The fourth week of Lent calls us to faith. English unfortunately lacks a verbal form of the word faith. In biblical languages it is possible “to faith” as a verb. Keep that in mind as you contemplate the readings for this week. Every time you read the word “believe,” the original language has the verb “to faith.” We often use the phrase “to have faith” as a substitute, but that is not accurate either. Faith is not something you possess; it is something you do. Think of it like breathing. Yes, you can have breath, but that simply means you breathe. It involves you, not a possession, not a thing you hold in an imagined hand. Faith is you, you “faith.”
Monday of Lent IV – the Prayer for the Week
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Sometimes the order in which something happens is important. I spent a few months in Italy and while there took a one-evening cooking class in which we learned how to make pizza the Italian way. The dough recipe requires a certain amount of time and planning. At one point, I am to combine the yeast and the flour together with the water and stir. And then I must wait. After the prescribed time has passed, I add salt. The salt retards the yeast. If I add it out of order or too soon, the dough won’t rise properly. I must do it in the proper order.
Notice the order of the things we ask God to do today. First that he would grant us to acknowledge his merciful goodness. Then, we give thanks for his benefits. It is only after he has given us the knowledge and the thankful hearts that we finally get around to serving God. If you skip the steps or imagine them out of order, it won’t work too well. Something goes awry.
The modifiers are also important in this progression. Read the prayer again and pay attention to how these things are described. The acknowledgment is heartily done. The thanksgiving is for all the benefits which God has given. The service rendered in a willing obedience. If we try to skip a step, the end result won’t be a willing obedience but a slavish or worldly sort of obedience. And so, the acknowledgment of God’s benefits needs to be a thing of the heart and then the thanksgiving needs to be for all the benefits.
In these days of anxiety and turmoil this becomes especially important. Take stock of the things God has done for you. Begin with the gift of Jesus, your Baptism, and the people of your life who care for you. Think about opportunities to be educated and work and grow. God has been very good to you. Thank him for all those gifts. The list should be long. It is then that the obedience will become a willing service.
Tuesday of Lent IV: Isaiah 42:14-21
14 For a long time I have held my peace;
I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor;
I will gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.
16 And I will lead the blind
in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
and I do not forsake them.
17 They are turned back and utterly put to shame,
who trust in carved idols,
who say to metal images,
“You are our gods.”
18 Hear, you deaf,
and look, you blind, that you may see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
or deaf as my messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as my dedicated one,
or blind as the servant of the LORD?
20 He sees many things, but does not observe them;
his ears are open, but he does not hear.
21 The LORD was pleased, for his righteousness' sake,
to magnify his law and make it glorious.
God has something to say and he will not be denied. Like a woman in labor he gasps and pants until it sees the light of day. I was privileged to be present at the birth of all three of my children. I remember my hand being crushed as my wife labored. Isaiah’s words speak of God’s great desire to say these things. Notice what he must say. He will lead the blind in a path they do not know. The light will shine for them. The rough places made smooth. The idolater will be the one put to shame. This is what God feels he has to say.
But look closely at the final verses of these words from Isaiah. The servant, the one who
accomplishes these things, is also blind. Is he talking about Jesus? Yes. Jesus did not skim the creation but dove into our humanity fully. As it says in Isaiah 53, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. In the strange mystery of God rescuing his rebellious creation, justice was made by greatest injustice and healing came through horrible wounding.
This demands our faith. We will not logic our way into this mystery of God. He tells the blind to look and the deaf to listen. Reason would switch those commands. The blind can listen and the deaf can see, but God works in strange ways. Often, we must simply rely upon his promise because that is all we have. Today, in a world that seems upside-down and backwards, as reasonable people might question everything, hear and trust the words at the end of verse 16 above: I do not forsake them. God has not and does not forsake you.
Wednesday of Lent IV: Psalm 142 A maskil of David, when he was in the cave
With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
3 When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
5 I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
7 Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.
The ascriptions which appear at the beginning of many Psalms are not part of the inspired text. They are ancient but we don’t know quite when they were added or by whom. They tell us that 73 of the 150 Psalms were written by David and 17 of them give us a context for the psalm. This is one of those 17. Whoever wrote the ascription wants us to read these words while having in mind the day that David hid in a cave. There are two times David was found in a cave. If you have the time, read those stories in I Samuel 22:1-5 and I Samuel 24. In both accounts, David is at the end of his rope. He is hiding. He is afraid.
