well, it’s Lent again. For those who have a Lutheran background—or Roman Catholic, for that
matter—we know what that means. 40 days leading up to Good Friday and Easter spent doing
something a bit strange, something some judge as archaic, while others ridicule as being a form
of self-hatred. Of course, that something is what we call good old-fashioned repentance.
Lent is, of course, a man-made tradition. Lent began during the time of Pope Gregory the Great
back in the 6 th century. Other than Roman Catholics, Lutherans are among the few who observe
Lent. And we don’t give it the time and attention we used to give it.
The 40 days of Lent are meant to recall the 40 days of the temptation of Jesus when he fasted and
prayed in the wilderness following His baptism. The idea is that it’s good for us to every year
spend a season contemplating the realities of both sin and death. I believe it’s still a good idea.
At the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday ties those two realities—sin and death—together.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
In a way, this hits a little closer to home for me this year than it has in the past. A positive
COVID test. You can’t help but think, “Oh, some people die from this.” And as you get sicker
and sicker, and your blood oxygen level sinks to 88, and the doctor says that if it stays there, or
drops any lower, we need head to the emergency room. It gets your attention, and it gets you to
thinking. Some people who go into the hospital never come back out.
I don’t want to exaggerate this. I never really felt close to the point of being on death’s doorstep,
but just close enough to where it got me to thinking. *Didn’t have much else to do. You can
only watch so much TV, and watching the news a lot more than usual certainly doesn’t make a
person feel any better. In the quiet of the dark nights, I did a lot of reflecting.
Part of my deep thinking was a time of deep reflection on the ongoing reality of sin in my life. I
felt a need to be honest about the fact that I continue to struggle with weaknesses which ought
not still be part of my life. I also thought about what it is that motivates to do the good that I
do, realizing that my motives continue to be mixed most of the time, with the dark side being a
desire to impress others. Honestly, my sin is no small matter.
It would not be good, really, to spend too much time there. Probably wouldn’t be either good or
healthy to spend some 40 days and nights contemplating nothing else but such things. But my
message to you this morning—the message of Lent—is that there is great value in doing what
Jesus calls us to do in our text: repent. The greatest value, of course, is that in recognizing the
truth of the size and seriousness of our sinful weakness and woundedness prepares us to more
profoundly experience what is so amazing about grace. More on that in a few moments.
But first I want to challenge you. This is something I will certainly not try to force on anyone,
but I feel a sense of urgency to encourage you to think about whether or not the season of Lent
2021 ought to be no ordinary journey.
This past year has been, obviously, no ordinary year. COVID… and all of the controversy, as
well as the illness and heartbreak it has caused, has made this a year like no other. On top of
that, all of natural disasters, as well as the political messes and controversies and protests turned
to riots, the attack-style campaigning—on both extremes of the political spectrum— and all of
the post-election turmoil has added to our stress. My Lord, what a tough year this has been.
Now, I hear a lot of people saying how much they are longing for things to get back to normal.
I’ve expressed that sentiment myself. But I have to wonder, is that really what’s most important,
that we return to where we were before all of these hardships hit? Could it be that what is truly
needed is for us to honestly and perhaps painfully reassess things… to re-think our priorities.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps it would be good for Lent 2021 to be like no other we
have experienced. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis described pain as being “God’s
megaphone to awaken a deafened world.” Maybe we, individually and collectively, need an in-
depth wake-up call. Maybe we need to truly repent, which involves not only recognizing and
confessing our sin, but also involves turning around, moving the opposite direction.
Here’s the lens I would invite you to peer through in doing your self-assessment: The Scriptures
make it very clear that Jesus came to not only save us, but also to restore us. Consider this quote
from C.S. Lewis: “We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way—centered on money
or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And
that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I
am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it
short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go
deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.” Mere Christianity
Here is another level of honest assessment: Think about how you see things… politically and
otherwise? How important to you is seeing and judging things from the perspective of what
Jesus taught and modeled? Is it more powerful and influential than following a certain source
from where you get information and news, more important than following a certain party or
certain candidate? It ought to be!
These are deep, challenging questions, I know. But this is a time for thinking through such things,
a time for going deeper, a time for honest repentance, a time to be plowed up and re-sown.
Finally, I hope you know how I’m going to close this message: with grace! The most important
truth of all is that the harsh sentence of death pronounced as the consequence of sin has been
shifted from us. It went right there, to the cross, where Jesus was held not by nails, but by His
love for us. We are children of God, and will forever remain children of God, by virtue of
Jesus’ virtue, not our own. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote: The essence of sin is not primarily the
violation of laws but a wrecked relationship with God, one another and the whole created order.
Grace is the restoring of those relationships… beginning with God and then extending to one
another and to the whole of creation.
Again, the great value of recognizing the enormity of our sin, of how far we fall short, is that it
prepares us for a truly profound experience of grace. Never forget what Jesus taught: the one
who has been forgiven little, loves little. The one who has been forgiven much loves much.
And love is what both saves us and restores us. Love’s what changes everyone and everything!