This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. We begin the season of Lent. We will take the ashes that represent the human struggle of the life of Jesus and make a cross on our foreheads. We will take a pledge to follow in his footsteps.
Now, the Bible tells the history of salvation, salvation history. It is the story of God intervening in our lives, in the history of human society. And Jesus had a great place in this salvation history. The Bible tells the story of a savior who came to redeem his people – to redeem them from sin and from oppression.
In the forty days leading up to Easter, we are asked to walk with Jesus, to learn the lessons that he is teaching the disciples in hope that they will carry on his movement after he is crucified. We are being called to find our place in Salvation History –and to discover the Redemption Power that can change and give great meaning and help to our lives.
Finding our place in salvation history is like stepping into the river, STEPPING INTO God’s river, the way Jesus did when he was baptized by John.
We really kind of know what this is about.
A lot of people dream of finding the life partner that “was meant for you.” Sometimes we lose patience and we “hook up” with somebody on a temporary basis. But sometimes we find a person and we know that that person was meant for you. In that finding you have stepped into God’s river.
That is why when you take the marriage vows you don’t just present a contract that you have signed to God at the altar. No, instead you stand before God and accept the gift of union that He has given you. That is why you say, “What God has joined together, no man should separate.” You are a product of God’s joining.
Sometimes young people look to finding a career or an opportunity that will make them famous or wealthy, make them successful. Yet sometimes, they look for what God wants them to do with their lives. And when they find that vocation, there is a power that comes into them, and over them, a wonderful all engrossing power, just as when they find their true life partner, a power that keeps them going no matter what the difficulties are. And we call that “redemption power”, power that comes when God has made a place for you to come back to him. It is a wonderful power.
In the same way, when we are struggling to get some justice, struggling to build a movement, we don’t just struggle for ourselves, but we look for the movement that God is making, and we try to find our place in that movement, whether it be a movement in the church or a movement in the streets. We just need to find our place to know the redemption power that God gives us. A wonderful power that can change your life forever. And today we are hearing a call in the next 40 days to “step into the river”
Jesus, in scripture, talks about what is going on around him at that time. He calls the people responsible for the oppression of his people “Hypocrites”. When Olivia was reading the scripture this morning and she said the word “hypocrites”, I could feel Jesus speaking, and it sent a chill down my back – because she knew what people had done to her family while claiming to be all good and all legal. And that is what Jesus was talking about.
And he said, “How is it you don’t know how to interpret the present times? You can see the clouds in the sky and know it is going to rain, but you can’t look around you and see what is going on now.”
We look around us and we see the signs of what is going on today, the signs of what is happening to God’s people. These hypocrites, they see 12 million people working and raising families in this country. They know that these people were hired for low wages. They know they pay taxes. They know they have children, U.S. citizen children. They know they have relationships of love and faithfulness here.
But these hypocrites are selfish. They want those jobs. And the times, the economic crisis we are in, make them even more selfish. You know sometimes when people are in crisis they share with each other. That is God working in them. But others in hard times, they hate each other; they steal from each other and blame others for their problems. That is the devil working.
Today these hypocrites, perhaps they are even jealous of your love, your families. The statistics show their own families are falling apart. Today in the United States only two out of every ten children are born to people who are married. The average length of the north American marriage is only two or three years. Millions of families are falling apart, as the selfishness of this culture destroys relationships. So maybe these hypocrites are jealous when they see a loving family together.
And maybe these hypocrites are afraid: they see the color of the nation changing. Last week it came out that the majority of people in Texas are either Latino or African Americans – and they are mostly Latino. Maybe these hypocrites feel like the state of Texas is changing color and is being taken away from them. Perhaps they forgot that they stole the state of Texas from Mexico only a short time ago!
And for all these reasons, a movement of hate has driven this nation to demand that these families be torn apart, that these children be hated. They even want to strip the citizenship from them, although the Lord knows they cannot take away their citizenship in the Kingdom of heaven.
What hypocrisy it is to dress up this hate, to dress up this fear and selfishness and jealousy, by talking about “the Law” and the “constitution” and by calling human beings “illegal.”
It is not just that their families are falling apart. It is also that the same selfishness that is destroying families and relationships, that same selfishness and greed destroyed this economy. People know this. Many of them were very selfish too. But they don’t look at themselves; they just strike out and blame others.
And the politicians, including the one in the White House, just want to get reelected. They just want to satisfy the hate, the fear, the jealousy: and so we have the situation today where 1100 mothers and fathers are being deported every day.
If they can’t see their own hypocrisy, Jesus would say “how can you see the clouds and know it will rain, but not see the effects of your own selfishness on your relationships, on the economy, and stop it.” Why, he would ask, why can’t you see this?
Is God intervening in this history? Is God making an offer of redemption? I think that he is.
We said a long time ago, that the presence of 12 million people trying to hold their families together, that that is an offer from God, an offer of redemption, and that it is the offer that Jesus made.