Does that sound familiar to you? David begs God in verse 7 to lead him out of his prison. But he has self-isolated and is desperately trying to maintain a life-saving social distance from Saul. No one has thrown him in prison, but it feels like prison to him. Our health departments may have cut us off from the community which we knew in corporate worship, but this Psalm points us to another day. David looked forward to it, when the righteous would surround him.
Join David today in pouring out your complaint to God. Are you lonely, afraid, bored, or
something else? David brought it to God. You can too. Trust that God is big enough to listen to all that you feel, even if it is petty or small or if it seems like there is no solution. David felt that way too. He said a prayer in that cave.
Thursday of Lent IV: Ephesians 5:8-14
8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is
pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is
exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
If you have time, open up your bible and read the verses before and after this in Ephesians 5.
They bring great hope and blessing to us today.
These words before us speak of the great change that Christ has wrought in our lives. We were darkness and now we are light. Notice, it is not that we are “in” darkness and light, but we “were” darkness and “are” light. We are urged then to walk (live!) as children of light. That path has gotten more complicated in the past several weeks with the declaration of quarantines and social distancing. We must do some discerning about what is pleasing to the Lord. Who could have imagined a few weeks ago that it would be an act of Christian care for people to cancel worship services in thousands of churches? This is not easy, and it takes faith. Our world and sometimes the man or woman who stares back at us from the mirror seem very dark.
Paul quotes someone at the end of our reading. We have no idea who it is, but this quote is vitally important to this passage. It is not an Old Testament quotation, Paul’s usual but not only source for a quote. We think it might be a song which the people of Paul’s day were singing about Jesus. He shines on us and that is what makes us the light. The sleeper awakes. We rise from the death of our sins. But we are not shining with our own light. It is Christ who shines on us and illumines our lives. Look in the mirror, but don’t expect the light to come from inside that person. Expect, instead, that Christ is shining on you. Luther exhorts us daily to rise from the waters of our remembered baptism in which we have drown the old man and risen to a newness of life. You shine with the light of Christ.
Friday of Lent IV: John 9
As we experienced last week, this is a very long reading and it cannot be abbreviated. Open your Bible and read it slowly and carefully. Better, think of this as a play. It is written that way. If you have multiple folks in the house assign them parts. You will need a narrator, Jesus, the blind man, and someone to read the group parts, parents, neighbors, disciples, pharisees. They speak with one voice, but they are always a group of folks.
This whole chapter is written like a first century play. In fact, it is a form of a comedy. We are not used to laughing when we read our Bibles, but perhaps we should. John may have meant this to be funny. He uses one of the common comedic devices which you can see in modern TV sit coms today. You, as the reader, know more than the people in the story know. That makes it sort of funny. You know the man is the same blind man and you know who Jesus is. No one else in the story really gets that. I think people in the first century would have laughed at this story. But just because it is funny does not mean it is trivial. Some the sharpest and most significant words are using humor to make a point. Mark Twain was famous for doing this. Luther also firmly planted his tongue in his cheek when he said that 18 of the 12 apostles were buried in Germany. His humor was aimed at the abuses of medieval piety.
As you read this passage pay close attention to the words and actions of the blind man. Notice how he talks about Jesus throughout this story. In verse 10 he calls Jesus a man. In verse 17 he says Jesus is a prophet. In verse 33 he declares that Jesus is from God. In verse 38 he doesn’t say it with his mouth but with his knees. He falls upon his knees and worships Jesus. Pious Jews only worship God.
By the end of the story, only the blind man can see. Everyone else is in fact blind. Only the blind man has faith. The readings this week have all asked us to open our eyes, acknowledge the gifts of God, give thanks, and join this blind man in a willing obedience. We have been reminded of faith.
Like the Samaritan woman at the well, the Blind Man of this passage is an unlikely hero. You are experiencing a series of events which are unprecedented in modern times. What will come of it? We are blind to the future in many respects. But God has opened our eyes to some incontrovertible truths. Jesus cares for people. He has died for their sins and risen for their justification. As the blind man saw so clearly. He is not only from God, he is God. Trust him.