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04.12.15 Why We Need Church John 20:19-31 Sermon Summary

The Gospel of John was written so long after the events, and is itself so lengthy, that we shouldn’t be surprised to find contrary teachings within it. What it means to see and believe provides one example.

Summary Points

  • Where Jesus taught to see and believe
  • Where Jesus taught to believe without seeing
  • Where we “see” Jesus today
  • Why the Church and the Table are necessary for faith

In John 6 Jesus teaches how important it is to both see and believe. He has just fed 5000 people beginning with five loaves and two fish. After he and the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee the crowd follows them, and Jesus challenges their motives. He invites them to work for “bread that lasts, for bread from heaven.” He goes to teach that he himself is that bread. He admonishes them for seeing—first the feeding of the multitude and then him—but not believing that he is the chosen sent one. Finally, he warns them that he will not always with them; he will ascend at some point and be out of sight.

This sets the stage for the dialogue with Thomas in John 20. There we have Thomas who simply wants what the other disciples received. The night of his resurrection, John says, Jesus proclaimed peace and showed them his hands and side. Only after the showing do they rejoice in having seen him. Thomas wasn’t there and refuses to believe. Fortuitously, Jesus shows up a week later in the same manner, and this time Thomas is present.

Thomas isn’t much different from the other disciples. The morning of that first week they had heard from Mary Magdalene that she had seen the Lord, and yet that evening they are hiding in a room with the doors locked. Even when Jesus appears to them, it’s only after he shows them his wounds that they see him, and still a week later they are in the same locked room.

Even though Thomas isn’t much different from the other disciples—and not so different from us—his example is the key that unlocks what it means to “see” Jesus today. For Jesus, in contrast to what he tells the crowd in John 6, says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet have come to believe.” How can Jesus require sight and belief in one passage, and bless those who do not see in another passage, unless seeing means something other than seeing?

We all know it’s possible to believe without seeing. When believe the medical doctors who blame bacteria, which we can’t see, for our sickness because we see the effects of the bacteria. Likewise, when the pharmacist gives us the antibiotic, which we can’t see, we believe we are getting better because we see the effects of the drug.

Likewise, in the day of John’s first readers, some sixty years after the resurrection, and in our own day, we don’t see Jesus, but we can see evidence of Jesus’ presence in the church. What does this evidence look like?

According to the lectionary passage from First John, part of that evidence is the encouragement we find together through dark times. This light shining in darkness shows itself when we pray for one another, when we share thoughtful kindnesses to one another, and when we remind one another through the testimony of God’s work in our own lives. Evidence of Jesus’ presence also shows itself when we offer forgiveness and mutual forbearance to one another. And from the Acts passage we learn that evidence of Jesus’ presence in the church includes our generosity and care for the needy among us.

These were the characteristics of the first Christian community according to these passages. They “shared all things in common” such that there was “not a needy person among them.” And they testified to what they had “seen, heard, and touched” concerning the “Word of life,” that is, the presence of the Resurrected Christ, the ongoing light shining in the darkness, and the forgiveness of sins.

This is how we “see” Jesus today, through the evidence of his presence in the church. These evidences remind us of the light of Jesus’ resurrection in darkness of death—now we can encourage others. They remind us of the forgiveness of sins, ours and others—so we can forgive. They remind us that all things belong to God—so we can be generous.

But what about John 6 and 20? Is there a way to reconcile Jesus’ teaching about seeing, believing, not seeing, and the blessedness of believing anyway?

The key, I think, is in the Lord’s Supper. John 6 is ostensibly about the feeding of the multitude, but most theologians recognize that it is John’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper. John doesn’t have a Lord’s Supper scene—he replaces it with the foot washing scene. But taken together, John 6 and John 20 give us John’s theology of the Lord’s Supper. At the Table Jesus invites us to touch his wounds—his body and blood given for us—just as he invited Thomas. We “see, hear, and touch” the Word of Life—not in the Incarnation, and not just in our memories or thoughts—but in the shared bread and cup.

All this happens at the Table. All this happens when we are in church. It happens as we ARE church. And this is why we need the church and the Table. We may not see Christ, but we see the evidence of his presence together, and that causes us to believe. And what is more, Jesus taught that as Father sent him, so he sends us. As the church, we are meant to evidence Christ’s presence—to bear light, model forgiveness, and share—that others, too, may see by not seeing, and be blessed through believing.

