Troubled No More

Ash Wednesday

February 6, 2008

 

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

Psalm 51:10

10Create a clean heart in me, O Lord, and put a new and right spirit within me.

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good evening!

 

Our topic this evening is “Troubled No More.” I’d like to tell you a story tonight about someone who lived a very long time ago, and about a very special spiritual practice he had. This gentleman lived back in the 17th century, quite a long time ago, indeed. He was a brother. He was part of the Carmelite monastic order, and his name was Brother Lawrence.

 

But before I tell you about him, let me just say that tonight is a special night, because we are beginning the time of Lent. Generally when we think of Lent, we think about giving up something for Lent. And that is a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re thinking about that, making a spiritual practice of giving up something for Lent, I bless you. I encourage you. I encourage you to give something up and to take something on. Give up something that will remind you of the blessing of the spirit. And take something on that will enrich your spirit.

 

Perhaps you’ll be following one of the five keys to Christian living. Do you know what those are?

Pray every day.

Worship every week.

Read and grow.

Give as you are given.

Help wherever you can.

We can take on one of those in particular this Lent, or we can take on a variety of them.

 

And we can give something up. I am going to. But I’m not going to tell you exactly what it is. And I would encourage you to keep your ‘give up’ a secret, too. It’s just between you and God, in the spirit of the gospel we read today, Matthew 6:1-6. Let that sacrifice, large or small, whatever it may be, be a simple reminder of God’s sacrificial love for us.

 

But there is one thing I would like us to give up, and that brings us back to the story of Brother Lawrence. Let me tell you how I found out about him. Over twenty years ago, I had a remarkable opportunity to study with a gentleman by the name of Norman Vincent Peale. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale was the pastor at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City for over 50 years. I had the privilege of having several pointed conversations with him. In one of those conversations, I asked Dr. Peale what advice he would give me for spiritual living. And I remember he said, “Young man, I think you should read a book. It’s called The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence.” So I did. It’s a beautiful little book.

 

Brother Lawrence lived through most of the 1600’s, from 1611-1691. He was a monk in a monastery. He could not read or write. He cared for the kitchen – he cooked and he washed the dishes. He used to say that he never felt closer to Christ than when he was doing dishes. He had a very special heart, and all the other brothers knew it.

 

There were scribe brothers that would sit with him and write down the spiritual things that he said. There’s one thing he said that I’d like to bring before us tonight. One of the brothers asked him, “Brother Lawrence, do you ever sin?”

 

He said, “Oh, yes. Yes, I do.”

 

“Do you ever make mistakes?” the scribe asked him.

 

“Oh, I’m afraid I do,” said Brother Lawrence.

 

“Well,” the scribe said, “does it trouble you?”

 

Brother Lawrence said, “When I’ve made a mistake, when I have strayed, when I have sinned, here is what I do. I take it to God in prayer. And then, I confess it. And then, I let it trouble me no more.” Isn’t that beautiful? From that simple yet profound soul – “I let it trouble me no more. I confess it, and I let it trouble me no more.”

 

Dear friend, as we begin this Lenten time, this time of spiritual simplicity, I invite this for you. Perhaps there is someone here tonight who needs to say, “I have brought this matter before the Lord. I have confessed it, and I am troubled no more.” What a beautiful act of trust in God! What a beautiful act of the acknowledgement of the power of forgiveness, to say, “I am troubled no more.”

 

Isn’t it true that some of us can come to church feeling so burdened? We bring our burdens before the altar of the Lord and lay them before the cross and say, “Lord, I am laying my burdens before You. I am confessing my shortcomings before You.” And then, just before we leave the parking lot, we take it all back. We keep it with us, and we wonder if we are really forgiven. We wonder if we are really okay. We wonder if we’re really blessed.

 

The good news is you are! You are forgiven. You are loved. You are blessed. And if you ask me how I know, I’ll tell you about this [Pastor Tony picks up a hand-carved cross from the altar], the cross of Jesus Christ, the sturdiest, rock-solid foundation of the Christian faith that there is. Jesus came that sins may be forgiven. Jesus gave us communion to remind us that sins are forgiven. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sin from us. And so, when we come to the cross of Christ, when we bring Him our burdens and our shortcomings and whatever has broken us, it is worthy of full assurance that He forgives – and we can walk away troubled no more.

 

Just think – what a wonderful release of power there would be in you and me if we really took God’s forgiveness to heart, if we really believe that God meant it when He said “I forgive you,” that the cross is here to absorb the debt of the sin. Friend, I simply send us into this season with this thought in mind. Let’s join hands with that wonderful Brother Lawrence. And when we bring our burdens to God, let’s be able to let Him forgive us and forgive ourselves. Let us rise up from our prayer and say, “I am troubled about nothing,” because God loves you. I do, too. God bless you all. Amen.

 

© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski