Saturday, March 09, 2019

When the cross answers our prayers

[This is part of the journal entry from my quiet time with God yesterday morning.]

Look: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

The passage goes on to say that because of His humble submission to the will of God that He, as the perfect Son, would die on behalf of sinful humanity, would become our great high priest, able to give new life to all who believe in Him. (This is similar to what Paul talks about in Philippians 2:5-11.)

But what strikes me about this passage is that it affirms that because of Jesus’ “reverent submission,” His prayers were heard. Apparently referring to Jesus’ anguished prayers at the Garden of Gethsemane, the preacher in Hebrews says that Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death.”  At Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

The question that occurs to me is: Were Jesus’ fervent prayers offered in humble submission heard by the Father?

One answer is that, while Jesus had asked to be spared “the cup” of suffering and death, He had also submitted to the Father’s will. In that sense, His prayer was answered. I think that this is a good explanation, but maybe, incomplete.

Today, this passage from Hebrews, which I’ve read many times, for the first time, suggests another answer to me. It’s this: The only way for Jesus or us to be “saved...from death,” the very thing for which Jesus prayed, is to go through death. Had Jesus skipped death and accepted whatever temporal power the world and the devil might offer Him, He would have been condemned to everlasting, final death. (And destroyed our hope for new life with God in the bargain.)

Although, Jesus, like any normal, sane human being, didn’t want to suffer or die, He understood that the way of life is the way of the cross. It’s only when the power of sin over our lives is extinguished that we can have life.

Jesus’ prayers were heard, including those for salvation from death. Thank God for that!

Listen: The clear implication for me in my daily life is to daily submit to the crucifixion of my old self so that Christ can save me from death. It means facing the fact of physical death with confidence, knowing that I must die to all pretense of being “like God,” while submitting to the God I know in Christ, to have a share in the victory over sin and death Jesus won on the cross. That’s part of what Jesus is talking about when He says that we’re to take up our crosses and follow Him.

In daily submitting myself to God through Jesus, I’m asking God to do His will in my life, to save me from death by killing off everything about me that isn’t of Him. Because the wages of sin is death, I know that for God to save me from death, I will go through death, beyond which is a perfect life with God, without sin or death.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

About Lent

Lent is a season of preparation and spiritual renewal preceding Easter. 

The season is made up of forty days that pass between Ash Wednesday, which we commemorated this past week, and Holy Saturday, commemorating the full day in which Jesus’ dead body lay in the tomb. 

If you’re good at math, you will have noticed that there are actually forty-six days between Ash Wednesday, this year, March 6, and Holy Saturday, this year, April 20. That’s because Sundays aren’t included in the count of days for Lent. Sundays are always meant to be “little Easters,” celebrations of Christ’s resurrection. 

This is why, unlike other seasons of the Church Year, when we gather on days designated with names like “First Sunday of Advent” or “Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost,” we speak of the first through sixth Sundays in Lent.

In the early Church, Lent was a time when adult converts to the Christian faith, formed a catechumenate, students of the faith preparing to be baptized and to receive Holy Communion for the first time. They received the two sacraments at the Easter Vigil. (Many churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant, commemorate the Easter Vigil today.) Also today, you can see separate baptistries for the catechumenate associated with Medieval churches and cathedrals.

Notes on Luke 4:1-13

[These are note for tomorrow's gospel lesson, Luke 4:1-13. Tomorrow is the First Sunday in Lent.]

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

Commentators, both ancient and contemporary, agree that the major Old Testament backgrounds for the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness are Adam in the garden and Israel in the wilderness.

Some have also linked it to the temptations of Job. This is the third incident recounted in Scripture of Satan tempting someone (Adam and Eve, Job, Jesus).  

Luke is the only one of the gospel writers to say that Jesus was tempted for forty days. This solidifies Jesus’ position as the fulfillment of ancient Israel’s office in history: both Moses and Elijah went through forty days of preparation before major activities.

