Lent is, among other things, a time to consider the idea of discipline, which has as its root the idea of being a disciple, a learner. Many people take up Lenten disciplines” like doing an extra devotional or time of bible study, or practicing some kind of fast as a way to help focus on being a disciple. Lent itself comes from an Old English word meaning “spring.” And when you put spring and discipline together, you get the idea of spring cleaning, which may or may not have much theological application but is certainly something everybody is familiar with.
When we consider being learners from example, we are blessed to follow in the footsteps of people who were thinking of us long ago. They thought to include St. Paul’s in their wills, which is why we are blessed today to have an endowment fund. We use the proceeds of that fund in our budget every year. Ideally, we would cover our budget with our own giving, but as of right now we are unable to do that, which is what makes their foresight such a blessing to us.
How do we best discipline ourselves, meaning make disciples of ourselves, when we’ve been blessed by the example of such people? Well, first and foremost we ought to be grateful for the blessing. Secondly, we ought not take it for granted as though it were rightfully just a part of our budget, but should instead dedicate ourselves to the goal of having our offering dollars cover our budget so that the endowments funds can be used for things out-side our walls, blessing other people and other missions. But thirdly, we should consider quite simply following their example. If they thought of the future of the church, we who benefit from them should learn from them and do likewise.
Getting back to spring cleaning, have you considered tidying up some of the loose ends in life by making a will? Making out a will is one of those nagging things that everyone knows they really ought to do but many people simply never quite find the time for. I am an example of that myself. We made a will several years ago but it has been on our list to update it ever since Stephen was born.
I encourage you to get your house in order this spring by making or updating your will, and I encourage you to do what Heidi and I did—include the church as one of your children. In other words, in our case our estate will be divided by seven; six children and one church. (Although until I get my spring cleaning done i.e. get my will updated, it is still only five kids and the church is Faith Lutheran in Green Bay.) Please consider doing something similar. It is way to be a thankful recipient of gifts like our endowment, a disciplined learner from those who went before you and gave you those gifts, and a participant in the greatest spring cleaning of all, which is the cleansing of souls through the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which by God’s grace and the Spirit-created generosity of the stewards of his gifts, St. Paul’s will be doing until Christ comes again in glory.
It probably makes for bad theology to say that a picture is worth a thousand words. After all, Christ, the very center of Christianity, is called the Word. Spreading the Gospel is done via language. But on the other hand, Christians have always used art to express and teach aspects of the faith, and Jesus is also called the exact image of God.
Christianity has made much of sacred art, filling churches and public places with images of Christ and His followers engaged in the various events recorded in Scripture. Jews and Muslims do not have the equivalent of crucifixes or manger scenes. Things like our stained glass window depicting Jesus praying in the garden would never appear in a traditional mosque or synagogue. In Jerusalem there is a large, modern statue of King David playing the harp, but his nose and some fingers are missing. It was defaced not by Israel’s enemies, but by devout Jews who consider it a violation of God’s law to make such a graven image. And of course we all know from the news about the objections of Muslims to any depiction of their prophet. Those religions usually use symbols and designs rather than representational art. So even though Jews, Muslims, and Christians claim to be Abraham’s offspring, typically only Christians would paint a picture of Abraham.
Sure, there have been Christian groups called “Iconoclasts” who have rejected the use of images in churches. For example, many of the Swiss Reformers (the fathers of modern Protestantism) painted over sacred art in churches and smashed beautiful statues on the theory that they amounted to graven images forbidden by the Bible. But Lutherans and most Christians generally have never fallen for the error of Iconoclasm. Our churches historically have featured plenty of statues and paintings depicting the great people and events of the Bible and Christian history.
This Lenten season our midweek services will look at some great Christian art in order to better understand the classic themes of Lent, like temptation, sin, sacrifice, and atonement. Hopefully this series will help us connect those high theological concepts with our regular, concrete, flesh and blood lives in Munster in 2015. Please plan to attend.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana