Home > Uncategorized > Message for Ash Wednesday, Feb 18, 2015

Message for Ash Wednesday, Feb 18, 2015

Joel 2:12–19

Note: the audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

ash-wednesday-return-to-the-lord-your-godIn the name of Jesus.  Amen.

The text for the sermon tonight is the Old Testament lesson we just heard read.  “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?”  This is our text.

We heard it at the start of today’s liturgy: dust you are, and to dust you shall return. The ashes for which this day is named show no one that you are fasting—for who knows if you are?—but they do show everyone that you are dying, and of that you and everyone else may be sure. Dust we are, and to dust we return. Such is the wages of sin.

But then we stare in amazement tonight at One for whom those words sound so wrong.  We see lift up our repentance eyes and see our Lord and His suffering and pains for us and we cry out, “Lord, help us.”  “Lord, forgive us.”  Lord, have mercy upon us.”  We come tonight, of all nights, not just to focus on our own sin and the curse of it in our flesh but to focus on our Savior who dwells in our flesh the One who formed us from the dust at the beginning.  Here is the One who in unfathomable love for our fallen race bent down from His throne on high for us.  And now He will even lay down His head into the dust?  But there is no sin in Him!  In Him, there could be no death.  How and why will He die? We will spend all this Lent pondering in awe such questions.

When Joel declares a sacred fast, when he urges the trumpet to sound and the people to gather, we discover that the occasion is one of return.  Lent is always about a return to.  We so often think of it in terms of turning away from—what we are giving up, what we will fast from.  Make no mistake about it: it is a good thing to fast.  Did not our Lord assume that His disciples would do so when He said in tonight’s Gospel: “when you fast”? When, not if! But by itself fasting, going hungry, can be nothing more than an empty religious exercise.  The Lenten fast goes deeper than your decision to deny yourself some tasty treat.  Rather, it invites, it summons, it urges you back to someone, to the Lord.  “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13). A Lent that is anything less than a return in faith to the Lord is only a religious game and worth less than nothing.

Rather than play games with God, hear His sacred summons to you to come back to Him, to return to Him, now.  He does not want some piece of you, some outward display, torn garments and such, a few minutes tossed His way one day a week.  No.  He wants you, all of you.  Rend your hearts!  “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). A heart that is rent, torn open, is a heart that is wounded, damaged, broken.  Such a heart God receives from you as a pleasing sacrifice.  When, from the depths of your being, you plead, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner! I have made such a mess of it all. I have hurt so many people and failed so often to show Your love, and You know how terrible my thoughts and how soiled my desires are with sin. Have mercy on me, O Lord! Have mercy!”

Lent is not for pretend sinners.  Lent is for real, honest-to-God sinners who have failed in their love of God, who have failed in their love of neighbor, who see this reality, and who by God’s grace despise their sin and ache for His forgiveness and for strength to do better.  To such the invitation rings out as sheer refreshment: “Even you, even now: Return!”  Return, and see the sacred head of Your Savior now wounded.  This is the One we are summoned to return to.  He is the One who knew that we, on our own, could not come to Him, return to Him, find Him; so He came to us, returned to us, and found us.

And we marvel this Lent at how far He went to find us. For it is a marvel indeed that the God of Israel, Yahweh, should take on flesh and blood—as He did in the incarnation.  That is enough to leave us astounded forever.  But He went further.  Not only did He take on our flesh and blood, not only did He become dust for us, but He also went so far as to lift off from us the burden of our sin, to bear it in His own body to death, to own all our failures to live in love as His very own.  Indeed, in the words of St. Paul: “He, who knew no sin,” became sin for us “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

He not only died, but He also died as the greatest sinner of all time, with the sin of the world upon Him—all of it.  Yours.  Mine.  Everyone’s.  Thus the Lord revealed that He is indeed merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Look to the cross and see!  He bore your sin to death that neither death nor sin might be the end of you. Such is the measure of His love.

During Lent, when the Lord calls us to return, He is calling us to return to Himself, to draw near to our Savior who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquity, upon whom was the punishment that brought us peace, and in whose stripes we find healing.  He reminds us that the only real life in this whole world is fellowship with Him, communion with Him, and that every time we have settled for anything less, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived and cheated of the great gift of which Baptism made us heirs.

As often as our Lord sets the Table, He calls for all His Father’s children to return, to come to the feast of the wounded Savior who bore our wounds in His own flesh, spilling His blood for us, so that His flesh might be our living bread from heaven and His blood the blotting out of our every sin.

Dust we are, and to dust we shall return, and so the ashes. But the shape of the cross recalls that we have a Savior who became dust for us, whose sacred head was laid in the dust of death that the dust of our corrupted being might be rendered incorruptible in Him. Is it any wonder that, pondering such love, we join with the whole church in heaven and on earth to raise our voice to that sacred Head and rejoice to call it our very own, our greatest treasure?  Amen.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 26, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    The Ash Wednesday sermon was so up lifting to hear on your blog. It truly reminds us the measure of his love for all of us. I am thankful I believe in him .God Bliss you for making this available so we can hear the sermon .

  2. February 27, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Thanks, Rosemary. Hope you, Leo, and Mark are doing well.

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