the Second Sunday in Lent

17 March 2019

the Prayer of the Day: God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world. Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy, that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

In Christ’s suffering and dying, creation comes alive!

By now, I’m sure, most of you know Mark Russell, the synodically-authorized worship leader over at Christ’s Lutheran in Odessa. Basically, he does over there on Sunday mornings, what I do here – only he has a “real” job, the rest of the week. But most Monday mornings, nine o’clock sharp, he gives me a call and we talk. Talk about what happened the day before. Talk about the gospel for the coming Sunday. And sometimes, after we’re done, I get on Facebook and read through the sermon he’s posted.

Well, last week, if you remember, Luke wrote about the temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness and Mark talked about the bible. In the gospel, Satan used scripture to tempt Jesus. Testing. Seducing. Manipulating with chapter and verse. Using the bible more as a sword than a plowshare, more as a spear than a pruning hook. In other words, the devil used the bible a lot like Christians here in America do, nowadays. And Mark reminded us that we believe in god, not the bible. That we believe in Jesus, not scripture. Sure, the bible’s necessary, even essential. But that’s not where we go when we’re looking for all good, or where we’re seeking a refuge in all need. We believe in one thing. God. Father, Son, and Spirit. Period.

And all that was fresh in my mind when, Monday afternoon, I read through the gospel lesson for this morning. Luke. Chapter thirteen. Verses thirty-one to thirty-five. Now, I don’t know if it was because of the time change. Or because of the bishop’s visit. But I read through the passage. . . and I re-read it. . . and I read it, one more time. . . and nothing, nothing at all, jumped out at me! Nothing caught my attention! Nothing grabbed my interest! Nothing sparked my imagination! Five verses! A hundred and fifty-five words! And all I heard was, “blah, blah, blah!” All I saw was, “yada, yada, yada!”

In my younger days, I might have panicked. But I’ve been doing this for a while and it’s happened before. So, I just sat back, relaxed, and looked somewhere else for an idea. You see, inspiration doesn’t always come from the Gospel Lesson. Sometimes it comes from the First Reading. . . or the Second. . . or the Psalm. . . Sometimes it comes from a sermon. . . or a song. . . From a handful of water or a pinch of bread or sip of wine. . . from bits and pieces of the liturgy. . . or part of a conversation. . . So, I sat back and started reading, this time, from the top. . .

Today’s Readings + Second Sunday in Lent + March 17, 2019 + Prayer of the Day. . . “God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross you promise everlasting life to the world.”

And there it was! The gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, O Christ! There was the Prayer of the Day doing what the Prayer of the Day was meant to do! Keeping heart and mind right where they should be! Aiming, pointing, directing, focusing thoughts and ideas on what matters! Even when the bible doesn’t! Even when the bible can’t! “God of the covenant – new covenant, old covenant, of the only covenant that matters – in the mystery of the cross you promise life – never-ending, everlasting – to everyone and everything!”

To the Trekkies among us, it’s a lot like the genesis device in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan! A bomb designed to create and not destroy! An explosive that brings life to a dead world, not death to a live one! That brings new life – pressed down, shaken together, overflowing – to a barren planet! “God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross – of Christ and Christ crucified – you promise, provide, everlasting life to the world!” That’s the gospel we’re called to hear! The good news we’re gathered to receive! That’s the message that enlightens us, that makes us holy! The proclamation that changes lives, that transforms the universe! In the cross, god brings life – brings everlasting life – to a dead and barren creation! In the cross, through Christ and Christ crucified, creation is born again! From the smallest atom to the most distant galaxy, the universe is born anew! Born from above!

We’re not here, this morning, we’re not here any morning, simply to learn once more thing from the bible. We’re here to learn more about god! Learn more about god, from the bible or not! Here, now, everything we say, everything we do, teaches us something about god! We learn from the songs! We learn from the prayers! We learn from the service itself! We learn, even, from each other! We’re not just students, disciples. We’re, also, teachers! Each of us! All of us! Hopefully, you learn from me. And I, certainly, learn from y’all!

We’re not a bible church, living out our life together by chapter and verse. We’re a gospel church, an evangelical church, rooted and anchored in a message like this one, this morning. “In the mystery of the cross, god promises everlasting life!” Not just to the few. . . or to the many. . . or the most. . . But god promises everlasting life to the whole world, to all the cosmos! And know this: A promise isn’t merely a wish or a hope. A promise is a guarantee! Certain! Sure! To which we say, “Amen! Yes! This is most certainly true!” “Amen! Yes! It’s going to come about! It already is! Just! Like! This!” That gospel, that good news, that evangel, is more than an ethic. More than a principle or a philosophy. It’s something – someone – we stake our lives on! “This is my body given for you! This is my blood shed for you!” Not an ethic, but a proclamation! A promise! Foremost and first, not something we live, but something – someone – we believe in!

No, gospel doesn’t have to be printed in red. It doesn’t’ have to come from Matthew or Mark, Luke or John. It doesn’t have to be part of a New Testament, an Old Testament, or anything in between. It doesn’t, even, have to come from a church. As Luther saw it, god writes the good news on every blade and every leaf and every flower of Springtime! And that is the same good news spoken here, this morning, in the prayer of the day. . .

In the mystery of the cross, you promise everlasting life to the world!

My friends, even if it has no chapter, and even if it has no verse, it’s still gospel, it’s still good news! And that is what we believe in! Christ! Christ crucified! And it is to that promise and to that proclamation and to that prayer, that we all say together, “Amen, amen!”