Given the fact that the Holy Spirit has led Jesus into the wilderness, it seems that God the Father was deliberately exposing Jesus to a showdown in the desert at the start of Jesus’ ministry. Like Job, for Jesus to be insulated from temptation would leave questions as to whether Jesus would “fold” in the face of temptation. As it is, in Jesus “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

The word devil is, in the original Greek of the text, diabolos. The word is used for one who slanders, defames, accuses falsely. This is the devil’s stock in trade. He doesn’t like the human race or the elevated position we enjoy as the only ones of God’s creatures made in God’s image. So, he specializes in slander. And he does so also in those who repudiate God’s authority over their lives to whom he is, whether they are conscious of it or not, a kind of father figure.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Two things are going on here. First, the slanderer is casting doubts on whether Jesus is “the Son of God.” This is something that the Father has just affirmed to Jesus at His baptism by John in the Jordan. The Father told Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22).”

Second, a contrast is being established. At the conclusion of Luke’s reverse genealogy in 3:23-38, Adam, the first man created by God, is described as “the son of God.” Applied to Adam, it obviously means that Adam was directly generated by God’s creative activity. Son of God, as the rest of the gospels show us, when applied to Jesus, tells us that He is of one essence of the Father (John 1:1-14; Colossians 1:15-20). Jesus is the new Adam, who successfully resists temptation in order to be faithful. He also, unlike ancient Israel, successfully negotiates the temptations of the wilderness.

The devil is, of course, trying to get Jesus to act on His own behalf. This is like Adam’s temptation from the serpent to feed himself with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The difference is that the temptation Jesus faces comes in a wilderness in which He has no other food options. Yet Jesus knows that God wants Him to be in the wilderness and to rely on God the Father alone. Jesus refuses to take the easy way out of a temporary situation, knowing that doing so would have eternal consequences, for Him and for us.
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

Here, Jesus invokes the experience of Israel in the wilderness. He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, which recalls how Israel had run out of food. The people were hungry. God, by His Word, provided them with what they needed with manna, something of which the people had never previously heard. Jesus is choosing to listen to God for life.
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Diabolos gained a foothold in the world when Adam and Eve fell into sin. In Luke’s gospel, we see how the kingdoms of the world operate differently from the kingdom of God. Many of the world’s kingdoms are overtly demonic.

When Luke speaks of kingdoms, he doesn’t have in mind just nations with armies. He’s talking about what might be called world systems, be they neighborhoods, patriarchies, matriarchies, companies, corporations, attitudes, mythologies, religions, etc. A kingdom exists whenever people operate under the reign of something or someone.

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Jesus, again, cites the Word of God from Israel’s wilderness experience, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13. God alone is worthy of our worship.
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Here, we see the cunning of the diabolical one. He cites Scripture, Psalm 91:11-12. But, these words are not a magna carta for stupidity, nor are they an excuse to put God to the test to prove a point. Over the centuries, people have tried to take isolated passages of Scripture for evil ends. We will be less susceptible to such challenges to our faith if we get to know God through His Word.

It’s also important to remember a fundamental principle of faithful biblical interpretation: Let Scripture interpret Scripture. This means allowing the whole of Scripture to inform our understanding of pieces of Scripture.
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus once more invokes the experience of ancient Israel. The passage He cites is Deuteronomy 6:16. Here, Jesus refuses to do anything to prove His identity. He knows Who He is. He doesn’t doubt Who the Father has declared Him to be.

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

The diabolical one hasn’t given up, although in the wilderness unlike Israel in the wilderness and Adam in the garden, he has been defeated.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ash Wednesday: Free in Christ

[This message was shared during this evening's Ash Wednesday worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In our gospel lesson for tonight, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus warns believers: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” 

He goes on to say that when we give to the needy, we should seek to keep it quiet. If our aim is to impress others with our giving, the greatest reward we can expect is the applause of a dead world. If our aim is to honor God, our reward will be all the gifts an eternal God can give. 

When we offer prayers only to be seen by others, we may impress a dying world. But that won’t help us in eternity, where God gives eternal rewards. We should pray to connect with, confess sin to, give praise to, and seek help from God

When we fast, it should be done for the purpose of emptying ourselves of sin or to listen to God. If we fast to get spiritual brownie points from the people before whom we play out our religious shows, those brownie points, which have zero value in this world or the next, will have to suffice as our reward.