04.05.15 The One Word that Matters John 20.1-18 Sermon Summary

Understanding the Scriptures is hard, but we make it so much harder by not knowing the one word that matters most.

Summary Points

  • Five words that matter a lot
  • The one word that matters most
  • That our greatest objections to the one word actually hold the greatest potential

If you polled theologians, pastors, and people in the church, asking “Which word of Scripture matters most,” you’d likely get a list that includes the following.

“Love,” for after all, the Scriptures say that God is love. Plus the most famous verse of Scripture says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”

But some will say that you can’t understand God’s love until you understand sin. Sin keeps us from receiving God’s love. It refers at once to our human weakness and frailty, and our self-centered decisions, and our rejection of God in our lives. So “sin” is the word that matters most.

But what about grace, referring to God’s persistent pursuit of our redemption? Grace describes God’s coming to us even before we ask him. Grace refers to God’s remaining with us through our rebellion. Surely “grace” is the word that matters more than even our sin.

Others will say that “faith” is the word, that ever evolving relationship between us and God. Faith makes it possible for us to believe things to be true despite evidence to the contrary. Faith is trusting God even when don’t understand. Faith is hoping God’s vision will come to pass when we can’t see it for ourselves. Faith is being patient even through times of doubt. Faith must be the word that matters most.

Others will point out that the Scriptures refer to Jesus as God’s Word incarnate. Paul says that all of God’s promises find fulfilment in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20) So “Jesus” or “Christ” must be the word that matters most in all of Scripture.

The truth is that all these words are important. They are all inter-related—whichever one you begin with it will lead you to the others. But the importance of these words depend on the one word that each of us has the capacity to hear. This is the word that we are programmed to hear, that we were created to hear, the one word that, when spoken, fulfills our lives. This is the word that, once we hear it, we listen for more words—words like love and sin, grace and faith and Jesus. This is the word that is spoken in love, despite our sin, out of God’s grace, regardless of our faith—the word spoken by Jesus.

Jesus told Mary Magdalene to tell his disciples that he was ascending to, “My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” This points us in the direction of the one word that matters most, for God is pleased, like a Father, like a Mother, to utter the one word, the word first uttered by our father, by our mother. In John 20 the one word is “Mary.” The one word that matters most is our name—your name.

Contained in this one word is the mystery of God’s having every hair on your head numbered, the mystery of Jesus’ going ahead to prepare a room for you in his Father’s house. In this one word is the mystery of the Spirit’s answering your prayers before you utter them.

Here is the mystery of Jesus’ knocking at the door of your life, waiting to be let in to dine with you as with he did with Zacchaeus the Tax Collector, Simon the Leper, Martha the Anxious, and You, whatever you are.

“I can’t believe God is speaking my name,” you might say. We’ve come to understanding ourselves as just a number, a statistic, a cog in the machine, a role we have to play, essentially expendable. The media gives us a steady stream of massacres, of scores of souls lost in catastrophes and hundreds killed in disasters. We witness entire nations dying of starvation or disease. So how can I believe God speaks my name?

Jesus spoke Mary’s name in the location of her greatest disappointment, in the darkness of her deepest grief, in the whirlwind of her most profound confusion. In such places Jesus speaks your name, too.

When we do hear it, our name, the one word that matters, it is important to remember what else Jesus said to Mary: “Do not hold me, for I have not ascended to the Father.” Jesus is always calling us to a deeper faith, to new ventures, to follow his ascent to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God.

Throughout our lives of faith we will find ourselves returning to the tomb, where we think God is dead, where we believe God is no longer talking to us. We will find there what meets our expectations—just a gardener. But then we will hear our name, and realize Jesus is inviting to ascend to another level of faith.

All this, when we come back, like Mary did, on the first day of the weak, even when it is still dark, looking for Jesus, and listening for the one word that matters.

04.02.15 Maundy Thursday Meditation Summary John 13:1-17, 34-35

Jesus wants so much to love us, but there are two things in the way. One we can do nothing about, and one we can.

The most famous verse in the Bible says that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” It’s popular to say that “Jesus was born to die,” especially in Lenten devotionals. “Really” I have to ask. Is this more true of Jesus than of any creature? “Well,” some might respond, “The point of Jesus’ life, his purpose, was to die on the Cross.”

I understand the impulse of this thinking comes from the truth of the first thing that makes it hard for God to love us—the reality of sin. Sin describes the fact that we don’t measure up, that we are weak, that sometimes we deliberately rebel against God. The Bible also describes sin as a force, a power too great for us to overcome.

