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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 3/15/2015

Lent is a little more than half over right now. While a season of forty days plus Sundays really isn’t that long, it’s about now that we all might need something of a whack upside the head to remind us of what the season of Lent is all about, something to get our attention, to keep us from shifting to automatic pilot as we get closer to Holy Week and Easter. If that’s the case, if a wakeup call is needed, today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians kind of does it.

As a bit of an aside, Ephesians is one of the letters that scholars aren’t sure about regarding who actually wrote it. Some see it as authentic Paul, others because of some stylistic and thematic differences think it was not Paul but a follower and admirer of Paul. In my mind, it doesn’t really matter; whoever wrote it, it’s a voice worth paying attention to and whether it’s authentic Paul or not, certainly much of it is consistent with what Paul says in other letters; if it was someone else, they’re a pretty good interpreter of Paul.

Anyway, with this reading, it’s as if the lectionary is saying to us, “Just in case you’ve forgotten about what we did back on Ash Wednesday, let these verses remind you.” On Ash Wednesday we confessed our sins first using Psalm 51 and then in a more formal order of confession. We were also reminded of mortality and death with the imposition of ashes, “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” Well, with that in mind, look at the first verse of today’s reading. “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world,” and let’s hold it right there.

What that says is, welcome back to Lent! In case you wandered off, here’s a little reminder and it’s not exactly subtle. If we take this verse personally, if each of us hears it addressed directly to us, it means to acknowledge again all those things we said back on Ash Wednesday, things that we repeat pretty much every Sunday of the year when we say, “We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.” We admit that we are tempted by cultural and spiritual forces that we can’t control, forces that deceive us and keep us from being the people God would have us be.

In this letter, the human condition is described as a struggle between life and death, a struggle in which we often ignore our own best interests, being pulled in directions we know we shouldn’t go, doing that which we know we shouldn’t do, perhaps winding up with what we want or what we think we want anyway, but not what we need as we follow “the course of this world.” We’re sometimes pretty good at convincing ourselves that the course of this world isn’t really that bad, but an honest, Lenten look in the mirror says otherwise.

If we go back to our Ash Wednesday confession we again realize that we have not loved God with our whole heart, mind and strength; things other than God frequently take priority. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Instead our actions can be selfish as we put on blinders that keep us from seeing the needs of others, convincing us that it’s not our problem, we’ve got enough to do taking care of ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven. That’s sometimes the hardest one of all as we find fault and hang on to grudges; maybe God can forgive them, but I can’t, an attitude that punishes the one who fails to forgive as much or more than it does the one not forgiven.

I could go on; pride, envy, hypocrisy and apathy do infect our lives; we are negligent in prayer and worship; our thoughts can be uncharitable and prejudiced; we don’t always care very well for creation. All in all, with an honest confession we find out things about ourselves that we don’t like very much. That’s why, by about this time during Lent, we just as soon not think about it so we don’t; it’s too depressing. It would be depressing if that were the last word, but of course it’s not.

Reading on we get to verse 4, “But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ; by grace you have been saved.” It goes on to say, “And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not the result of works.” That moves us nicely into familiar and classic Lutheran theology which says that knowledge of sin and our helplessness against its temptations, instead of driving us to despair, moves us into the arms of God’s grace.

That should prompt something of a sigh of relief and thanksgiving, which is good, unless it leads to, if it’s all about grace, what’s the point of Lent anyway? If it’s all about grace, it doesn’t matter that we’ve lost our Lenten focus. We can just relax by the side of the pool, trusting in God’s grace and forgiveness, looking forward to the joy of Easter.

That’s Lutheran theology at its worst and if we keep reading in Ephesians we should realize that. Following words about grace as a gift of God, grace having nothing to do with works, we read, “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.” Created in Christ Jesus for good works; is that a contradiction of what was just said? Not at all; what it is, for Paul and those who followed him, including the author of Ephesians if in fact Paul didn’t write it, including Martin Luther, what it is, is the logical extension of the gift of grace.

The way Paul unpacks things in his letters is to say that we had been Adam-image people with Adam understood as the first man, disobedient Adam who would follow the course of this world and lead the rest of us on behind him. Paul though understands Jesus to be the new creation, the new Adam, Jesus who renews and restores human nature, making it again what it was supposed to be in the first place. So now, instead of Adam-image people we are Messiah-image people, Christ-image people, people who reflect the image of Jesus, the one who is himself the image of God. For Paul, Jesus reflects what it is to be genuinely human and our calling then is to reflect that genuinely human Christ-image out into the world.

If you want a Lenten wake up call, or even if you don’t, there it is, the call to reflect the image of Jesus into the world. Another way to think about the look in the mirror prompted by our Ash Wednesday confession is to use it to ask how we are doing in that call. Do we continue to be Adam-image people or are we moving toward being Christ-image people?

This Adam-image vs. Christ-image thing is something I read about last week in the study of Paul that I’ve taken on this year and I found it to be a very humbling way to think about myself; me, or you, being the image of Christ who is the image of the invisible God? Think about that; each of us the image of Christ who is the image of God. That might be more than I can stand. It makes me want to crawl off into a corner somewhere. It’s humbling because I know I often reflect Adam and the course of this world more than I reflect Christ; it’s another revelation of things I don’t like about myself. Being a good Lutheran though, as it should, that realization leads me back towards being grateful for God’s grace but with that can come another Lenten temptation.

As we recognize things about ourselves that we don’t like very much, it’s easy to conclude and be resigned to the fact that, like it or not, that’s just who I am. I can’t love God like I should; I can’t love my neighbor the way Jesus says I should; I can’t forgive like Jesus. All of which is true, but despite our imperfections the call to reflect the image of Christ remains. We can’t do it perfectly and never will but that doesn’t let us off the hook. What our faith tells us is that we’re not alone. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and with that, our imperfect efforts make a difference. Our actions in the present are glimpses of the Kingdom of God that will be fully revealed in the future, and that too is another good Lenten reminder.

Lent has a ways to go so stay focused. Think about what it means for you to be someone who reflects the image of Christ into the world.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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