RETURN TO THE BEGINNING
Return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." Joel 2:13
RETURN! RETURN is the operative word for Lent. A biblical way of saying it is, REPENT. This is what this season of lent is all about: returning to the LORD from Whom we have wandered and gone astray, going back to where we once were, repenting of where we have gone, and returning to where we started our journey in the life of Christ. Hence our destination is to the same place from whence our journey began. That place is the cross.
We began this journey, this Christian life, by being joined to Jesus and His cross in holy baptism marked with the sign of Jesus' cross "In the name of the father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit" by water, Word, and Spirit, our sin is forgiven, and we are given a new life. All the promises of God were given to us, not a single one withheld! God said to us, "You are my beloved child." We cried to Him, "Abba, Father." Then and there our journey in this new life began.
2800 years ago, God's holy prophet Joel called all classes and ages to unite in true and heartfelt return and repentance as the impending "day of the Lord" approached. A solemn assembly was appointed. None were to consider themselves beyond the need to return and repent. The priests pleaded on behalf of the people, standing as the people's representatives "between the vestibule and the altar." They pleaded the covenant relation of the nation as God's people and heritage. Similar to the people of Israel in Joel's day, we do not turn to God to make Him ours, but we return because we are His. God is so graciously concerned about us that we can plead: our loss will be Christ's reproach and our restoration Christ's glory. In a most comforting way from the end of the second chapter to the end of the book, Joel points to the coming Kingdom of Christ and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit which we acknowledge and confess in Holy Baptism.
Our covenant position conferred in Holy Baptism is our plea for grace, our regeneration, and our encouragement to rise and go to our heavenly Father who has called us His children. Children by grace means that sufficient grace will be given us to walk worthily of it and that our Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him as we return and repent.
Where have we journeyed? What have we done with this new life, this gift of God's grace? Have we honored our Heavenly Father with lives of faith and love, with lives of service, with lives of confession? Or have we turned from Him and chosen our own way? Do we grumble at His Word, resist His will, doubt His goodness, and rebel against His discipline? Are we pleased with Him when life is good and angry when things aren't going our way? How often do we listen to the siren song of Satan instead of relying on the promises of our Father?
How is it with you and your life? You know the answer and the answer is not good, right? It's not good because in all these things you are believing in yourselves rather than believing in God. Such is the way of sin which has curved you in on yourselves so that the first place you look for answers is the unholy law firm of "me, myself, and I." You're OK with that because then you're the one in control. Self-control is easier than faith, so you have told yourselves. The world agrees and says this is good! Believe in yourself. That's a virtue, to believe in yourself, to be all that you can be, to pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Yes, the world calls that good, but God has another word for it: death, because on your own, believing in yourself, that is all you can accomplish. For apart from God there is no life, only death be it sooner or later.
"Return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love." Turn from the father of lies and return to the Father of life. Despite your sin, despite your rebellion, despite your unfaithfulness, your Father in love is calling you back, calling you to repentance that you may not die, but live.
God has not ceased to be your God, neither in His wrath has He turned away from you. Return to Him. Return as the wayward son coming home to his father from the Gentile's pig pen with nothing more than a confession on his lips. "I have sinned against heaven and against you." "Return to the Lord," as the penitent prostitute who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and anointed them with her perfume. "Return to the Lord," as the penitent publican who could not even lift his eyes to heaven but prayed, "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner."
RETURN/REPENT and RECEIVE His life and salvation in the forgiveness of your sins. He is not calling you to try harder or to do the best that you can do with what you have. All that is empty and useless because you would still be believing in and relying on yourself! He calls us to repent, to return to where our life began, to return to the waters of our baptism in repentance and be raised again to a new life in forgiveness, to be raised with Christ who came and became sin for us on the cross and took our place in death, that we might rise with Him to life and be reconciled to God with our sin dividing us no more, with our sin ruling us no more, with our sin defeated that might live a new life.
This is God's Way, the only Way, the Way of the cross. It's the WAY not of an old life reformed, but of new life, through the death and resurrection of His Son. It is the only WAY!
The cross of Christ is the beginning, the end, the middle. The cross of Christ defines the path of our journey through this life to life eternal. Apart from Christ and His cross there is for us only death and no life, but joined to Christ and He to us, then there is life. This is why Jesus came to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God, not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done, so not only tonight, but especially tonight, and beginning again tonight, the gathered family of Christ returns. We return to the Lord who has turned to us in love. We return to Him in repentance. We return to Him in faith. We return for now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation. We return for He is here for us. Here, He is calling you to receive Him and His life-giving, sin-forgiving body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, and thus receiving, you now live this new life, not to be seen by others, but to serve others.
Tonight we return and begin our Lenten journey once again. Our journey from the cross, through the cross, and to the cross, so that we end where we began; so that though we will die, yet shall we live united to Christ forever. Amen.
~ Rev. George Fyler