Monday of Lent III: Prayer for the Week
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
This prayer echoes a line from a famous hymn that is found in our hymnal. You may well know it: “O Christ, Our True and Only Light” (LSB #314). You might know it in another translation as “O Christ, Our Light, O Radiance True” (LW #314). The hymn was written by Johann Heermann, a prolific German Lutheran hymn writer of the century following Martin Luther. The hymn calls upon that true Light to shine on those estranged from God, who are lost in error’s maze and who sit in darkness. What is not so well known is that Heermann did not come up with the central idea of the hymn. He read it in a poem written by someone else. He did not know the author of the poem. It was an Austrian Jesuit named Peter Brillmacher who had lived decades before Heermann and had been on the front line of the Roman
Catholic response to the Lutheran movement in southern Germany.
When Brillmacher wrote those words, he thought the Lutherans were the folks who had been estranged from God and were lost in error’s maze! Heerman heard these words and thought of other people. We find this hymn in the “Missions” section of our hymnals. But this prayer, if it is to be prayed needs to start with us. This third week of Lent calls for the humble penitential attitude which adheres to true Christianity. We all have been enlightened by that true Light because we needed it. We have done our fair share of wandering in error’s maze and have sat destitute and helpless in utter darkness. This is a prayer about us before it can ever be a prayer about someone else. Pray this prayer for yourself and then pray it for someone else too.
Tuesday of Lent III: Exodus 17:1-7
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
Have you ever been thirsty, not just a little thirsty but dangerously dehydrated? I had a friend once who went with some friends hiking in the desert part of Texas in a national park. Trusting a map and the advice of a ranger, they expected to find water a certain point in the hike. But when they arrived they discovered no water. The ensuing couple of days were dangerous. They conserved and were blessed to encounter other hikers who shared, but my friend detailed just how painful and debilitating it can be to have no water in the desert. He nearly died.
The children of Israel see a present and clear danger to their lives, their families, and their whole community. They do not turn in trust to the God who has already rescued them from Pharaoh at the Red Sea or who is feeding them every morning at this point with Manna. They accuse Moses of being a bad leader and God of trying to kill them. But God does not react to their lack of faith. He sends Moses with a staff, not to punish them, but to strike a rock and bring forth the water they need.
We too are facing a clear and present danger to our own lives and our families and the communities in which we live. The Corona virus threatens us. Taking a step back from the situation could reveal that in fact there are many threats against our lives with which we live every day. Terrorists, cancer, heart disease, economic turmoil, and violence are just other tools of our foe to make us afraid and divert our trust from God.
The truth is better than the threat. The God who brought forth water from a rock to slake the thirst of Israel will bring you forth from a grave and dry every tear. COVID-19 cannot change that. In days of stress, when the world would threaten our very lives, it is easy for us as it was for them to react in fear and to lash out at those around us. God’s people are called to trust and to love one another. That may mean we distort our lives and forego our pleasures for the sake of one another.
Pray today that God sustains the hearty faith which he gave you.
Wednesday of Lent III: Psalm 95:1-9
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Did you sing the Matins service when you were a child? I grew up in a parsonage and we went to church a lot. I don’t regret that for a moment. When I was a child, on those non-Communion Sundays, we would often sing Matins and this Psalm is the basis for a part of that service, the canticle called “Venite.” That title is simply the first word of this song in Latin.
You might notice that the Psalm goes on a little bit after the Canticle in the order of Matins cuts off. Verses 8-11 were not in the Venite. These verses speak of God’s frustration with the people of Israel in the days of the Exodus when Moses led them. The language is strong. The psalmist enjoins us not to do what those people did.
In days of plague or war or disaster of some other sort, it would be easy to think that God is angry with us. Indeed, he does loathe sin and sinners. But while a virus distorts our life today, it should not distort the Bible too. God did loathe the grumbling and lack of trust by the people of Israel long ago, but he did not abandon them. He went with them into that desert and brought their faithful children to the Promised Land they had spurned.