In other words, the question of motivation is important to Christians, even on Ash Wednesday. If we come to this service, receive the mark of the cross, sing the hymns, or partake of the body and blood of Jesus to impress other people or climb a religious ladder, we may receive some earthly rewards. People in the congregation may be impressed that you came to worship on a Wednesday night. People may see you at a grocery or convenience store you stop at on the way home and, noticing the cross on your forehead, think well of you or ill of themselves because of your piety.

But Jesus says that the only reward a Christian disciple should seek is the reward Jesus Himself won for us on the cross, the forgiveness of sin and everlasting life with God that belongs to all who believe in Him.

Jesus’ warning to watch our motives for things like giving to the poor, fasting, or praying raises another issue for some Christians, though. It subjects them to what has been called the paralysis of self-analysis

There’s a story told of two actors, one a seasoned veteran with many credits, the other a celebrated up-and-comer. There was a brief scene in which these two were to appear together. The older one sat in a room. The younger was to enter the room through one door and exit through another. It would take all of five seconds. But rehearsal ground to a stop when the younger actor couldn’t figure out how to “play” the scene. “What’s my motivation for walking in and out of that room at that moment?” he asked. “What has my character been doing? What is he going to do? Why does he have to go through that room to do it?” Finally, the veteran actor had enough. “Your motivation,” he shouted, “is to walk through the room and get on with the scene!”

The younger actor was paralyzed from doing anything because he obsessed over whether he had the right motivation. Listen: Our motivations matter. But if we Christians wait to do anything before we’re certain that our motives are absolutely pure, we won’t do anything for God at all

Remember how the apostle Paul wrestled with his own sinfulness? “...I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:21-23) Despite knowing that his motivations were adulterated by his sinful human nature, Paul continued to do the right thing he thought God was calling him to do.

Paul recognized that every baptized Christian, even the most seasoned and exemplary, has several things in common. First, we are all sinners. Second, we are all saints. We are sinners made saints not by what we do or by the pure motives with which we do them, but solely by God’s grace given to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

As we trust Christ and live in daily relationship with Him and His Church, God is transforming us. We can trust in that. He works within us as we turn to Him in daily repentance and renewal so that the sinner in us is daily subjected to death and the new us--the new you and me--is raised

This is an ongoing process in the lives of believers in Jesus. It's called sanctification. But the final purification will only happen after we have physically died and been raised by God and we see Jesus face to face. The apostle John tells us, “Dear friends, now [today, although we’re still imperfect] we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

Ultimately, Jesus’ call to us in our gospel lesson tonight and in the season of Lent is simple: To get our minds off of ourselves and onto Him as the only one Who can give us life, forgiveness, purpose, and the desire to do things for His glory, not our own. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” Galatians 5:1 tells us. And Colossians 3:23-24 puts it all succinctly: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

When we know that we have been saved from sin, death, darkness, and worry over ourselves through Christ, we are set free! We’re free to stop taking ourselves so seriously while taking our Savior’s call to love God, love neighbor, and love fellow believers with the utmost seriousness. We learn to be unafraid of death (even if we’re still afraid of the process of dying), unafraid of whether the world rewards us or not. Death and the opinions of us held by the world can make the final judgments over our lives only if we refuse to trust in Jesus.

Our freedom in Christ may be expressed in many ways, including, as Jesus discussed tonight, in giving to the poor, fasting, and praying. In fact, Jesus takes it as a matter of course that they will be expressed in these ways, since He says of them, “When you give, when you fast, when you pray.” 

But through Jesus, we’re free from the have tos, the musts, and gotta do its of the world, the religious hoops we think we have to negotiate in order to please God (and impress others). In Jesus, we get to love. We get to be the people Christ sets us free to be. We get to live our lives in God’s charity, His grace, not by the world’s punishing standards. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” Jesus says (Mark 16:16).

You may do a spiritual discipline for Lent, something you give up or add to your life. If that’s true, try not to tell anyone about it. Seek to do it not for yourself--there are few things more boring or spiritually pointless than a discipline adopted to bring self-improvement. Do it for Christ. Do it for God’s glory. And if you do it imperfectly, talk it over with God and don’t stew about it. Christ didn’t die for perfect people. He died for you and me, mortals created by God from ashes and dust, but mortals who, as we trust in Christ, have the reward no mortal could ever earn or deserve, eternity with God. There’s freedom in that, freedom from playing to the crowd, freeing from worrying over whether we’re good enough or worthy, freedom from sin, freedom from self. Jesus gives freedom. Sisters and brothers in Christ, live in that freedom!

