Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Ash Wednesday is the most solemn day in the liturgical year when we confess that we have placed our fear, love, and trust in someone or something other than God. Because the forty days of Lenten fast begin today, we typically abstain from one or more of our favorite little gods throughout this season. The Sundays of Lent are, like all Sundays, little Easters and hence are feast days. You may break the fast on Sundays.
Mark’s mother, Marilyn, was a great prayer warrior, who suffered greatly through the pain of her sons. Mark, her oldest, had led a very promiscuous gay lifestyle in Austin that resulted in his contracting AIDS. When I became Mark’s pastor in August 1995, he was completely deaf and was living with his parents. He had left the life that had wrecked his health and was active in the life of his congregation.
In every season of the year, Mark would plant and lovingly tend flowers in the planters around the exterior of the building. The splash of color and the vibrancy of the flowers added much to the otherwise earth tone exterior brick of that modern cathedral building. When I would make eye contact with Mark and mouth a thank you to him, he would say in a very loud voice, “I want to do something beautiful for Jesus.”
Eventually, the disease ran its course and Mark lay dying in the bedroom of his childhood. His father, Jake, a quiet man, loved his three boys and agonized over Mark’s dying. His mother, a retired pharmacist, cared for his emaciated body as if he were her first baby once again. I would bring the Blessed Sacrament to their home now that Mark was too frail to attend the services of God’s house. He was unaware that his words were always shouted when he spoke. When I administered the true Body and most precious Blood of the Lord, Mark would shout, “Thank you, Jesus.”
Now, Mark, along with his parents and brothers, is part of that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. All of us sin, and the wages of sin is still death. The first commandment tells us the truth. There is only one God, and when we seek comfort or solace from other gods, they will not save us and, indeed, they may kill us. Of course, the wider culture of death mocks and blasphemes its Maker and those who turn to Him for grace and mercy. When one listens to the devil’s empty promises, the lies can be so seductive. But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Thank you, dear Father, for Mark and all who teach us to cry out for mercy and to give up our deadly, false gods. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put one penny, nickel, or dime in a bowl or box today to help to provide food for the local food bank to share with the poor.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.