Second Sunday in Lent
Dear Friends in Christ,
Borderland Living – Last night, Pastor Muther and I returned from a three day conference which may have been one of the best and most practical conferences I have ever attended. I have two three ring binders jam packed with great and lofty plans. I have a brand new legal pad full of hand written notes and I am so fired up about preaching this morning that I feel as though I could preach for three hours straight through this morning. Makes you nervous doesn’t it?
Part of me always wants to think that if I could just get a list of 5 or 7 or 10 great ideas and then we could put them into practice, that living life together as pastors and people would be easy. That we could take the path of least resistance and we could get our act together, once and for all. That instead of driving along in the same old ruts of life, we could get unstuck. In his book “Your God is Too Safe” author Mark Buchanan coins the phrase “Borderland”, which he describes as the “condition of stuckness.” A land where people have been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, but are sort of bored with the whole organized religion thing. Where folks are acquainted with Jesus but aren’t really growing up into Him. Buchanan writes “that people on borderland have grown comfortable with boredom. They have settled for a God “on call”, a God available for crises and fiascos, who does a bit of juggling with weather patterns and parking stalls but who otherwise remains unobtrusive as a chambermaid, tidying things up while you’re at brunch…a God who is kind, tame, and sort of shy.”
Jesus would teach us better than that today. Our sermon theme on this kickoff Sunday for National Lutheran Schools’ Week is “Taking the Not So Easy Way.” Three truths today we want to learn about following Jesus closely. About denying ourselves and taking up our crosses on a daily basis and joining Jesus Christ and engaging with His Word and people on a mission to save sinners who are more lost and more alone and more distracted and more self oriented and more skeptical than ever before.
The first lesson is that Taking the not so easy way means (discerning) who Christ is. In one of our sessions at the Conference yesterday, a Pastor Malme from Green Bay who has done some teaching at Concordia in Mequon, indicated that his first assignment for his college students is to answer the question, “Who is God?” He said that by far their number one answer is “He is the Creator, and He is there for me when I need Him.” Interesting isn’t it, that in a culture that increasingly embraces the theory of evolution, college students’ first idea about God is that He is Creator.
Peter’s first idea about Jesus in our text for today was that Jesus was in fact the Christ, and his second idea was that Jesus should take the path of least resistance. He balked at what His Master was saying about suffering many things, being rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and being killed. He was trying hard to believe in Jesus with all of His heart, but he had bought into the very same lie Satan had put before Jesus in the wilderness – that there was a way easier than the cross. That Jesus could just one time fall down and worship the satan and the kingdom would be given over to him.
Pastor Malme from Green Bay Packer land suggested that one of the new normal for pastors and churches and schools these days is the “up to you generation.” The growing number of kids whose parents have said to them, “it’s up to you if you want to go to church or not.” We recognize today what a foolish approach to raising up children that is. These parents, for whatever reason, are trying to take the easy way out, but in fact have fallen into one of Satan’s favorite lies – that there is a way to love Jesus and the world at the same time and in equal measure.
This same workshop leader suggested that in the church and school he serves, the new normal is that increasingly the spiritual champion in the home is the kid. He suggested that we need to win the kids for Christ if we want to win the parents for Christ.” That frequently as the result of the Lutheran School or of the Confirmation Class, the sons and daughters are discerning in a stronger way than their parents who Jesus Christ is.
The second lesson we learn from our Gospel lesson today is that Taking the not so easy way means (rebuking) our enemies. In our Baptism liturgy, we are asked to promise again and again that we will spend our days renouncing the devil, renouncing the works of the devil, and renouncing the ways of the devil. In our Gospel lesson today, we see Jesus taking Peter aside in loving and stern fashion and correcting him. Pointing out to Peter that he had fallen for a lie, that he was setting his mind on the things of man instead of God. Walk through our Lutheran School any day of the week, and you will see teachers taking aside students in loving and firm fashion correcting them. Pointing out to them that they have fallen short, leading them to apologize, reassuring them that Jesus did everything He needed to do for them so that their sins could be forgiven.