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Pascal's Encounter with the Fire of Christ

Today, as we celebrated the Transfiguration of Jesus, I kept thinking of the encounter that physicist and mathematician Blaise Pascal had with Jesus in what must have been a time of prayer, born of spiritual struggle and repentance. The incident was so overwhelming and important in affirming Pascal's faith in Christ that he wrote about it on a piece of parchment and had it sewn into his coat so that it would always be with him. It was found in his coat eight years later, after he had died.
This is what Pascal wrote:
"The year of grace 1654,
"Monday, 23 November, feast of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others in the martyrology. Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, martyr, and others. From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight,
"GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob
not of the philosophers and of the learned.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
GOD of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
Your GOD will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD.
He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have departed from him:
They have forsaken me, the fount of living water.
My God, will you leave me?
Let me not be separated from him forever.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.
Let me never be separated from him.
He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on the earth.
May I not forget your words. Amen."

Transfiguration: Glory Through the Cross

[This message was shared during worship earlier today with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 9:28-36
There’s an old Paul Simon song called Learn How to Fall. The bridge contains these lyrics: 
Oh, and it's the same old storyEver since the world beganEverybody's got the runs for gloryNobody stop to scrutinize the planNobody stop to scrutinize the plan
Artists, I believe, receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit even when they don’t know it. And I believe that in these words and in the entire song from which they come, Paul Simon, who isn’t a Christian, is saying more than even he realizes.

The truth to which Simon points is this: All we human beings who, though made in God’s image, have inherited the condition of sin from our ancient grandparents, Adam and Eve, want “glory.” We want, in our sinful hearts, “to be like God” (Genesis 3:5). (This is a distortion of the true glory God has in mind for us as the only ones God created in His image [Genesis 1:26].)

But, again like Adam and Eve who grabbed hold of the fruit that God told them would bring them death, things like glory or transformation or righteousness or joy or life or any truly good thing cannot be grasped by human effort. All of these things--glory, transformation, righteousness, joy, life, or any “good and perfect gift”--come to us as gifts from God. They are to be received, not achieved

Whatever this world has to offer will die. Whatever God has to offer is eternal

God operates by a different plan from the ones offered by the world, the devil or our sinful selves. Today’s gospel lesson, Luke 9:28-36, containing Luke’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration, will allow us, again in Simon’s phrasing, to “stop and scrutinize the plan,” God’s plan.

Shortly before the incident recounted in the lesson, the apostle Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed King, the One come to make the fallen world right. Peter said that Jesus was, “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:20). 

This was the right answer, but Jesus might have had good reason to doubt whether Peter understood exactly what that meant. 

The Old Testament repeatedly promised the Christ. But popular culture in first-century Judea envisioned the Christ as a triumphant warrior king who would enter Jerusalem, throw out the Romans, the latest in a long string of foreign overlords to have conquered God’s people, and let the Jews conquer and be prosperous and comfortable. This popular version of the Christ bears little resemblance to the real one prophesied in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah.

This version of the Christ or Messiah would demand no transformation, no surrender, and no faith of His followers. They could be just as selfish and heedless of the Word and the will of God as they’d always been. All that mattered was that their names were on the church membership rolls of First Church of Self-Righteousness and Entitlement.

All of this may be why Jesus said what He said after Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22) And then: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) 

Life with God in His eternal kingdom is a free gift to all who repent and trust in Christ. But if we are to receive the gift God wants to give to us, we must stop grasping for the prizes offered by this dying world.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus shows us the path to glory that we all seek, even if that’s not the word we might use for it. So, please take a look at our lesson, starting at verse 28: “About eight days after Jesus said this [that is, eight days after the words of Jesus we just talked about], he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

This is a remarkable moment. On top of a mountain, the kind of place where God had once interacted with Old Testament figures like Moses, the bringer of God’s law, and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, Jesus prays. 

When Moses encountered God on a mountaintop, you’ll recall, his face reflected the glory of God into whose presence he had come. 

But it’s different for Jesus here. Jesus once said of Himself: “I am the light of the world.Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).” 

