Return to The Lord – 2

Return to The Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful.
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Joel 2:13

Our theme for Lent this year is “Return to The Lord.” This is a common theme in both the Old and New Testament. The first Wednesday after our non-Ash Wednesday was a call to “Return to The Lord, In Prayer.” We recalled how Jesus was the literal embodiment of St. Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” Jesus prayed. In our Men’s Bible Study we are reading Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book, “Life Together.” In that book he notes the importance of corporate prayer, family prayer, church prayer and individual prayer.

Bonhoeffer says that we need to pray for our enemies. In praying for our enemies, not only are we following Jesus’ example and encouragement, but we are also changed by the Holy Spirit. We no longer see those who we might dislike and even hate as enemies to be defeated but they are people for whom Christ has died. Then by constant prayer and hearing the gospel and repenting of our own sins we not only “return to the Lord” but we return to being brothers and sisters. Our optics of the other person begin to change.

I’m not so much talking about people far away in Washington, D.C. or Austin or some barren desert like Oklahoma. I am speaking about people that are at your workplace, your neighbor down the street or even in church. Anyone you might have difficulty praying for. For their life to go well for them and for them to grow in faith with you. If you find it difficult to pray for someone you are thinking about or are suspicious about, God is showing you who to pray for.

Indeed, we aren’t beset by enemies like King David was nor is it always so obvious when people are out to get us but make no mistake, the devil is always prowling. And indeed, just as we have our own logs, we’ve caused strife in other people’s lives.

Jesus when on the cross prayed for his enemies. He was praying for us. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Romans 5:10

Jesus of course never sinned. The only one who never had even a splinter much less a log in his eye, he saw clearly. He had perfect vision and how did he see his enemies? They are the ones he knew he needed to pray for and who he was glad to pray for. This was because Jesus believed his Father’s promise to hear and answer prayer. We should be so bold.

Winsome character, loving gestures, true compliments, all help in convincing our “enemies” we do not desire war. What a terrible way to live with others, in a state of “cold war” of sorts. That is no way for us Christians to “Return to The Lord.”

I am afraid that “two weeks to slow the spread” has unfortunately made sloth too easy. Avoiding interpersonal relationships has had a deadly effect on people. More children have died from suicide than the virus, or even secondary causes associated with the virus. Suicide was no joke before the virus, now it is becoming an epidemic on it’s own. I’ve seen it firsthand and the statistics, even anecdotal evidence, since we won’t have official statistics for years, is frightening. Also the death of relationships among Christians.

Fear is a faith killer. Evil destroys love. Dishonor destroys Christian brotherhood. Laziness drowns Christian sisterhood.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:9ff

Above all, remember, this all comes from faith. “And faith comes from hearing. And hearing the Word of God.” Romans 10:17. Or own efforts to defeat fear and slothfulness will come to naught if we forget who it is that lives in us by baptism. Who is it that has made us into his friends even brothers? It is Christ.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31ff

The devil has set us at odds with one another in a constant “Cold War.” Christ has set us free from war with God and one another. Return to the Lord in prayer, for he is not at war with us and by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus he has won for us the victory over the devil. We are brothers and sisters in arms. The “arms” we use in our battles are nail pierced and full of mercy, ready to equip you for the good works he has already prepared for you.

See you on Sunday… and Wednesdays in Lent!

In Christ,
Pastor Ottmers