Sunday, March 14, 2021

To launch today’s message, I chose these words from Jeremiah 7, addressed to God’s people
sometime after God rescued the descendants of Abraham from Egypt: I gave them this command:
Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you,
that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn
inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Here is what we have covered thus far in our Lenten Journey of 2021, which started out with
my urging us to consider whether or not this Lent ought to perhaps be unlike any we have ever
experienced before. Falling on what we hope will prove to be the heels of a year unlike any we
have ever experienced, ought this be a season in which we take this repentance theme to a level
deeper than we ever have before? How about you? Are you listening?

Here’s the thing: In terms of how we have individually and collectively been living out our faith
as followers of Jesus, do we simply need just a bit of tweaking, or do we perhaps need to go
much deeper? Is our sin really inconsequential, maybe just a few flaws and bad habits, perhaps
maybe not as much fruit-bearing as there ought to be, but hey, since God’s grace is so abundant,
does that mean there is nothing to worry about or deal with? Are you listening?

Is it time to do a painfully honest self-assessment? Is it time to confess that there are still sinful
weaknesses in our flesh which we ought to have outgrown by now? It is time to come clean
about the inconsistency, or routine, or shallowness of our worship and our discipleship, to admit
that a look at our calendars and bank statements point to priorities which are way out of whack?
Is it time to admit we’ve acted much more like casual fans of Jesus, rather than true followers?

Every time I’ve brought this up, I have urged us to remember the end we have in mind when we
practice the discipline of repentance: namely, experiencing the amazing grace of God more
profoundly, and experiencing the wonderful truth that we who have been forgiven much love
much. The goal is not to use guilt and shame to whip ourselves or one another into spiritual
shape, but to experience God’s love in such a way as to find healing, joy, and transformation.

That is the sequence of things in our second reading, that vitally important section of Ephesians
2. “You were dead through the trespasses and sins … But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great
love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together
with Christ. ... For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the
gift of God— not the result of works … For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for
good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Are you listening?

“You were dead…” That is what sin does. It hurts. It breaks. It wounds. It kills. The truth
starts there… but it does not, it must not, stop there. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the
great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive
together with Christ.” That is what grace does. It heals. It gives life. It is a “gift of God.”

But the process does not, and must not, end there! We are now children of God by grace. We
have come to see that we have been forgiven much, at such an incredible cost. Jesus’ love for
you, His desire to heal and restore you, is what put Him on the cross, it was what held Him on
the cross. Are you listening? God loves you dearly!

If we are listening, then we are changing. We are seeking, through the inspiring and empowering
work of the Holy Spirit of God, to be healed, restored, and transformed. It is a rather strange
sounding way to say it, but we’re in the process of becoming more and more of what we already
are: children of God. “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

Last week’s emphasis was on the fact that this process is a very good process. Jesus came to
bring life—the most abundant, joyful, and meaningful life possible. We are not being called to
follow Jesus into a life marked by drudgery or ridden with guilt or fear, under constant pressure
to shape up lest we be shipped out. We are being freely called to follow Jesus into living the
most joy-producing and meaningful life possible. Are you listening?

It is important for us to remember that repentance is not about seeking to make ourselves more
acceptable or presentable to God. We are accepted by virtue of grace, not on the basis of our
goodness or good works.

A little boy watched, fascinated, as his mother gently rubbed some kind of cream on her face,
creating a kind of mask. “Why are you rubbing that stuff on your face, Mommy?” he asked.
“To make myself beautiful,” said his mother. A bit later, she began removing the cream with a
tissue. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Are you giving up?”

The truth is, we can give up trying to make ourselves and our lives beautiful on our own. In the
eyes of our Abba Father, we are beautiful, unconditionally loved. We are seeking to live more
and more on the basis of grace, filled with gratitude and moved by love. Are you listening?

Have you heard this sermon before? If you’ve been listening, the answer is “yes, many times.”
Will you hear this sermon again? Almost certainly. This is the core of our faith. This is truth
which sets us free. This is the foundation of our faith and of our discipleship. By grace we have
been saved, through faith, and set free to live the good life our Creator intends for us to live,
marked by grace, love, and service, and filled with joy, peace, and meaning. Are you listening?

I will close with an illustration about the meaning of repentance I came across:

Imagine you are standing in a circle of people. In the center of the circle, there is a source of
light. But rather than facing the center and the light, you are standing with your back to the
light, facing outward. When you stand this way, facing away from the light, all you can see is
your own shadow. You cannot see the light. You can only look into your shadow. Nor can you
see the others in the circle with you. From what you can see, you are disconnected and alone in
the dark.

Now imagine that you turn around to face the light that is in the center of the circle. When you
turn toward the light, you no longer see only darkness. When you turn toward the light, your
shadow is behind you. When you turn toward the light, you can now see the other people who
are standing with you. You can see that the light is shining on everyone and that you are all
connected in its radiance.

And as you are drawn together to the light, we are drawn closer together. As John wrote, the
light has come into the world. Let us increasingly turn from the darkness to the Light and be
drawn to the Light which heals and transforms… to Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

  July 2021  
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