If sin is an obstacle to God’s love, we are hopeless unless God finds a way around it. When conceived as a sacrifice for sin, Jesus’ death—given its singularity—provides God’s way around sin. In this way, Jesus’ death has assured the church of God’s love for centuries, beginning as far back as the New Testament Scriptures themselves, for example, Romans 5:8 which says, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

Jesus’ death cleanses us from sin. It removes the first obstacle to God’s love, the one over which we have no control. And baptism reminds us of this. In baptism we find the cleansing of sin and the dying of the old self with Jesus.

But if sin was the only obstacle, Jesus’ death alone would have been sufficient. But he didn’t just die. He was also resurrected, and more, he lives on to this day. He was not born just to die—just to remove sin. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need his teaching, and we wouldn’t need his resurrection. But Jesus did teach, and lives even now, to help us overcome the second thing that makes it hard for God to love us, which is our pride.

When Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and makes his way to Peter, Peter says, “You will never wash my feet.” The Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Then Peter wants to go back to sin and cleansing—“Then wash not only my feet, but my hands as well—and also my head!” Jesus says that isn’t necessary, that Peter is already clean, that only his feet need to be washed.

A venerable interpretation of this scene teaches that the reason the feet alone have to be washed is because they are the part of our body—our lives—which has continual contact with the earth. Our feet keep us grounded in worldly concerns. “The problem is pride,” Jesus is saying. “Let me help you with it.”

All this occurs during a meal. The Gospel of John is famous for replacing the Lord’s Supper, which we find in the other Gospels, with the foot washing episode. Maybe his point is this. Jesus died to save us from our sins; but lives to save us from our pride. And Jesus does that by serving us, but serving us still at this Table.

Two things make it difficult for God to love us—one we have no control over, namely sin. And God has taken it away. The other we have some control over—and that is our pride. Pride decreases when we let Jesus serve us. It decreases further when we turn around and serve others.

“As I have loved you, so should you love one another” Jesus said. Later in the Bible it says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (1 John 3:1) May we put aside our pride and receive the love of God through Jesus’ service at his Table, and may we share that love by serving others in Jesus’ name. Amen.

03.29.15 This is the Big Sunday Mark 14:1-11 Sermon Summary

By the numbers, next Sunday is the “big Sunday.” But if we celebrate Easter without Palm/Passion Sunday, we’ll never understand the Kingdom of God, or what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This is the big Sunday.

Summary Points

  • When Kingdoms collide
  • A source of our religious anger and judgmental attitudes
  • The call to faithful generosity
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

By Wednesday night, things were pretty tense among the Twelve. The joyful entry of Jesus on the donkey on Sunday seemed a distant memory. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem from the East, contrasting Pilate’s from the West, dramatically depicted that the Kingdom of God is much different than the Kingdom of Rome.

But Monday and Tuesday were pretty rough, too. Jesus had picked fights with the religious authorities, and like a prophet from old, he challenged the priests. Apparently the Kingdom of God is also different from the Kingdom of Religion.

When the Kingdom of God challenges both the Kingdoms of Rome and Religion, disciples get anxious.

Now they are at the home of Simon the Leper, and the Twelve were thoroughly confused. Jesus is really popular among the people, those disenfranchised by the political and religious elite. He’s so popular that the chief priests and scribes are now looking for a sneaky way to arrest him. And that’s the problem—Jesus is equally unpopular with the powerful.

When the Kingdom of God becomes confusing, when it challenges Rome and Religion, criticizes Barak Obama and Franklin Graham, we are challenged to choose which kingdom we are a part of. We can become angry and judgmental. And in our confusion, anger, and judgment, we don’t recognize true faith.

In walks this woman with the expensive ointment. She anoints Jesus, which triggers a reaction. Her anointing calls together traditional Old Testament anointing of kings, priests, and prophets. It surfaces all the anxiety about Jesus and the Kingdom conflicts he represents. And the Twelve get angry and judgmental.

According to salary.com, a year’s wages for a laborer, the purported value of this woman’s anointing, is $29,400. That’s an extravagant gift. The Twelve scold the woman, for the money “should have been given to the poor.”

I find this passage very challenging. First, it challenges me to be an extravagant giver—if not to the church as the body of Christ, then at least to the poor. Second, it challenges me to wonder why I don’t give extravagantly. I am haunted and inspired by this line from the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: “Giving generously reprioritizes lives and helps people distinguish what is lasting, eternal, and of infinite value from what is temporary, illusory, and untrustworthy.” (p. 114) This passage asks me, Why am I not an extravagant giver?

