Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Tag Archives: lent

Ash Wednesday 2017

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Why place ashes on our foreheads?  It’s an old, old Church tradition that carries with it an important symbolism.  By placing ashes on our foreheads, we enter a visible state of repentance, knowing what God said after the Fall into sin: “for your are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The ashes signify our complete inability to save ourselves, and our faith that the death of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought us the life we had lost.  Join us Wednesday, March 1st at 2 PM for the imposition of ashes.

The evening of March 1st, our regular schedule of Wednesday night Lenten Vespers begins with our service at 6:30.  We begin by looking back at that Garden where mankind fell, but always in light of the promise of One who would restore life in the fruit of his blood.

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What on Earth Is a “Gesima”?

The Season of the “Gesimas”

You’ll notice, looking ahead at the church calendar, that two strangely named Sundays are coming up in 2017: on February 12th, “Septuagesima,” and on February 19th, “Sexagesima.” The next Sunday, February 26th, although it is called “Baptism of Jesus,” is also known as “Quinquagesima.” What we affectionately call the “Gesimas” is actually the season of Pre-Lent, the bridge between Epiphany and Lent.

The names of the days refer to about how far away the Sunday is from the celebration of Easter; thus, Septuagesima, Latin for “seventy,” is about 70 days before Easter, Sexagesima (“sixty”) is about 60 days before, and Quinquagesima (“fifty”) is about 50 days before Easter. Lent, as you may know, spans the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Nils Jakob Laache describes this season in his devotional Book of Family Prayer: “This period of the Church Year is our ‘narthex,’ our entrance, into the season of Lent, a time for us to pause before we begin our pilgrimage to Calvary and the empty tomb…. Each of the three Sundays focuses on one of the three Sola’s of Lutheranism. The first week we will hear how we are saved by Grace Alone (Sola Gratia), the next week of Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), and finally we consider the importance of Baptism and how we are saved by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). With our eyes focused on how God works to save us, we are prepared to enter the penitential season of Lent” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, 162).

So now you know what to look for. On February 12th, Jesus tells the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), while in the Old Testament we hear of Jeremiah’s call, as one whom the Lord knew while he was still in the womb (Jer. 1:4-10), and St. Paul encourages his readers to run the race faithfully to receive the promised prize (1 Cor. 9:24-10:5). What does all this have to do with Sola Gratia?

On February 19th, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Luke 8:4-15), as Isaiah compares God’s Word to rain and snow (Is. 55:10-13), and St. Paul boasts of his weaknesses and the revelations and grace of God (2 Cor. 11:19-12:9). Additionally, this year, the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, we will commemorate on this day the death of Martin Luther (February 18th, 1546), remembering him as a great preacher of the Word. What does all this have to do with Sola Scriptura?

Lastly, on February 26th, we will hear the account of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), while St. Peter tells of the great benefits of Baptism and the picture of the faithful of God in the Flood (1 Pet. 3:18-22), and Isaiah prophesies of the Chosen Servant of the Lord (Is. 42:1-9). What does all this have to do with Sola Fide?

Continue looking ahead to this season, and to all the upcoming seasons and Sundays of the Church Year. This year, a year in which we look back on our history and our heritage, we follow the readings of the Historic Lectionary. Look ahead each week in the Hymnary on pages 202-203 to see what lessons are coming up. May
your devotions be enriched by God’s grace for you in his Word, inspiring faith in the Savior from sin.

-Pastor Michael G. Lilienthal

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Luther’s Rose

Feasting with God #49 – An Exceedingly Good Land

Feasting with God #49

“An Exceedingly Good Land”

Text: Numbers 14:6-11, 21-23

6And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy out, is an exceedingly good land.  8If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.  9Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  10Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.  But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.  11And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them…?  21But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.  And none of those who despised me shall see it.”

“Well, that was dumb.”  I remember thinking that when, as a student in Sunday School, I first learned about Israel’s wandering in the wilderness.  40 years of suffering and yearning and hungering could have been avoided, if only they had trusted in God.  They made a really dumb mistake.  Joshua and Caleb even tried pointing out how little they  had to worry about: “And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”  St. Paul repeats this concept in the New Testament: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Joshua and Caleb tried to tell the Israelites, “God has promised this land to us: with him on our side, we’ll eat our enemies alive!

But their message of hope was met with intense hostility: “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.”  Human nature was taking over.  Rather than trust God, believe his promises, and stop relying on themselves, these men preferred to fear, and, blinded by that fear, wanted escape.  They thought that Joshua and Caleb were leading them into certain death.

But it really was dumb.  As God himself said, “And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”  These people had seen the miracles Moses performed; they had witnessed the ten plagues firsthand; they had been given water from a rock and received miraculous quail and manna from heaven.  Nevertheless, even after all these things, they thought, “Sure, God did that, but he can’t do this.”  Because of their unbelief, they were cursed to wander through the wilderness for 40 years, while the rebellious generation died out and a new, believing generation rose up in their place.