The Bible teaches us that we can feel the power of this redemption, that we can step into the river and feel that power, but we must prepare ourselves. That is what Jesus did after he was baptized, after he stepped into the river, he went to the desert to prepare himself.
How did he prepare himself? He struggled with Satan. Satan says worship me and I will make you rich. But Jesus said no. He told the Devil flat out: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the word of God.”
Satan says worship me and I will make you powerful but Jesus said “I will put no other Gods before him.” See the temptation to turn away from God, to become arrogant and selfish, to look for a career that will make you famous instead of a vocation that God calls you too, to walk into a relationship that is easy, instead of looking for the one that is meant for you, those temptations are out there and Jesus prepared himself. He fought with the devil over those temptations and he made himself ready. And we are asked now to make ourselves ready in the same way.
In the next forty days, as we begin to build a movement, a movement across the nation.and in the next forty days we will work to strengthen our churches. Today we will fight with Satan.
Say “Satan don’t confuse me.”
Let me get my mind right now.
I want what God has to offer me.
I am not going to be tempted by this country that is so crazy.
I am not going to put on the attitudes of a country that treats me with injustice.
I want the attitudes of my faith, the faith of Jesus Christ.
I want to find the place that God calls me to.
I am struggling with Satan.
I want that other stuff out of me, that I might be totally focused on making my family a family of God, of making a life that will save my people, of building a movement that will free my people.
And Jesus, if I am focused than give me the REDEMPTION POWER, Give me the Redemption Power that Jesus had.
Give me the power to heal.
Give me the power to drive out demons.
Give me the power to gather my people.
Give me the power to make a witness so powerful that our enemies will fall down before us. Fill me up Lord!
In order to get that power, to get where we want to be inside of ourselves, there is one final step of preparation: it is changing the way you see yourself.
In scripture, Jesus told the parable of the farmer. The farmer went out and spread his seeds. Some seeds fell in bad places and were blown away, but other seeds fell in good soil and produced a great harvest.
Now often when we think about that scripture we think, we are like the farmer. We are spreading the seeds to get a good crop just as Jesus did. But Jesus never called himself the farmer. In fact, as we go through this next forty days, and learn the secret of the resurrection, we are going to see that Jesus wasn’t the farmer, but that Jesus was the seed. And if we want the redemption power in us, we have to see that we are the seeds, seeds that God has planted.
Sometimes I just don’t know why he has planted us in these places. “Why would God put me here?” But God knows what he is doing. He put you where you are for a reason. Find what you are supposed to be. Open your heart to see what God wants you to be. Look to find those faithful relationships with others that are waiting for you. Look to find the place you have in the movement for redemption that God is building. We are all seeds – seeds that can grow into a harvest of new life and new hope for millions – and for ourselves. We have been planted here, in this church, in the soil of faith, for a reason. And what God will do with us can change a whole nation. Most of all, it can fill our lives with Redemption Power!
When I was coming home from New York, I got a ride back from the airport with someone. She said I want to thank you for what you are doing for the struggle of the families. And she said about those who don’t seem to care that she thought it was that they just had not just experienced what we are going through.
She said a few years ago she met the person that “I knew I was called to love. And we were married and we had a child coming on the way”. She said “It was so perfect, I woke up every mooring feeling like this was a perfect love, a perfect relationship and I was so happy, so hopeful about our lives and our child that was coming.”
But we made some legal mistakes and filed some papers on the advice of a notario that got my husband deported. It took three years to get us back together again. She said it “damaged our relationship – the love we had, the child that was born, so filled with promise – it damaged that relationship. Why would they do that to us? It made me so angry; it made me so depressed that I went into the hospital.”
And I told her two things: first it is about them too. Nobody is deporting their husband or wife. Nobody is deporting their mother or father, but their relationships are falling apart anyway. They are killing each other, and greed has made a whole country fall apart. They need the love that you had when you first were married. And the good news is that when you keep on struggling, as you did, that your husband came back, at great risk to himself, but he doesn’t care about the danger, because he wants that family together, he is willing to take the risk so that you can raise that child, and the miracle is that God makes everything new again, he fills you with the healing of redemption power.
Yet we have hypocrites that are saying get rid of that father, destroy that family while yet they can’t even keep their own family together. They don’t have the love to sacrifice for their own children. They are the ones in trouble, and through God’s people, they are being offered a chance for redemption. Yet Jesus taught that if they don’t accept that offer than they will face a terrible judgment.
That is why I know that this movement is going to grow this year. I saw in New York that everywhere now there are small groups like ours taking shape. Just as the group around Jesus, the 12 and the faithful women, groups without money but with a great gift of faith, groups coming alive in the faith everywhere – called by God, receiving Redemption power.
That is why we invite you starting this Wednesday, to take an hour every day in prayer, a movement of forty days of daily prayer, I want you feel redemption power, power in your lives, in your relationships, in your movement. God wants you to make yourself ready to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and receive the Redemption Power.
It is being offered to you by God. So, Kick the Devil out! Know that you are a seed that God has planted.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.