Taking the not so easy way of life means speaking the truth to one another in love. It means recognizing and feeling the weight of our failures and faults. It means drowning the old sinful nature on a daily basis with contrition and repentance of sins. It means throwing ourselves on the mercy of God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. It means saying often to God and to one another, “I messed up. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Please forgive me. Please tell me again that Jesus loves me. Please, please, help me not to fall into the lies of Satan. Please, would you help me to do better?”
Doing better in life doesn’t just happen because we want to do better. It happens as we hear God’s Word, as we treasure that Word in our hearts, as we put into practice that Word, and as we patiently endure the various trials and troubles that God may send our way or that we may have brought on ourselves. Taking the not so easy way means (bearing) our assigned crosses. In a general sort of a way, the crosses we bear might include all of our suffering in life as Christians, whether self inflicted or not. In a specific way, Luther says that “your cross” is the misfortune and grief you experience because you hear the Word of God, and because you learn it, hold on to it. And put it into practice.”
Pastor Martin Noland wrote this about bearing the holy cross. As I read this quote, I invite you to think about how this applies to what we are doing in our Lutheran Church and School and how the enemies of the faith have always wanted to sabatoge what God is doing in this place. “It has everything to do with our enemies: the devil, all his angels, and the world. They are the ones who inflict every possible misfortune and grief upon us…the devil, all his angels, and the world are on attack only “where God’s Word is preached, accepted, and believed, and bears fruit…..the devil cannot bear to have anyone teach or believe rightly. It pains him beyond measure when his lies and abominations, honored under the most specious pretexts of God’s name, and are disclosed and exposed in all their shame, when he himself is driven out of a man’s hearts and a breach is made in his kingdom.
Taking the not so easy way in life means Thinking right and traveling (light). To think right is to regard our crosses correctly. It is to know that everything God assigns to His believing saints is of eternal value. That He works everything out for good for those who love him. That every one of our crosses will point us to heaven. They will render us humble before God. They will teach us implicit trust in divine grace. They will strengthen our faith. They will move us to prayer. They will turn our view from this present and perishable world to the eternal and perishable life to come. They will remind us again and again to travel light, that is to say to live as pilgrims and sojourners who spend our days standing up for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom instead of sitting around and just sort of wandering around aimlessly with no particular purpose in life.
Taking the not so easy way in life means Crying and (rejoicing) at the same time. At our faculty Bible study this past Tuesday, it was reported to us that the 24 year old son of one of our alumni had taken his own life. And again that a couple of our school alumni had gotten themselves into serious legal trouble. And again that one of our alumni and her family were suffering with yet another story of cancer and all that goes with it. We studied Colossians 2 for about a half an hour with tears in our collective eyes. Crying for the pain of it all and yet rejoicing because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope will never put us to shame. Knowing that that very day, we would be privileged to deliver into the lives of 150 children and their families the Good news that while we were still weak, at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. He died for those who messed up yesterday, who are messing up today, and who will mess up tomorrow. He died for those who are following Him at a distance and for those who are staying close. He died for those who have a habit of taking the path of least resistance in for those who are resisting the lies of the evil one in a strong way, by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Taking the not so easy way means understanding the principle of (Momentary) cost vs. eternal rewards. Humanly speaking, operating a Lutheran School is an expensive proposition. It requires dozens and even hundreds of families to give in a sacrificial and serious manner. But as often as we think correctly, we know that every dollar we spend on Christian education and every bit of sweat and blood and tears that we may put forward for the cause of Lutheran Schools pales in comparison to spending eternity face to face with Jesus alongside parents and grandparents, alongside of children and grandchildren, alongside of friends we know well and neighbors we’ve never met.
The Land of Lutheran Schools is that place where children learn every day that even though life can be very hard, it gets easier every time they come to Jesus with their tiredness, their troubles, and their trials. It’s that place where children go home at night and say to their parents at supper time, “hey, we need to pray before we eat.” It’s that place where teachers and pastors begin every day with an encouraging word and end it with a benediction from the Triune God. It’s that place where children learn the lifelong practice of saying again and again to God and to others, “I messed up again. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. And help me. Please help me to have clean hands. And a pure heart. In Jesus’ Name.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther