Tuesday, February 2, 2016

This Hope Alone

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”  -- Isaiah 53:4

             Sometimes you just wonder how people cope.  The kids at the Shriner’s hospital facing risky surgery, the couple who loses their baby, the elderly lady with severe arthritis, the mistreated spouse, the homeless man who lost it all – how do these people face the tremendous troubles of their lives?  Sometimes those who have it the worst seem to be the ones most happy and hopeful.  From where does this strength come?  How do we gain the attitude and the fortitude to face the toughest problems that life throws at us?
            When Martin Luther looked back at the life of Abraham in the Bible, he saw a simple man with a deep and developing faith.  Abraham was blessed with wonderful promises from God, but that didn’t mean his life was easy.  Though he lived in a land that was promised to his descendants by God, Abraham lived there as a stranger and outsider.  He had to deal with family squabbles, famine, testy neighbors, natural disasters, and the unrest and violence of the society in which he lived.  To top it all off, God set before him the most difficult tasks imaginable: to send his firstborn son Ishmael into exile, and to kill his second son Isaac as a sacrifice.
            Reflecting on these incredible trials, which he says are more punishing than any self-inflicted torture of any medieval monk in a monastery, Martin Luther thought of the spiritual struggles that God had put him through in his own life.  He said he was often tempted to look at his own great accomplishments or the things he had done to find comfort for the hard road he travelled.  But it was never enough.  He said:
            I am very frequently troubled by this trial, that I look about for works in which I may be able to put my trust, because I have taught much, have benefitted many, and have borne many more indignities than I deserved.  But I realize that in real conflicts all these are nothing, and I am driven to the well-known confession of David, who said, “Lord I am nothing but a sinner” (cf. Ps. 32:5); and (Ps. 116:11): “I said in my consternation: All men are a vain hope.”; that is, every man who deceives and is deceived is useless.  Likewise (Ps. 143:2): “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant.”
            But I encourage myself with THIS HOPE ALONE, that in the Gospel I see that solace has been promised to the contrite, hope to the despairing, and heaven to those who have been put into hell; and the fact that the Son of God, without our knowledge, offered Himself for us to God the Father, His Father, on the altar of the cross, is sure proof of this hope.
                                     --Lectures on Genesis

             The one hope, the only hope that we can be sure of, comes not from the better days that tower above the bad ones, not from the fruit of our efforts or the tiny triumphs of our labors – our hope lies alone in the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord brings us pardon, peace, and perseverance in any struggle we’re going through.  Not only does his own life give us clues on how to deal with adversity and trouble, but He himself is the final answer to what we need when we are going through tough times.
           We are taking a whole new approach to our Lenten program this year, with an in-depth look at the spiritual resources God gives us to get through life’s difficulties.  THIS HOPE ALONE: Help in trying times brings us two separate but related worship services for each Wednesday of the Lenten season, as well as Maundy Thursday.  Each of those days, there will be an afternoon prayer service offered at 4pm, as well as the usual service at 7pm.  For the regular Lenten Wednesdays, the 7pm service will use the beautiful Holden Evening Prayer liturgy. 
            This series looks at the trials Jesus faced on the way to the cross in two ways.  At the 4pm service, we will examine an episode from the Passion story in Luke and reflect on the difficulty Jesus faced there.  At the 7pm service, we will look at that theme as it plays out throughout Scripture, and get a picture of some ways God helps us deal with that particular problem.
            Here is the schedule for our special services this Lent, including the preacher for each day, the service themes, and the reading from the Passion story we will be covering:

Ash Wed, 2/10 
Pastor Scott     
4pm     Hope in contention (Luke 22:24-38)
7pm     Help facing adversaries                      

Lent Wed 1, 2/17
Detlev Aeppel 
4pm     Hope when out-of-control (Luke 22:39-53)
7pm     Help facing temptation

Lent Wed 2, 2/24
Jim Turner      
4pm     Hope when abandoned (Luke 22:54-62)
7pm     Help facing loneliness

Lent Wed 3, 3/2 
Marcia Weil 
4pm     Hope when overwhelmed (Luke 22:63-71)
7pm     Help facing challenges

Lent Wed 4, 3/9 
Pastor Scott     
4pm     Hope when frustrated (Luke 23: 1-12)
7pm     Help facing discouragement
Lent Wed 5, 3/16
Rebecca Parker
4pm     Hope when exhausted (Luke 23:13-25)
7pm     Help facing weariness

Maundy Thursday 3/24 
Pastor Scott
4pm     Hope in sorrow (Luke 23:26-43)
7pm     Help facing depression

Good Friday 3/25 
Marcia Weil    
12 noon Stations of the Cross: Hope in pain (Luke 23:44-56)
7pm     Help facing death       

Although many people will choose to come to one or the other of the services, I am hopeful that everyone will find these to be helpful in their own lives.  Who hasn’t been tired, lonely, or sorrowful?  Who has never felt abandoned or confused by overwhelming circumstances?  Not only have we all been there, Jesus has been there too.  He is a Savior not unacquainted with pain and struggle, and we stand on THIS HOPE ALONE.  Come and draw encouragement from His promises, and strength from His presence.


Pastor Scott