Working to change.

But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. We study to help us reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

In the first week of Lent, we focused on fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling the space we cleared with new longing to live the gospel.

Last week we studied giving. Giving or sacrifice is a call from God that awaits a response. If we respond without holding back and grumbling, God recognizes our devotion. He not only sees it, but also blesses us more than we could ever imagine.

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer and proclamation. Today we focus on study.

Study is a long-valued Lenten tradition. In these forty days we are called to increase our study of the bible, and beyond that to find worthy reading materials that help us to understand God better. That reading may be a work by a Church Father, a study on the life of a saint, strategies for growing the kingdom through evangelism (i.e., how to talk to others about Jesus), or perhaps a book on how a person overcame a struggle we may face to become a more faithful follower of Jesus.

God had commanded the Jewish people to keep His word ever in their thoughts and before them. That is why faithful Jewish people recite the Sh’ma Yisrael twice a day: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” which references to the Ten Commandments we heard today. They place the Sh’ma on the doorpost of their homes fulfilling the command to, “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house.” The Orthodox wear Tefillin on their heads and arms, containing verses from the Torah.

Faithfulness requires us to do more than recite words or place them in our homes. We are called to go deeper into God’s word, His direction for our lives, to cherish His word and to put it into action. Let us resolve to do so by our study this Lent, and by study know God’s nature even better.

as the hypocrites do, like the hypocrites.

Nobody likes hypocrites, and not to put too fine a point on it, Jesus in particular called out the sin of hypocrisy in others. No sin was as sternly denounced by Jesus.

In Hebrew, the term actually meant ‘godless.’ To be a hypocrite was to be without God, that is to be dishonest/untruthful. In Greek, hypocrisy meant play acting at religious observance. The exterior of the person did not reflect their interior. To be a hypocrite was to be all show, no go.

In Luke 12:1-2, Jesus warned his disciples against following the practices of Pharisees who engaged in hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.

The bottom line on hypocrisy is that it is not a determination pointing to a person being intrinsically evil, but rather that they have either:

  • Failed to realize the nature of God’s call, or  
  • Are failing to properly live out the call they have.  

Religious hypocrites don’t really get it and make a mistake by interpreting their actions as true religion versus having a complete metanoia – a complete change in one’s life, from heart to mind, soul, spirit, and outward; all coming from spiritual conversion.

Some practical examples as Jesus points out today: Fasting and appearing as if one is suffering. Why not bother if it is just for show? Giving to be seen as giving. Why bother if it is just play acting? Why pray if it is only to hear oneself mumbling words made meaningless because they are not meant?

Jesus’ points about already being repaid pales in comparison to His warning from Luke 12 – if you are only doing it for show, unthinking, without inner change, play acting – everybody is going to find out, it will be revealed, you won’t be able to keep it a secret.

Lent calls us to change, to a genuine metanoia. The Lenten call presupposes the fact that we are all play acting at different levels. Perhaps it is because we lack a complete understanding of what God is calling us to. Perhaps our religious practice has become habit rather that challenge. Perhaps we are doing things because mom or dad said so. Maybe, just maybe, we are comfortable and just do not want to change.

Now is the time to have our hearts convicted, to convert and to change. We are called to rend our hearts, to break our hearts for failures and to learn a lesson from that heartbreak – a lesson that pushes us to be genuine, to live God’s call fully and completely, to be changed throughout.

St. Paul nails it: do not receive the grace of God in vain. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We have to work at truly being God’s vision of us this very minute, now, and stop any play acting we are doing. God’s grace stands ready to get us there – we must not take that opportunity in vain.

Why we do what we do is key to right perspective and true religion, to ending hypocrisy. This is what we will focus on throughout the Lenten journey we are sharing together. Understanding gained in this process and study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the metanoia that will bring us to being genuine (not hypocritic) bearers and livers of Jesus’s gospel.

It is about
understanding.

And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. 

Gaining understanding, seeing what God is doing and what our relationship is toward Him are the things Jesus fought for His entire life. He wanted us to see family as more than a functional organization that does stuff together, but as the model of the kingdom. Family is designed to be a peek into what the eternal kingdom will look like.

Jesus and his parents had been at the festival for at least seven days. They spent their time growing in relationship to their community (the model of church), to each other (the domestic church) and most of all, toward God (their eternal Father source of family). They were living out church.

We know how it is when we get caught up in something great. We don’t want to leave. So it was for Jesus. In the Temple precincts, Jesus had it all. He has the fullness of family all in one place. He didn’t want to leave. He was having an excellent time. He wants us to feel and live this way too – right now.

Jesus wants to share the fullness of family relationship with us. He wants us to gain insight, to understand and see beyond the ordinary and look to the extraordinary greatness of life that is the Christian family – the family centered on and living in Him. He wants us to revel in the family of God and to never want to leave.

God is all about family. He designed us and the world around us to mirror family life in heaven. “Let us make man in our image.” He wants us to be moved to such an extent that we want family. He wants us to stay, not just with Him, but with each other in family. He ministered to and built family to provide a life example – this is how it is supposed to be.

Jesus taught His disciples to refer to His Father as their Father. He asked the crowds – who is my mother, brothers, and sisters? It is those who understand and live in family relationship with Him and His Father. He wants us to remain, to stay in family love.

God’s family is built upon all the things Jesus taught – the example He gave us – one of dedication, worship, sacrifice, and love. God wants us to understand His great desire – that we are family and are to live that way.

As we once again renew and take up life as the kingdom family, let us remember the example of the Acts Church – people living as one – living, sacrificing, praying, and worshiping – really getting it, never wanting to leave.