“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.”(Proverbs 16:31) Well, I’ve got an ample amount of gray hair, and I always hope that with that gray comes a bit of wisdom gained from the years. As to righteousness, the only part of that I claim is what has been granted me by the Lord’s sacrifice. I do, as you, stand in the righteousness of Jesus Christ before the Father because He has made the exchange of my sin for His righteousness. Any right actions beyond that are what the Spirit of Christ has been able to work in my, our, life. I believe gray hair is an advantage, except perhaps for the aches and pains that come with it. The things that once seemed important, now are far less so. The focus of life goes more to prayer for, and aid of, those who will follow us, and the time for us to enter the full joy of our Master grows ever shorter. I hope you appreciate your gray hairs as they come. Oh not for the age related nuisances that come with it, but for the realization of the abundant grace that has been poured out upon us, in good times and in bad, over many years. That really is God’s crown of splendor.
For Christians Jesus is the center of life. We do not believe in a general god, an impersonal force, a generic being far removed from daily life. The God we know is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has revealed Himself to us in His triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier. That means it is He who has made us. He has gone to the most extreme lengths to save us from our sins. And He continues to work daily to bring us more deeply into His life. This truth never ceases to amaze me. Why would God be this way? Why not the capricious deities of the Greeks and Romans, or the Force in Star Wars? Much of the ways of our God are hidden to us. Even so, what we do know is more than sufficient for all of this life. In Jesus Christ we see a self sacrificing love that has come to do for us all that we are incapable of doing for ourselves. In the light of that love we have peace, and can leave the rest of our questions for our Lord’s Kingdom.
Tuesday’s pancakes are all gone. With Ash Wednesday we enter the period of Lent, leading up to the salvation event of Good Friday and looking forward to the glorious celebration of the resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday. I’ve personally not been in the habit of giving up something for Lent, but it is a time of meditating more fully on the sacrifice our Lord made to gain our salvation. Our service this evening will be the full order of public confession, and each person will come forward for individual absolution. We also use the imposition of ashes on the forehead as a penitential symbol of humility before our Lord. I am given the privilege of speaking the words of Christ’s forgiveness to each person, and then we share in the Holy Eucharist with its glorious words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. This is like being washed totally clean after a grimy work day. It is the prodigal coming home and being fully restored to the family. Yes, it is the beginning of a penitential season, but can anything be more glorious than the truth of our freedom in Christ Jesus? Rejoice, this day is for you.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. I never remember the meaning of Shrove and have to look it up every year. Shrove comes from the word shrive meaning to confess. Also called fat Tuesday, a day to get rid of all the “fat” before the austere days of the Lenten penitential season. Some cities celebrate Mardi Gras as a big carnival on this day. We will gather at church to eat pancakes and sausage. But there is really something wrong here. Lent should not be approached as a burden before which we must have a last fling. Lent does emphasize the penitential aspect of humbling ourselves before our Lord, but the reason for our humility is so that we can hear the full and beautiful message of God’s gracious forgiveness in Jesus Christ. To hear a pastor say “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins…” should be our greatest joy in life. Yes, Lent reminds us that we are sinners before God, but also that in Jesus Christ we have forgiveness, freedom, and life. That is our real cause for celebration.
God reaches out in grace to all mankind. Scripture is clear in saying that there is no partiality with the Lord. However, it is man, himself, who blocks the grace of God. Psalm 36:2 says, “in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” God has created a standard in His law by which all people are judged, and in that light all fall short. That law is to open our eyes to our need for the forgiving grace available in Jesus Christ. But if we continue to flatter ourselves thinking “we are not so bad” or “many are worse than we are” or “this is what is acceptable today” or “look at the good works I’ve done” or, or, or …. The list of our self justifications can go on, and we never feel the marvelous grace God extends to us, His love that reaches to the heavens.(vs.5) It is when we see how truly impossible it is to keep God’s law perfectly, and to please Him by our own efforts, that we turn to the forgiving grace in Jesus Christ. We see the love that comes to us from the cross. We realize that Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. In Him alone we stand in righteousness before our Lord. We are given the gift of life in Jesus Christ. Why would we ever hold that off?
A young friend asked me what the difference was between all the different Christian churches. It’s a question many who are unfamiliar with church ask, but it is very difficult to answer easily. I said that because they are Christian churches they are all centered in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, even that is not always true. I said there are differences in doctrine and practice between different groups, as well as the externals of size, friendliness, and so forth. For those more familiar with theology the differences are serious, and need to be carefully considered. However, for our witness to the community in general, as to my young friend, the Christian church is confusing and the multiplicity of denominations is destructive. We are not going to change that until our Lord returns, but we need to find more ways to speak the truth of the Gospel to those beyond church doors. Jesus left us with the two great commandments to love God above all else, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we, in the church, grow in living these in all the various aspects of life, the community will see something different in us and desire to know more about it. Jesus washed dirty feet. So are we called to do.