You see, on the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus isn’t reflecting the glory of God. Jesus also tells us, “The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (John 12:45) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). 

Jesus Himself is the source of the light

He glows in the radiance of Who He is: God the Son

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory,” the preacher in Hebrews says, “and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word... (John 1:3).” 

This is what Jesus wanted His three closest and most intimate disciples to understand, that though the way to His kingdom went through a cross, through the surrender of self and the crucifixion of our old sinful natures, as God, the Author of life, Jesus could offer new and everlasting life to those who would faithfully follow Him no matter what

When we’re going through tough stuff in our lives, this can be our comfort and hope. Christ is God and He is the One Who can lead us to life beyond the pain and challenge and death.

Verse 30: “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” 

Neither Moses nor Elijah had walked on the earth for centuries. But here they are, in Jesus’ reflected glory, talking with Jesus about his departure

In the Greek in which Luke wrote about this incident, the word translated as departure is exodos, exodus. The Exodus is the event in Old Testament history in which God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, took them through the wilderness, and into the promised land. 

Jesus was about to accomplish a new exodus, this one not just for the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, but for all who trusted, believed (and believe now) in Him. Jesus was going to endure the wilderness of suffering and death, then rise from the dead, so that He could meet us in our wildernesses and lead us into the presence of God, today in this imperfect wilderness and beyond the gates of death in the eternal promised land.

Verse 32: “Peter and his companions were very sleepy [just like they would later be in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus' betrayal and arrest], but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)”

Peter makes at least two mistakes here. 

First, despite the evidence before him--Jesus allowing the three disciples to see Him in the full glory of His deity, Peter equates Moses and Elijah with Jesus. He wants to erect three shelters or tabernacles to honor Jesus and the two Old Testament figures, as though each were on equal footing. 

Second, like the grasping world, Peter wants to capture God’s holiness, rather than be captured by it. Peter has yet to learn that human beings cannot be saved from sin and death by the things they do, or strive for, or control, but solely by surrendering faith in Jesus the Christ. 

Peter didn’t know what he was saying, but God still loved him and Jesus would not give up on him, just as God loves you and me and, as long as we have breath, Jesus will not give up on enveloping us and the rest of the human race in His kingdom of grace and love.

Verse 34: “While [Peter] was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’”

This is the same voice, that of God the Father, that told Jesus at His baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22.)” At that time, the Father spoke to reassure the Son as He began His ministry. Now, at the Transfiguration, the Father speaks to encourage these three key leaders of Christ’s Church in the bleak days between Jesus’ death and resurrection, and later, in the remaining days of their lives. Even though Jesus would die, they would know that He was and is the Christ, and that they hadn’t been mistaken in following Him. 

Today, in the midst of both happiness and setbacks, we can live in that assurance, infinitely strengthened by the fact that after Jesus had taken the way of the cross, He rose from the dead, and that “the one who believes in [Jesus] will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in [Jesus] will never die (John 11:25-26).”

Verse 36: “When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” 

There was no Moses, no Elijah. Religion may be about building shelters--or tabernacles--to dead saints. But faith in Jesus is about following and listening to a living Savior, about turning from death and sin and self-will, turning instead to Christ, our King

That Paul Simon song I mentioned earlier also has these lines: 
You got to learn how to fall Before you learn to fly
We’re all anxious to fly, high above the death and anxiety, the sin and the striving of this world. We want the resurrected life, the life of victory. 

But before we can fly, we must fall

We must lay aside all our pretenses of a righteousness born of our own goodness and see Jesus for Who He is: the Savior Who alone, amid all the competing voices, is the One to Whom we need to listen. 

Not money or security. 

Not tradition or change for the sake of change. 

Not fashion or habit. 

Not Buddha or Allah. 

Not sex or drugs. (Or rock and roll.) 

But Jesus. 

Only Jesus. 

In another place, Jesus calls Himself the good shepherd and His followers His sheep, and then says, the good shepherd’s “sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger (John 10:4-5).” 

Amid the din of voices screaming at us on TV and radio and social media, commercials, and political ads, may we keep listening for Jesus, through the wilderness and the cross, to the promised land and God’s glorious kingdom. 

May we always return to the One Who loves us more than we can either ask or imagine. 

May we always listen to Jesus. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church.]