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Look to the light

February 17, 2016
By PASTOR ROGER LEMKE , Pine Island Eagle

By PASTOR ROGER LEMKE

Special to The Eagle

Some missionaries went into the deep dark jungles of Africa to convert the heathen and there they gave the cannibals their first taste of religion. However, their efforts were not in vain, now the converted cannibals only eat fishermen on Friday. Let these two stories remind you that religion is often hazardous to someone's health.

Saul practiced a religion that was hazardous to a Christian's health. Saul had just finished watching Stephen being stoned to death. He had invaded the privacy of Jerusalem homes and hauled Christians away to prison. Now he was on his way to Damascus to imprison or kill more Christians (Read Acts 7,8 and 9).

And then as Saul neared Damascus, a brilliant light from heaven blinded him and knocked him from his high horse to the ground. Unfortunately, religious pundits see Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the somber darkness and fasting of the Lenten season. However, the blinding light of Ash Wednesday takes us back to the very beginning, when God confronted Adam and Eve as they covered themselves with fig leaves and excuses. Standing within God's brilliant light, Adam and Eve heard the booming voice of God as He slammed shut Eden's door: Leave, scram, get out! In sweat you shall eat bread until you return to the ground from which you were taken. Dust to dust!" (Gen. 3:19).

Saul picked himself up out of the dust. He is now blind as a bat and helpless. Saul the dominant became Saul the dependent. For three days Jesus whispered in Saul's ear: "Rend your heart and not your garments, return to the Lord your God" (Joel 2:12-13).

At a very important meeting of the Christian Council of Metro Atlanta, Jimmy Carter was discussing his run for the presidency. During the cocktail hour, someone came up behind me and sweetly said: "You have a thread hanging from your jacket. We can't have you meeting Jimmy looking like that!" She gave a big yank. However the thread was not attached to my jacket at all, but was attached to my pants, and it did not break off like she thought, it just kept coming and coming, and so was Jimmy. So, I'm probably the only person who has talked to a President of the United States with his underwear hanging out!

The ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us that we are standing before God with our religious underwear hanging out. The ashes are a stark reminder of our death sentence, yet there is in them an element of hope, for they are formed into the sign of the cross. The cross reminds us that religious rituals have no power to atone for sin. If you want to eat cans of tuna for the next 40 days, go ahead, but there is no salvation in it. Lent is not about religious fasting, but about moving fast toward the cross of Christ.

After three days of heart-rending repentance there was a spiritual resurrection and basking in the light of Christ. Saul the persecutor became Paul the preacher who wrote: "We are not saved by religious works but by grace for Christ died for the ungodly and I the worst of the sinners boast in Christ and Christ alone" (Roms. 3:21-33). Saul who glorified in the law, became Paul who gloried only in the cross. Through the amazing grace of Christ's light Paul could now sing: "I once was blind, but now I see." May you also look into that light and "behold the life-giving tree of the cross on which was hung the salvation of the world."

Roger Lemke is pastor of Fishers of Men Lutheran Church. The church is at 10360 Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1170 for service times and/or additional information

 
 

 

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