Dear Recipients of God’s Faithfulness:
The world equates winning with success. We see this everywhere we look. We see it most clearly in sports, where winning is everything. Recently, a movie has come out about the sad situation with figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, where the desire to win eclipsed everything else. We see it in the numbers of NFL coaches who are fired after a losing season, or a number of losing seasons. But we see this mentality in more places than just surrounding sports. The attitude of equating winning, and being a “winner” with being a “success” is all around us. The world celebrates winning, which it equates with success. If you win, you are a success. If you lose, you are a failure. Nothing else matters. That is the way it is in the world – in sports, in business, in politics, in relationships, in everything.
That is why we have a difficult time with the Church. For the Church is not called to success and to “winning”, but to faithfulness. This can be a difficult jump to make – away from the mentality of success to faithfulness. The Church is called to remain faithful to her Lord. And she does that as she uses what He has given her to use – His Word, His Ministry, and His Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion. Likewise, He has given to His Bride a wonderful setting in which to receive these gifts: the Divine Service. Indeed, the Liturgy itself serves the Gospel as it is drawn from Scripture, rightly divides Law and Gospel, and delivers the results of Jesus’ sacrificial death: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. It also connects us with the Church of the past and the Church in heaven.
We also see the difference between success and faithfulness in the life of our Lord Jesus, especially during Lent and Holy Week. Throughout His life Jesus remained utterly faithful to His Father, even when it meant being nailed to a cross and lifted up to die. Nothing could keep Him from doing all that His Father had given Him to do for our salvation. Certainly, on Good Friday, as He hung on the cross, bleeding, gasping for each breath, dying, He seemed to be the ultimate failure: almost everyone had abandoned Him, even most of His disciples. His popularity had plummeted. The crowds, which praised Him on Palm Sunday, are now gone, and disillusioned: “This one can’t be the Messiah, though we were hoping He was. And who wants to follow someone who is crucified. How could we have been so foolish?”
And yet, this was not the first time Jesus would be thought to be a failure. After His Bread of Life discourse (St. John 6:25-59) “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:66). And when Jesus asked the Twelve if they wanted to leave too, St. Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).
Then on Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, He remained faithful to His Father and to His Word. He had told the disciples at least three times that He would be killed and on the third day rise again. So when His disciples saw their resurrected Lord, they were filled with unbridled joy. By God’s grace alone they were forgiven and restored and rejoiced with the risen Lord.
Then, as those disciples faithfully went out to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they too often seemed like failures. They suffered much for the cause of the Gospel and most of them were killed for their efforts. They were not successful according to earthly standards, but, by God’s grace and mercy alone, they were faithful to their Lord. And the same is true today as God’s people are persecuted, and even killed, for being faithful to Christ.
So, let us be faithful, and make that our one desire. Let us treasure and use what He has given to us that we may grow in faith and love. We will not always succeed, but as we live by and in His grace, let us strive to do all things well – in our personal lives and as a congregation. And as we so strive, as we faithfully receive His gifts in the Divine Service, as we learn evermore to trust in the Lord Jesus alone, God will work in us such faithfulness that will lead to eternal life. And that is all that really maters. To God alone be the glory.
Blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent.