Growing up in Brookville Methodist Church, every child knew when they started 3rd grade there were two things to count on: 1) a brand-new KJV Bible and, 2) joining Ruth Creasey’s Sunday school class.  Mrs. Creasey was a no-nonsense Bible loving teacher who taught by the “scripture memory, first to find and read the verse and behave yourself” style of Sunday school teaching. And on my very first day of class, we learned the two most important Bible verses that every person needs to know: John 3:16 and Romans 3:23.  I learned that God loved me enough to send Jesus so I would have everlasting life. And I learned the reason Jesus came was to address and pay for my sins (others too).  Mrs. Creasey wanted us to know from the start what God had done for us in Jesus – John 3:16; and why Jesus did what he did for us – Romans 3:23.

I believe that Lent is our time to return to focusing on God more than we have. Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays.  It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. The root word for Lent means “spring.” The season is a preparation for celebrating Easter. Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians. So Lent is a season of Spring inviting us to prepare to “jump” or “spring” onto a deeper faith life.

During Lent 2018, we will focus our attention on how Jesus faced the cross and now invites us to do the same – to determine over these 40 days what is not in line with the cross.  What things need to be eliminated or crucified in us, what things need to be resurrected or begun in us to live into the disciple of Jesus calling upon all of us?  It starts with remembering who we are, who we are not, who we are supposed to be and who we are called to follow.

“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Today’s scripture lesson is pulled from one of Paul’s most-important theological teachings about God’s grace. The standard of living for every human past, present and future is holiness. This has never changed from the moment of God’s creation of all things.

To be holy means to be blameless, sinless and faultless in the way one observes the moral, communal and spiritual laws of God. Holiness is God’s command, not suggestion.  There is no middle ground in living holy – one either is, or is not.  One failure (sin) changes everything in our relationship with God forever.  Our sin stands between Holy God and us and every human since Adam and Eve have fallen into sin.

Our sin has doomed us to eternal separation from God’s presence.  We need a savior.  We need someone to do what we can never do for ourselves – to pay the price for our sins in such a way that it would be as if we never sinned in the first place – we need to be justified (made right, realigned, changed) and we need a new start (life).

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)  We now live under the way of the grace of God. We have a savior!  Jesus, the Son of God, the Righteous (sinless) One.  His sacrifice paid the price for redemption. Through faith in Jesus our sins are atoned (paid) for.  His death on the cross is our ransom from eternal separation and provides an eternal relationship with God where we are able to call upon God at any time and any place for any reason and one day we will live in face-to-face fellowship with God forever.

In Luke 9:51 it says that when the time drew near for Jesus to leave this earth, he set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross he would encounter on our behalf.  Since Jesus has done the work for our salvation and new life, our task is to live into and out of his sacrifice by the way we live, love and care for others and ourselves that reflect Jesus to others in everything we do.

It starts by facing our sins.  It starts by recognizing what was lost because of sin: a face-to-face relationship with the God who created everything because of love – a love God wanted to share with his creatures – us!  Sin broke God’s heart literally.  According to John’s gospel, Jesus’ death on the cross came when his heart burst.  Sin broke the Lord’s heart!

When we face our sins past we see God’s undeserved love – grace at work to forgive and restore us as a child of God even before we were ever aware of God – this is known as justifying grace.

As we face our sins present we see the day-to-day struggle to be holy in our thoughts, words and deeds.  We still need help to live holy.  Jesus knew this and sent the Holy Spirit to take up residence in us to slowly change and teach us to live into a life of holiness – this is called sanctifying grace. It reminds us that God is always at work, because of God’s undeserved love for us bringing us back, freeing us from the guilt of our sins and changing our focus from self to God and others and to freely live in God’s grace.

In his work, The Tree, The Tomb, And The Trumpet, George M. Bass tells the story of his 6-month old Irish Setter puppy Copper being allowed to run freely in the fenced-in backyard of his new home in the snow.  “He gingerly stepped off our back step into the first snow of a Minnesota winter. He took a few tentative steps in the snow and then, suddenly, he discovered that he was not on a leash this time. He began to run wildly, in circles, and he dashed around the large, fenced-in backyard, leaping into the air, twisting and turning in a glorious dance of freedom and joy. He was meant to have this kind of life – free from ropes and leashes, free from people who would not let him run as he was meant to. The next morning, when I put him out again, I discovered that his paw prints, and body prints where he had rolled over in the snow, seemed to be everywhere. Hardly a spot in the backyard failed to show the marks of his previous night’s jubilant romp in the snow.”

The purpose of the law was to reveal to us that we need a savior to free us.  The gift of grace reveals the extent to which the love of God will go to bring us back – to bring us home, to set us free.  This is why we begin every worship celebration with two specific and special words: “Welcome home!”  It is to remind us every time we gather what God has done for us so we can truly worship our triune God in a spirit of truth and grace!  We have crossed over from spiritual death due to sin to the spiritual resurrection life of grace offered through the death on the cross by Jesus for all.  We are forever free all because Christ turned the clock back to the very beginning, to the Garden that God created, and has renewed our broken relationship with his Father and ours so that we really have new life in and through him, our Lord.