Sometimes we find it easy to be extravagant. When I attend weddings I often wonder, Who received more money: The rehearsal dinner restaurant, the reception hall, or the church? I am confronted by these questions during memorial services also. They make me think about my priorities.

The Twelve at that table were being challenged about their priorities and their allegiance. They saw an anointing, as for a king, priest, or prophet, but this one was for a burial. Even though Jesus had spoken a lot about his coming death and resurrection, they had refused to hear.

But not this woman. She had listened and heard. She understood his lessons about dying in order to live. She also understood the nature of God’s grace. She gave like a child does—generously, always assuming there is more. Jesus commends her for making an extravagant gift when she could. And her act of faithful generosity would accompany him through his betrayal and torture.

This week we remember God’s extravagant gift to us in Christ. May it inspire us as it did this woman, not only to receive, but to be extravagant in our giving as well.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • In what ways do you see the Kingdom of God as represented by Jesus in conflict with the Kingdoms of “Rome” and “Religion” in your life?
  • The woman gave a “real” gift to Christ, not just money. In what ways do you give real gifts to Christ, either to the church as the Body of Christ, or to the poor (see Matthew 25:31ff)?
  • What makes you religiously angry or judgmental? To what degree do these feelings arise because your allegiance is divided among the Kingdoms?

03.15.15 The Grace that Saves Us Ephesians 2:1-10 Sermon Summary

It’s probably a good thing no one asks me, “When were you saved?” The reason is because I no longer have an answer.

I used to be able to tell you when I was saved. It was in November of 1985 at a youth camp where a short plug of a man from Anchorage shared the gospel. Then it was in February 1996 when a classmate preached a sermon in seminary chapel. Then it was June 1997 when I entered the sacramental covenant of marriage. Then it was March 2005 when I became a father. Most recently it was this past weekend.

If you want to schedule salvation, you first have to quantify grace, because salvation and grace are related.

Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. Of many famous passages, the first ten verses of chapter two are perhaps the most well-known. Ephesians 2:1-10 summarizes Paul’s understanding of salvation by grace. It offers us three perspectives on grace.

First, grace is the surprising discovery of undeserved mercy. While in the Wilderness on the way to the Land of Promise, the ancient Israelites complained. They didn’t like the food, they wanted more water, and they even began to feel nostalgia for their slave days in Egypt. God finally got fed up with it, and infested their camps with poisonous snakes. They deserved it, I suppose.

Grace came in when God told Moses to make a snake statue. Anyone who looked at the statue after being bitten would be healed and live.

When you have an experience of God’s undeserved mercy, it reorients your life. It causes a conversion. You feel enlightened, have a change of heart and mind, and embark on a new path. When you have a surprising discovery of God’s undeserved mercy, you repent.

That’s what happened to me in November 1985 at camp. And the Ephesians had that same experience. “We all once lived among those who are still disobedient,” the author reminds them. “We were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” But grace intervened and changed all that. And the primary response to such a deliverance is gratitude.

Second, grace is the realization of the divine love that precedes divine judgment. Jesus used the snake statue episode as an analogy of the saving grace that he would bring: “As Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so also the Son of Man must be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life.” The difference between the two is that in Jesus, God wasn’t simply rescuing us from judgment. God was expressing his love: “For God so loved the world,” Jesus goes on to say, “that he sent his only son.”

Ephesians describes it this way: “Out of the great love with which God loves us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, God raised up with Christ.” Unlike the ancient Israelites who first cried out for mercy, what transforms our lives is not our repentance, but rather God’s love which precedes it.

That’s what I experienced in February 1996. In what I still consider the darkest time in my life, a seminary classmate proclaimed a message of God’s prevenient grace. And I realize that despite all the confusion and stupid decisions, I was still a beloved child of God. The primary response to realizing that God’s love precedes judgment is that we have a new identity.

Finally, grace is the manifestation of our gratitude and our new identity in works of love. Ephesians concludes with this charge: “We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” When we are grateful for God’s undeserved mercy, and view ourselves through God’s love, we begin looking for and responding to opportunities to express our thanks and live out this new identity.

This past Saturday I had plans. We went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We were going to see a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Between these I was going to take a walk, take a nap, and do some work on this sermon. But then I got an email from a woman asking me to visit her mother who was “in her last hours.”

