First Monday of Lent
For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
“I will put my trust in him.”
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
A gifted pastor friend was forced to retire when it came to light that he had been having an affair with his secretary. The occasion for his retirement was public enough that to write about this is not a violation of the confessional. But I will not name my friend, who has been dead for many years, out of respect for his memory, his widow, and his children.
His bishop was a pompous man, who had regularly violated the seal of the confessional, long before he was a bishop, by telling other clergy with no small delight about the misdeeds of their peers. It was not enough that my friend was forced to retire without permission to preach. The bishop told him that he could never even teach a Sunday School class again. The man was born to teach. In retirement, his wife and he went through an extended period of professional counseling, were reconciled, and lived together as husband and wife until his death several years later.
I was serving in another synod at the time and heard that he had been banned from teaching by his bishop. I phoned his home and invited my friend to teach an adult Sunday School class in our large parish. He said, “The bishop has forbidden me to teach even though my wife and I have been reconciled, she has forgiven me, and we are still married.” My response was, “He is not my bishop, and I am inviting you to teach in our parish.” His wife and he made the five-hour trip by car several Sundays later. I sat in the front row next to his wife and watched his awkward beginning, but, then, he began to teach. It was a marvelous thing to behold. Joy began to alter his countenance, and his wife had tears in her eyes. Afterwards, she grabbed my hands and said, “Thank you for giving my husband back his life’s work.” It was not me. It was the Holy Spirit.
They went on to join a parish of another denomination. The pastor of that parish knew my friend’s story and knew the hard reconciling work that my friend and his wife had done by the grace and mercy of God. He also invited my friend to exercise his great gifts for teaching in that parish.
The discipline of Lent is rooted in our Lord Jesus’ forty days of testing in the wilderness. Today, the author of Hebrews, a sermon to a church that has lost its loving feeling, reminds us that when we are tempted, when we are tested, we are not alone. What a Friend of sinners we have in Jesus!
When Christians, even pastors, fail in the time of trial, it is because we have allowed ourselves to become isolated from the Lord Jesus and from Christian friends, who are here to lend us aid, encouragement, admonition, and, yes, grace and mercy for the journey… not rigid hardness of heart.
Thank you, dear Father, for your beloved Son Jesus, who is able to help us in our time of trial. Grant us grace to trust Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Put six pennies, nickels, or dimes 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.