It is a good thing that the Canticle has cut off those final verses of the Psalm. We too easily focus on the hard words we find there. The real message is in the first part of this psalm. We do have a reason to praise God. He is great and mighty. The whole of creation is in his hand. We come into his presence with thanksgiving and praise because the Lord our Maker is our God and we are the people of his hand. He cares for us. He loathed the rebellion, but he still cared. That did not change.
Do you know the canticle? Sing it at home today. If you don’t know the music, speak it as a prayer. Know that you are always welcome in the presence of God. You are the sheep of his hand and the people of his pasture.
Thursday of Lent III: Romans 5:1-8
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
There is so much in these words of Paul. We cannot possibly think about all of this in one sitting. Let’s focus on one part of this passage. Paul says that he rejoices in his suffering. I look around the world today and see so many people suffering, so many lives distorted, so many people’s livelihoods threatened by this disease, and so much anxiety. Suffering seems like a strange occasion for rejoicing. Is Paul just a little crazy here? I sometimes wonder if he were alive today, would we pack Paul off to a psychiatric unit somewhere. We medication for this sort of thing these days.
Paul is not crazy, but he has been changed by an encounter with Jesus which started on a road to Damascus. One of the many changes that Jesus has worked in his life is the way he looks at suffering. It is no longer wrath God being poured out on Paul. He has peace with God. He stands in that peace through faith. God is no longer angry with Paul or you. Nothing can take that joy from Paul, not even suffering. For suffering itself has been changed. As Paul says, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Through suffering, specifically the suffering of Jesus, God saved this world and all its ungodly people. Suffering has become something else and that includes my own suffering.
I don’t know what suffering will produce exactly in your life. Paul speaks of endurance, character, and a hope which is not put to shame. The devil may imagine that he has wrought some terror on the world through this virus. In one sense he has. But God is bigger than COVID-19 or our eternal foe. He will find a way to work in all things to the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28).
If you are suffering today, know that there are people praying for you and God is with you. Consider reading the words of Paul which he wrote at the end of chapter 8.
Friday of Lent III: John 4 – Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
(Alert: If you are reading this with small children, be aware that the story involves a woman’s sexual sins. You may need to edit appropriately.)
The Gospel reading for this week of Lent is the entire chapter of John 4. It is a passage which resists any editing or shortening. You may already know the story well but take a few moments to read it carefully. If you are doing this with someone, have someone be the narrator, someone be Jesus, someone be the woman, and someone else the disciples and the people from the city of Sychar.
This woman was coming out to the well at noon because she was avoiding the other women in town. This part of the world is hot. Women come to a well like this to get water first thing in the morning when it is cool. It is a social event when they chat and help each other. She was not interested in their company. They scorned her. She knew why. They were right. Her life was a moral train wreck. She has this strange encounter with Jesus in which she asks him for the living water he speaks about. She thinks it is just water, but he has something very different in mind. He wants to restore her life. If he is going to do that he will have to deal with her sexual sins, and they are many! She tries to deflect the conversation, but Jesus won’t let her. She finally leaves her jug and runs to town. She exclaims to the people she meets,
“He has told me everything I have ever done.”
I want you to think about that encounter for a moment. Imagine you are one of the people of Sychar and the town’s most infamous sexual sinner has just come up to you and said those words. What thoughts are running through your head at that moment? “Wait a minute, he told you everything you ever did!? We have all been spending the last several years imagining and talking about all the things you have been doing. I have to meet this guy!” It says the whole town came out. Is this the reason why?
The theme of this week is penitential humility. We often imagine that Jesus will use us in our best moments. We do the right thing and look over our shoulder hoping for God’s approval. But in this story Jesus sends the lowest person possible to be the evangelist of this town. It may well have been her worst moments which became the honey that attracted Sychar’s moralizing flies that Jesus might convert them.
This Corona virus has many of us feeling helpless and powerless before it. Are you trapped in your house or missing your friends? It may well be that your helplessness will become the very instrument of Christ’s great work.