On the way, I prayed for grace to overcome my disappointment and resentment. I prayed that God’s grace would cause Christ to increase and me to decrease, to quote John the Baptist. God answered those prayers by the time I was bedside reading scripture, singing hymns, offering an assurance of pardon, and praying with this dying woman and her grieving daughter.

Grateful for what grace has done in my own life, and because by grace I am a beloved child of God, I set my own plans aside and served this family. And I discovered grace yet again.

Lent is a time when the church invites us to experience the kind of grace described by Ephesians. We can experience it through repentance, as we allow the Spirit to search and convict us of sin. We can experience it through our identity, as we remember that baptism unites us to Christ. And we can experience it through works of love, when we participate in the ongoing ministry of Christ.

During Lent we set aside time for the experience of grace, for the experience of salvation. But through the years I’ve discovered that I can’t tell you when I was saved, because to schedule salvation, you have to quantify grace. And grace by definition can’t be quantified. Ephesians says that it will take, “ages to come for God to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace, in kindness towards us, in Christ.”

Grace can’t be quantified. Salvation can’t be scheduled. It can only be received—one day at a time. May we receive God’s grace today.

03.08.15 Laws and Love John 2:13-22 Sermon Summary

Some of us are looking for signs. Some of us are looking for wisdom. The New Testament reminds us that everything we need is found in Jesus Christ.

Summary Points

  • Observing religion versus loving God
  • Jesus’ exemplification of being spiritual and religious
  • The Temple versus the household of faith
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

Imagine the scene. There were Jewish pilgrims, up to 100K, descending on Jerusalem for Passover. It was high season for the Temple, and good for all the hospitality businesses. People came making sacrifice and praying. It took weeks of preparation. They had to gather as many priests as were available, bring in animals for sacrifices, and the bankers had to provide money-changers.

There were many political and religious tensions forty-six years in the making, for the scene was the second temple of Herod the Great, a man appointed by Rome to be King of the Jews, but who took on the task of rebuilding and expanding the Temple to a scale never before seen.

Forty-six years is a long time. Forty-six years of religious hope, of waiting for deliverance, of sacrifices and prayers. Forty-six years in a row of waiting for next year in Jerusalem. Forty-six years of trying to keep the faith. Maybe you have spent forty-six years, or longer, trying to make religion work. . .

What the Temple cleansing in John teaches us is to not confuse religion with relationship.

The law required Passover. It included sacrifices, and required purity. That means that animal venders and money-changers were necessary. As Jesus watched, people’s devotion was marginalized by religiosity. They came to pray, to make sacrifice, and to remember Passover, but they were distracted by commerce. To get a sense of what he felt, just think back to Christmas. . .

Where there was supposed to be temple, Jesus saw a marketplace. Religion is supposed to be personal; it is supposed to be relational. The “spiritual but not religious” crowd gets this. But Jesus was both: he was spiritual and religious. It can be done; Jesus shows us how.

He refers to the Temple as “his Father’s house”: “Stop making my Father’s house into a marketplace.” To Jesus, the faithful gather in a house, we are family; we are siblings of the same parentage. Jesus invites us to the household of faith, not just to the Temple. The Temple is church attendance; the household is worship. The Temple is only law-keeping; the household is love for one another. The Temple is religion only; the household is relationship.

Lent is traditionally observed with fasting, alms-giving, and prayer. I am fasting lunch—spending the time praying and donating the saved money to a charitable cause. But this week I broke my fast to eat lunch with my children. This is in the spirit of Jesus, who invites us not just to the observance of laws, but also to love. He said the greatest law is love. Relationships trump religiosity—it is better to have lunch with one’s children than to fast.

If our religion doesn’t love, it isn’t Christian. It might be lawful. It might even be scriptural. But if it isn’t loving, it’s a Temple in need of cleansing.

If you’ve spent your whole life building a Temple, Jesus is inviting you to his Father’s house. If you’ve depended on religion and religious observance for your salvation, Jesus invites you to relationship. The Christian life is one of laws and love, religion and spirituality.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • In what ways has your Christian life been more characterized by Temple religion than household worship?
  • In what ways have you been “building a Temple” in your religious life instead of being part of a household of faith? What do you need to do to dismantle the Temple?
  • Is your Christianity more about observing laws, or showing love to others? How can you bring balance or perspective to the relationship between laws and love?

03.01.15 Hope During Suffering Romans 4:13-25 Sermon Summary

God has made a promise, and we have been given a choice. And how we choose, makes all the difference in whether or not we will experience salvation in this life.