Think again of Paul’s encouragement to rely on the Lord: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” and as proof, he goes on: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will ne not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).  Like the Israelites, we have witnessed the providence of God already: to them he gave deliverance, nourishment, grace; to us he gave his Son the Deliverer, the Nourishment of his Word and Sacraments, and the Grace of Salvation and Eternal Life.  For the Israelites, what they had already received should have assured them that they would receive what was promised.  For us, what we have already received should assure us of what is promised.

Israel’s 40-year sojourn through the wilderness is one inspiration for the season of Lent—a 40-day sojourn through repentance.  At the end of Israel’s journey, they came to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.  At the end of our Lenten journey, we come to Easter, the Resurrection, a time of joy for God’s eternal gifts overflowing from the empty tomb.  As Israel’s voyage brought about the death of the old, sinful generation and the rising of the new, faithful generation, our voyage of repentance puts to death the Old sinful Adam of our flesh and gives rise to the new man made in the image of Christ.  Lent should be a spiritual exercise in letting go of our selves and our doubts and our fears, placing our trust wholly into the arms of God.  Humble yourselves this season, and be like the father of the child with an unclean spirit, falling before Jesus and crying out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Our God is faithful to forgive and to give us promised salvation.

Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!  Keep us from being overcome with the weight of the world, and instead help us to cast all our cares on you, and be assured that you have borne all our burdens and will give us every good thing.  Lead us to daily repentance and sorrow over sin, so that daily we might receive your forgiveness, all on the basis of the passionate death of your dear Son, and his glorious resurrection from the dead.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #14 – When You Fast

Feasting with God #14

When You Fast

Text: Matthew 6:16-18

16[Jesus said,] “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Fasting, or giving up some or all food for a period of time, was a practice common among the Jews of the first century, intended as an exercise to focus one’s mind in prayer or spiritual discipline, or to punish oneself for sin.  However, the practice was often misused hypocritically.  Some would fast, but not to focus their minds or discipline their spirits; they fasted so that other people would notice and admire their spirituality.  In the text above, Jesus was pointing out this hypocrisy, showing how it really defeated the purpose.

Any spiritual practice—not just fasting, but praying, attending church, doing charity work, or anything you can think of—is not something that a person should do to gain admirers.  These spiritual practices are to be done because one feels the need to come closer to God.  That’s why Jesus emphasizes, “that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”  In the same vein, Jesus said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:3-4).  When we do good things as Christians, we don’t do them to impress others.  We do them because we truly, sincerely, want to do these things out of thankfulness for God.

In this season of Lent, fasting is a common practice.  Some people give up meat for these forty days, only eating the occasional fish.  Some people give up certain meals out of their day.  Among others, “giving up something for Lent” is a common practice, and they forego video games, T.V., internet, sugar, or any number of other things for the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Notice that Jesus does not say that fasting is a bad practice—in fact it seems that he assumes that his disciples will fast.  But if fasting is not done properly, one might as well not do it at all.

Think of the idea of “giving something up” for God.  Realize then what God gave up for you: he sent his only Son to live as a weak human being, to suffer the worst tortures, to die the death of the worst criminals.  Jesus suffered hell in our place, “giving up” the right to stand in God’s presence (as he said on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46]).  What can we give up that would be worth all that?

Fasting is a fine practice, if it is done correctly and sincerely.  Jesus explains what that looks like above: “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”  This is as much to say, “Take your regular shower in the morning, brush your teeth, wear your regular perfume or cologne, and dress as you normally would.”  Essentially: Don’t give any indication to anyone that you’re fasting.  The only ones who should know are you and God.  To bring the focus of your fasting on yourself, steals the concentration of others away from where it should really lie: on Jesus.  If we focus on what we do, we miss the point.  Rather we should focus on what Christ has done.

Christ fulfilled the law in our place, because we could do nothing to pay the great debt of sin we owed—not even fast.  And Christ died in our place, because we deserved the punishment of hell for all our sins which defiled God’s law.  And Christ rose from the dead for us, proving that all those payments have been made, and eternal life now awaits us, because death is destroyed.  Let what Jesus Christ has done for us be our focus this Lenten season, and always.

Dear Father, to you belongs all praise, honor, and glory forever.  May our deeds reflect your mercy and your glory.  Lord Jesus, from you have come all blessings, for you and you alone have kept the law.  May our lives now be lives that reflect what you have done, because of the great blessings we have received from you, although we deserved none.  Holy Spirit, through the Word and Sacraments you continually bring us the grace won by Jesus and the faith to believe it.  Let those gifts strengthen us in our new lives, so that we may praise our God and live in thankfulness to you.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.