March 1, 2017 – Ash Wednesday
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Grace and peace to you as you stand on God’s Word, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
The suitcases were lined up on the floor of a secret room in China. When they were opened the contents that stuffed the luggage brought laughter, tears of joy and shouts of praise. The people in the room practically dove into the suitcases to get hold of what would now be their most valuable possession. Someone had risked arrest or worse to smuggle into China these books that we often leave on our shelves collecting dust. The suitcases were filled with Bibles. When the people in that room got those Bibles into their grateful hands they hugged them; they kissed them; they even smelled the scent of this newfound treasure. They soon began to page through the contents and excessively read whatever they could. A woman stood up in the middle of the room and said: “This is what we have all needed the most, Thank you God.”
At the Wittenberg Castle Church on the first Sunday of Lent in 1534 Martin Luther stood before the members of his congregation with the first version of the German Bible, that he had translated, in his hands and said: “Before I starve for want of the Word of God, I would rather go without bread and die of hunger.” Martin Luther recognized what that woman in that secret room in China also knew: The Word of God for our souls is even more important than food for our bodies. This present body is temporal. Our soul that God feeds with His Word is given the food that gives us eternal life.
When was the last time you were “hangry”? You know what I mean. You skipped breakfast. The day got so busy that you missed lunch. Then pretty soon it’s three o’clock in the afternoon and the growls of your stomach turned into growls that comes out of your mouth and attacked the first innocent person that walks into the room. Your hunger makes you angry. Thus you are “hangry.”
When we starve ourselves of the Word of God sometimes we don’t even realize the impact that it is having on our body, soul and spirit. We become sinfully “hangry.” Starvation from the Word of God causes us to lash out in hate and anger. It makes us hunger for the things of this world rather than the kingdom of God. It creates selfishness that only looks after ourselves and fails to help and provide for others. Spiritual starvation is a far more serious malady than lack of food for our stomach. For if we starve ourselves to spiritual death it leads not just to physical death but to eternal death, which is far worse than anything we have here on earth.
When the children of Israel were trudging through the wilderness they, too, got both physically and spiritually “hangry.” They complained there was no food to eat. They defied Moses and denied God all that they had given to them. Despite their protests and self-inflicted problems God provided the bread of life for them. He showered down miraculous manna in the wilderness. They ate and were satisfied. More than that, they were filled with the Word of God that forgave their sins and their sinfulness. The hope and excitement of the Promised Land laid ahead only because of God’s unconditional love for them.
Today we are embarking on our own 40-day wilderness journey. Some of us have given up things like certain foods, or Facebook, or some other kind of convenience. But we dare not starve ourselves of the Bread of Life, the Word of God. These forty days will remind us continually of the one who went into the wilderness, fasted from food for forty days, yet feasted on the Word of God and used the nutrition of God’s Word to defeat the devil for us. This Lenten I challenge each of us to daily take part in God’s Word, the bread of life, each and every day. Oh, you might want to challenge yourself to take away some of the ways that the devil can tempt you to stop eating the food that will strengthen both you physical and spiritual so that you may live for all eternity. But I challenge you this Lenten season to spend some time drinking the living Water of God’s Word and remember how important it is to get a well-balanced diet of the Bread of Life, God’s Word in your life so that you can truly enjoy the eternal Life God has won for you by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus says to us, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” Jesus perfectly hungered and thirsted after righteousness so that we would never go hungry for those things again. We need forgiveness, righteousness and life, and that’s what Jesus came to bring to us by His life, death and resurrection in this world. He is the deliverer. He is the server. He is the one who showers down upon us the miraculous manna of his perfect Word. He serves us His body and blood so that we can eat and drink and receive the food that will give us the nutrition we need to live in the love of God. He provides us with the meal that will fills us to the full with all that we need to be nourished and strong in the faith and life that we are given for all eternity.
On this Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Life in this world is short, so we need to put our trust in our Savior, the Bread of Life, to feed our faith so that we may live with the confidence of a people who have an undying hope of live, not in this world of sorrow, but in the heavenly love of God for all eternity. We do what St. Paul called the Colossians to do: Let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly while we sing hymns, songs and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts.
The devil didn’t leave Jesus after the temptation in the wilderness. He pursued our Savior all the way to the cross. If you’ll pardon the expression, it was there that Jesus ate the devil for lunch. As Jesus hung dead on the Cross of Calvary He defeated the devil and all the forces of evil for us. He won for us the forgiveness of all our sins. His body was broken for us. His blood was shed for us, so that we could live with Him in the Promised land for all eternity.
Today we come to eat His broken body and drink His shed blood in full confidence that the victory has been won for us. We are preparing for the feast that is to come at the eternal banqueting table with Christ. As we receive our Savior in His Word we are tasting His Living Water and seeing that He is good. We increasingly hunger for the blessings that He is delivering to us by His Word, so that we clamor for it like our sisters and brothers do in China and other parts of the world were a Bible is not legal to have in your position. And, like them, we say: “This is what we have needed the most.” Amen.