Lent.2

Summary Points

  • Why we assume the presence of suffering means the presence of sin
  • Ways we try to answer the question of suffering
  • The answer according to Paul
  • How Lent can give us hope during suffering

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why is this happening to me?” . . . “What have I done to deserve this?” It’s a human impulse to attribute suffering to some sin. Job’s friends spent 34 chapters trying to convince him of this. And there’s some biblical logic to it.

In Romans 1-3 Paul states that everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, has the law, whether on tablets or on conscience. And in Romans 4 he writes, “Where there is no law, neither is there violation”—in other words, we all know we break the law. He also says, “The law brings wrath”—meaning we all know we’re deserving of judgment. The final step is that we equate suffering with judgment.

We have various responses the idea that our suffering is the result of some sin. One natural response is to begin searching for the sin. After we do this for a while we figure it’s a lost cause, which leads to we’re a lost cause, which leads to religion and God being lost causes also. A third response is that we try to avoid further suffering by doing better living up to the law next time.

We’re trying to answer our experience of suffering. We’re trying to justify our existence. And if not by naming sin and repentance—which is John the Baptist’s answer—then by adherence to the law—which is the Pharisees’ answer. And if by neither of those, then by our personal achievement or comparison with others—which is really just John and the Pharisees in secular clothing.

Paul offers a different answer. He wrote Romans in part to reunite Jews and Gentiles in the church. So he draws on shared experiences—like the judgment of the law. And he uses an analogy applicable to Jews and Gentiles—the paternity of Abraham, who was promised to become, “The father of many nations”—note, it is plural.

All this sets up Paul’s main point, which is that before Abraham had the law, he had faith. Abram and Sarai were already old when the promise came—too old to have children, and too barren. As a childless couple, they suffered, and they must have despaired over their existence. They had no hope of justification.

Then God’s promise came—progeny too numerous to count. And always with a promise comes a choice—believe it, or not. “Abraham believed, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” Paul quotes.

What did Abraham believe? He believed that God would be faithful to his promise, despite age, barrenness, decades of disappointment, social stigma, and hearing how “impossible” it was. He believed that all their suffering did not ultimately jeopardize their existence. He believed that only God, not anything he and Sarah could or couldn’t do, justified his life. He believed in “the presence of the God who gives life to the dead, and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Indeed they would have a child.

It’s hard to believe God’s promises, especially in the midst of suffering. We still want to blame it on sin. We still want to overcome it ourselves. This maintains our sense of control. Just ask Peter.

Jesus has predicted his own suffering and promised his justification by rising on the third day. Peter couldn’t believe it. Maybe it was the immensity of the suffering, or overconfidence in his own abilities, but Peter didn’t share the faith of Abraham. Some of us find it hard to believe for the same reasons.

But suffering and our various responses to it doesn’t have to lead us to sin or distance us from God. Lent is a time to acknowledge our suffering. This is why we “give something up.” It’s a way of reminding ourselves of Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

Lent is also a time to recognize that much of our suffering results because we are trying to justify ourselves. We suffer by trying to live up to the law. We suffer by proving our worth another way. But we can’t justify ourselves. We’ll always fall short of the attempt to make our existence meaningful. This is why, “Jesus was handed over to death for our trespasses.” Our attempts to justify ourselves have to be denied, must take up the cross, and instead follow Jesus.

Lent is also at time to remember God’s answer to suffering, to remember that Jesus’ suffering was followed by resurrection. A time to remember that, “Christ was raised for our justification.” Our lives are justified in Christ. The next chapter in Romans begins, “We have peace with God, and hope in our suffering.”

Lent invites us to share the faith of Abraham, and also the faith of Jesus, that our lives matter, are righteous, are justified, because of what God says about us in Christ—that we are God’s beloved and that with us God is well-pleased—and not because of anything else. The God of Abraham, the God of Jesus, is with us also.

God of Abraham and Sarah, you promised life beyond measure to them despite every appearance that it could be true. It took another 25 years after that initial promise for their child to be born. It seems so long to us sometimes, for us to see the fulfillment of your promises. We are often like Peter, for whom even three days was too long to wait. We pray this morning, that you will strengthen us in our hope and faith, as you did for Abraham, especially during Lent as we try to follow Jesus more closely, remembering his suffering death for our trespasses, and as we anticipate celebrating his resurrection for our justification. Grant us a share in the faith of Abraham and Sarah, that we may experience the abundance of life in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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