[Jesus said] “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16.
I give thanks to God when Scripture and people argue. I do. It means that, at the very least, people are speaking about God with one another and discussing what God’s word means.
Martin Luther loved to argue Scripture, but he certainly didn’t like it when it contradicted his arguments. Luther would have tossed out the Epistle from James if he could have, calling it the “epistle of straw.” Why? Because Luther disagreed with James’ (2:26) statement that faith without works is dead. And yet, our very Lord states in this week’s readings that we are to “shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Read that last part—they give glory to the Father because they see your good works.
Of course, we Lutherans know that we are not saved by what we do. (At least, I hope you know that.) But, does this mean that works are not necessary? Jesus in our verse above seems to state that our very works (our light) brings people to God. I would say that’s necessary, wouldn’t you?
If this type of wondering challenges you, confuses you, annoys you—I give thanks to God. As I said, I love it when people actually talk about Scripture, let alone question it. We don’t do this enough. We don’t speak and wonder about the Biblical texts.
Lent is coming. And with it, the cultural trend to “give something up” arises. Discussions happen about what “to give up” for the season. I understand how we got to where we are, but we are far from the original purpose of fasting. The early and medieval church encouraged fasting, especially for those seeking Baptism on Easter Sunday, as a way to be drawn to Christ. Those who fasted went hungry. Their pains of hunger would stir them throughout the day to remember that whatever suffering they had was nothing in comparison to the suffering Christ endured on the cross.
The current understanding of Lent does still include three specific disciplines–repentance, fasting and alms-giving. But I think these disciplines require a lot of thought and prayer for each person individually. How you keep them–how you practice your repentance, your fasting and your alms-giving in the 40 days of Lent is up to you. It is.
But, I have a challenging thought for you. I really, really (yes, I meant that double emphasis) strongly encourage you to think about Lent and the disciplines that come with the season. Instead of giving something up, like an unhealthy habit as your “fast,” I encourage you to think about the original intent of the fast to begin with. It is to mirror suffering. Specifically the suffering of Christ. I am certain that my giving up of chocolate in my youth was irritating for me, but I did not suffer.
A more modern discipline has slowly evolved–which is good–and it is to “take on something new” that relates to your faith journey. I like this, especially for those with young children and those who cannot fast or provide more “alms” than they already do. In the spirit of this newer tradition, I strongly encourage you to consider taking on the Word of God itself by joining a study group and reading the verses and discussing them. Just as Luther argued about the Epistle of James, just as we read my thoughts above about Jesus’ words about works–studying Scripture opens us up to discussing our faith in action and growing stronger as a follower of Christ through it. As we see a decline in Biblical knowledge each generation, we need to address this and take up the challenge before us. And because I feel strongly about this, I wanted to share now what will be offered.
During Lent, on Wednesday mornings, we will meet at 9:30 a.m. in the Luther Conference Room to open our Bibles and walk through (gasp) the Epistle of James. If I have a fair number of persons committed to coming at night, I will schedule an evening option. But regardless your age or stage, this offering to delve into the Word is open to you. I pray you grasp it. I pray you feel pulled to it. And when you come, I pray you question and wonder and yes even argue. God can handle it, and Luther would be thoroughly proud.