Lamplighter: The Pastor's Pen

Return to the Yahweh your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster…(Joel 2:13)

Lent will soon be upon us. When many people think about Lent, they probably imagine having to ‘give up’ something, whether it’s meat, sweets, television, computer games, or even food altogether for a period (fasting). Some people have instead tried taking on something new. They may pledge to volunteer or ‘give back’ in some other way. Maybe what comes to mind for you is the lack of Alleluias in the hymns we sing or the subdued, even somber, nature of worship, especially during midweek services.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with any of this. Giving up something can help you in any number of ways. Giving back is a wonderful way to show love for your neighbor. But, the purpose of observing the forty days of Lent is much more than simply giving something up, taking something on, or worshipping in a more somber manner. In other words, we should not think of Lent as some sort of season of self-improvement or self-focus. Whatever we do during Lent should lead us toward one goal – repentance.

The word ‘repentance’ is an interesting word, in that most people think it simply means to feel sorry for something. It can include feeling sorry for sin (what we would call ‘contrition’), but the word itself means something much more. It is an action word. It means to ‘turn.’ Lent is a season that helps us to do corporately what we should be striving to do all year individually – turning away from sin.

When we turn away from sin, naturally we are turning toward something else. In this case, repentance means to turn toward God. After his Baptism, Jesus began to preach and carry out his ministry. His first message was the same as his cousin John’s – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). In other words, the reign and rule of God was so close that the people of this world could already see and experience it in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus came healing, forgiving sins, and even raising the dead. What he did not do was come to judge and condemn the world. He said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (John 12:46-47). Instead, he came to show exactly who God is and how much he loves us. Like the prophet Joel, Jesus reminds us that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, so much so that he sent his Son into the world to die for all sins. When we repent, we turn to this God.

Yet, we should not take Jesus’ words and imagine him as promoting a free-for-all. Jesus came to save, but he calls us to repent. Why? Because, as we are reminded, disaster awaits those who separate themselves from God. Jesus says in the next verse, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48). Yes, Jesus came to save us sinners. Yes, God loves us. So, why would we not want to turn to him now? If we think we can test God, we will find, on the Last Day, that God’s grace and mercy has passed us by. We will only find judgment for our sins. So, with Joel and John and all the prophets, and with Jesus himself, let us repent – let us turn toward God – for the Kingdom of God is near!

         -Pastor Squire