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For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit
1 Peter 3:18

John Muir, famous explorer and naturalist,  tells an amazing story in his book, Travels in Alaska of the Thlinkit and Sitka tribes, two tribes that readily accepted the preaching of the gospel in Alaska in 1879. He writes:

The Thlinkit tribes give a hearty welcome to Christian missionaries. In particular they are quick to accept the doctrine of the atonement, because they themselves practice it.... As an example of their own doctrine of atonement they told Mr. Young and me one evening that 20 or 30 years ago there was a bitter war between their own and the Sitka tribe, great fighters, and pretty evenly matched. After fighting all summer, fighting now under cover, now in the open, watching for every chance for a shot, none of the women dared venture to the salmon streams or berry fields to procure their winter stock of food. At this crisis one of the Stickeen chiefs came out of his block-house fort into an open space midway between their fortified camps, and shouted that he wished to speak to the leader of the Sitkas.

When the Sitka chief appeared, he said: "My people are hungry. They dare not go to the salmon streams or berry fields for winter supplies, and if this war goes on much longer most of my people will die of hunger. We have fought long enough; let us . . .

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit      1 Peter 3:18

John Muir, famous explorer and naturalist,  tells an amazing story in his book, Travels in Alaska of the Thlinkit and Sitka tribes, two tribes that readily accepted the preaching of the gospel in Alaska in 1879. He writes:

The Thlinkit tribes give a hearty welcome to Christian missionaries. In particular they are quick to accept the doctrine of the atonement, because they themselves practice it.... As an example of their own doctrine of atonement they told Mr. Young and me one evening that 20 or 30 years ago there was a bitter war between their own and the Sitka tribe, great fighters, and pretty evenly matched. After fighting all summer, fighting now under cover, now in the open, watching for every chance for a shot, none of the women dared venture to the salmon streams or berry fields to procure their winter stock of food. At this crisis one of the Stickeen chiefs came out of his block-house fort into an open space midway between their fortified camps, and shouted that he wished to speak to the leader of the Sitkas.

When the Sitka chief appeared, he said: "My people are hungry. They dare not go to the salmon streams or berry fields for winter supplies, and if this war goes on much longer most of my people will die of hunger. We have fought long enough; let us make peace. You brave Sitka warriors go home, and we will go home, and we will all set out to dry salmon and berries before it is too late."

The Sitka chief replied: "You may well say let us stop fighting, when you have had the best of it. You have killed ten more of my tribe than we have killed of yours. Give us ten Stickeen men to balance our blood account; then, and not till then, will we make peace and go home."

"Very well," replied the Stickeen chief, "you know my rank. You know that I am worth 10 common men and more. Take me, and make peace."

This noble offer was promptly accepted; the Stickeen chief stepped forward and was shot down in sight of the fighting bands. Peace was thus established, and all made haste to their homes and ordinary work. That chief literally gave himself a sacrifice for his people. He died that they might live. Therefore, when missionaries preached the doctrine of atonement, explaining that when all mankind had gone astray, had broken God's laws and deserved to die, God's son came forward, and, like the Stickeen chief, offered himself as a sacrifice to heal the cause of God's wrath and set all the people of the world free, the doctrine was readily accepted.

"Yes, your words are good," they said. "The Son of God, the Chief of chiefs, the Maker of all the world, must be worth more than all mankind put together; therefore, when His blood was shed, the salvation of the world was made sure."1

Peter writes in his letter:
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.

That is the simple message of the gospel. Jesus died for us.
This, the first Sunday in Lent reminds us simply of that fact.
As we move through the season of Lent we will focus on that simple fact and its implications.
Palm Sunday will remind us again that He is, and always was, the King, deserving our respect.
On Maundy Thursday you will be invited to a seder meal to enact the passover and its meaning for Jesus and his disciples on the night before he died.
Good Friday we will remember again His death.
Easter Sunday we will remember again and celebrate His resurrection.

But for these forty days leading up to Easter, we are in the season of Lent, the season of repentance.
Repentance means becoming aware that our attitudes and our actions have been wrong. And even if we have not acted wrongly, or believe you haven't, our inner motivations and thoughts have been wrong. We live for our own self-interest and too seldom ever think about the great debt we owe to God, or about others who also live in this world.
We live our lives as if what we want is the most important thing in the universe and seldom ever ask what God expects of us, or whether God might actually have better plans for us.
And the times that thought does cross our minds we as often as not retreat from it because we do not trust God's plans over our own.
And so we just plow through life blind to the One who walks alongside and who does so much good for us on the way. We let our fears set the agenda, or our ambitions, or sometimes its just indifference.

When we repent we acknowledge that our face is often turned away from God and we turn our face back toward God.

This past Wednesday was called Ash Wednesday and is the formal start of Lent.
Ashes have been a traditional way of expressing mourning.
We grieve for all that has been lost.
We acknowledge our human mortality and our own frailty. We make plans for good but often are unable to accomplish them.
And we are fragile.
Our lives can end in the blink of an eye and none has claim on immortality.
We have God's gift of eternal life, but we do not posses immortality just by being human.

The moment we are born we are born into a world where our death is inevitable.
Our plans and our accomplishments will not live forever.
The greatest paintings and works of art will one day turn to dust as shall we, but much sooner.
We are born to die.
A somber thought, but true.

And so we come to God in Lent taking the time to acknowledge all that.
We acknowledge our frailty.
We acknowledge our mortality.
We acknowledge our part in the sorrow of this life, and we ask for God's forgiveness.
But for a time we just grieve the loss of innocence, of purity, of our youth.

Fortunately this is not the last word.
There is a famous sermon. It may be Friday, (meaning good friday) but Sunday's Coming.
We can grieve because all is not lost.
As Peter writes, Christ Jesus died for sins, once for all, to bring us to God.
Resurrection is coming for our bodies and for our hopes.
But let's not rush too fast for the desert. Let's take the time to acknowledge why he died for us.
Let's grieve our sin, the sin of the world and all its losses.

Preached 
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Notes
1.John Muir, Travels in Alaska (Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1915) p. 197.

Online Resources Consulted
http://www.preachingtoday.com/

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