We know we’re not perfect, but we try hard — in the end, won’t that be enough because God is so loving?
Are you kidding?
The hymns and lessons for this week aren’t for the soul that is pretty satisfied with its own virtue: “I’m not perfect, but I try hard.” This week’s hymns and lessons reach out to the soul who is deeply worried for itself and/or those it loves and worries about and prays for.
When I was back in seminary, I was told over and over that “The Word of God afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.” So if you’re pretty satisfied with how you and yours are doing spiritually, the hymns and lessons for this week aren’t going to have much to say to you. But if you have made some really bad decisions in your life, things that keep you awake nights filled with regret — or if you are really, really afraid that you might not see all of your children in heaven because of rotten life-choices they are making, then read on.
The Processional Hymn for the Second Sunday in Lent is “The God of Abraham Praise” (verses 1, 9-11). This hymn praises “The God of Abraham”, the God of love who calls into being what never before existed. My favorite verses are the last two: “Before the Savior’s face the ransomed nations bow o’erwhelmed at His amazing grace forever new. He shows His wounds of love; they kindle to a flame! And sound through all the worlds above The Paschal Lamb. // The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high. ‘Hail Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!’ they ever cry. Hail Abr’ham’s God and mine! I join the heav’nly lays: all might and majesty are thine and endless praise!” (To see the YouTube videos of this week’s hymns, just click on the title of this blog.)
The marvelous Prayer of the Day (as always) sums up the “theme of the day” when it prays, “O God, You see that of ourselves we have no strength. By Your mighty power defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” As you can see, this week’s worship service praises God and recognizes our radical dependence on Him for salvation.
The lessons for this week are Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-8, 13-17; and John 3:1-17. Genesis 12:1-9 tells the story of God’s call to Abraham that came when Abram (as he was known at the time) was 75 years old. God promised Abram a land, many descendants who would become a great nation, and that through that nation all the nations of the world would be blessed — which is a promise of the Messiah. Psalm 121 is the much beloved psalm about “I lift my eyes to the hills; from where will my help come?” This psalm sings a joyful song about “the protector of Israel who neither dozes nor sleeps.” This is the God who watches over you. Romans 4:1-8, 13-17 asks us to remember Abraham’s experience: God did not come to Abraham with these wonderful blessings because Abraham had ever done anything to deserve them. But when God told Abraham what He was going to do, Abraham believed Him. God’s promises were a free gift to Abraham from “the God who brings the dead to life and whose command brings into being what did not exist.” The Gospel for this week is the beloved John 3:1-17 — Nicodemus comes by night to see Jesus who tells him that one must be “born from above”in order to see the Kingdom of God. And how are you “born from above?” You are baptized.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, God attaches you forever to Christs death and resurrection. From the day of your baptism, Christ’s death took the penalty for your sins — forgiveness was yours; from the day of your baptism, Christ’s resurrection was the promise of your own. How can you be sure that forgiveness and eternal life are yours? It is something that depends on God keeping His promise, not on the strength of your faith. Can such good news even be true? Lutherans bet our souls that God can be trusted to keep His word. God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who trusts Him would have forgiveness of sin, life and salvation.
The Hymn of the Day is one Holy Trinity has learned only recently: “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” This hymn has become a Lutheran favorite because it echoes Martin Luther’s confident trust that we know we are saved because we are baptized! I have been claimed by God forever, He holds me in His hand — right next to the nail prints. I may not always be able to count on myself, but I can absolutely count on God. “God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ! He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price. Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any that brought me salvation free lasting to eternity! //There is nothing worth comparing to this life-long comfort sure! Open-eyed my grave is staring: even there I’ll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!”
Our Distribution Hymn is “Amazing Grace”,the wonderful hymn written by John Newton. Everyone knows the story of how this hymn was written: about John Newton’s misspent youth, the terrible storm at sea, and his years as a slave trader. But almost no one knows about the first seven years of his life, when his mother had him baptized, steeped him in the Bible stories, had him reading Latin at the age of four, and was sure that he would become a pastor when he grew up. But then she died when he was seven years old, and all of her trust in God seemed to have been misplaced as John Newton made one horrible choice after another. But, in fact, John Newton’s baptism was a bell calling him home. And parents of prodigals (like John’s mother) can find enormous solace in the assurance that God can still be trusted to keep his promises just as much as in the day of Abraham. Our baptism ties us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we had our children baptized, God claimed them as His own through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We may not see the end of their story, but God can be trusted to keep His Word.
The Recessional Hymn is “Blessed Be the God of Israel,”
which beautifully encapsulates the entire worship service: “Blessed be the God of Israel who comes to set us free and raises up new hope for us: a Branch from David’s tree. So have the prophets long declared that with a mighty arm God would turn back our enemies and all who wish us harm. // With promised mercy will God still the covenant recall, the oath once sworn to Abraham, from foes to save us all; that we might worship without fear and offer lives of praise, in holiness and righteousness to serve God all our days. // My child, as prophet of the Lord you will prepare the way, to tell God’s people they are saved from sin’s eternal sway. Then shall God’s mercy from on high shine forth and never cease to drive away the gloom on death and lead us into peace.”
Christ died to save us. Through our baptism, God has tied us to Christ’s saving act. We have done nothing to deserve this, but we bet our souls that God can be trusted to keep His promise. I don’t know about you, but I have a whole lot more trust that God can be counted on to keep His Word than I do in me.
I’ll see you in Church this Saturday night or Sunday morning.