2/18/2015 Ash Wednesday The text for today is 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A couple of days ago, we celebrated Ash Wednesday or the “The Day of Ashes.” For centuries Christians have gathered on this day to begin the Lenten journey to Calvary. The journey begins as ashes are placed on foreheads in the sign of the cross. This practice is a powerful, nonverbal way to remind us of our sin and our need “to be reconciled to God.”
Now, reconciliation, in all its nuances, is something we need. For, sin puts us in an adversarial relationship with God. Through our sinful nature, we quickly become enemies of all that God wants for us and creation. And we can do nothing about it. But God doesn’t want us to be enemies. God doesn’t want us to wallow in sin and doubt. So, God does something about it in Jesus Christ. In Christ, sinners find shelter from judgment. In and through him, sinners are made right with God. For, he is wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities and our sin is transferred to him and his righteousness is transferred to us.
Reconciliation, that is being made compatible with God and one another, is only possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, hearing this is not enough, any more than it is enough to hear the words, “you are forgiven,” “you are beloved,” “you are my children.” We need to feel these words and what they mean for us in our life deep down in our gut and make those words the center of our life.
Over the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, we confess our sin. We are honest about our failure to resist temptation. We admit our need for forgiveness and reconciliation. But, over these forty days, we don’t beat ourselves into a pulp and walk around with a heavy heart, because these forty days are actually renewing. They remind us of God’s love for each of us through the sacrifice of his Son. Just think about it – God thinks you are so important that Jesus laid down his life for you. Just think about it – God thinks you are so important that he makes reconciliation possible through a cross. Just think about it – God thinks you are so important that Jesus willingly suffered and died a horrid death so that you can find peace with and in him.
My friends, Jesus has broken down and removed the barriers between you and God. You are reconciled to him. And now that you have been reconciled to God, you have been made into an instrument of God’s love and grace within the world. This makes Lent the time to bring together the enemies of God and make them the friends of God. Now is the time to mirror Christ’s sacrifice for us by reuniting broken relationships between men and women, and with one another.
Renewed by God’s grace and with the knowledge of reconciliation embedded in your gut, your witness and your life can help tear down barriers that divide, separate and alienate. You can mirror God’s love in a way that can help usher in peace and harmony. The goal of your life can be establishing lasting relationships of love and bringing to an end bickering, prejudice, and everything in between that keeps us from becoming reflections of God’s love and grace to others.
My friends, God has always chosen people like you and me to be his ambassadors and representatives – not because we are perfect – but because we have been reconciled to him. God has always chosen people like us. It’s the way God works in the world. When God sought a people to reveal his purpose to the world, he chose Abraham to be the father of that people. When God sought to lead the people from slavery in Egypt, Moses (a man with a speech impediment) became the man of the hour. When God needed a voice to speak out against moral decadence, God chose Amos, a simple shepherd, to carry the message. When God sought to move into human life and activity, God‘s plan and purpose was entrusted to a young, struggling carpenter and his teenage fiancé, living in the Judean hill country. So, if God’s work is done in our day, it will be because we have heard God’s call and responded in obedience and faith. For that is how God works. God works through imperfect people like you and me.
God calls us, empowers us with his spirit, and sends us out into the world to share the good news of what Jesus has done for us. By purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, and truthful speech, we share the power of God to make our lives whole. As the body of Christ, we gather together so that we may disperse. We come to worship so that we may leave to serve. We come to pray and speak with God, so that we may leave and speak to others in God’s name. As people of God we gather to strengthen our life together in worship, prayer, word and sacrament so that we may leave and give life to others.
This makes the season of Lent an exciting time, instead of the somber season that we usually make it to be. It is a rejuvenating and invigorating time of the year as we reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus and his ministry, and what all of this means for our own Christian lives. Now is the time to consider how we, through Christ, can gain a greater understanding of how we can become God’s agents of love and reconciliation in a broken and divided world. Now is a time for us to see if we are contributing more to our community’s problems than being part of its healing and wholeness. Now is the time for us to take seriously God’s call to ministry, realizing that what we have to offer in this service to others is not our intelligence, skill, power, influence or connections, but our own human brokenness through which the love of God can show itself. Now is the time for us to move in a different direction as we move with Christ to the cross.
So on this day, remember what you are. Remember your need of God. Remember who God is and what God has done for you in and through Jesus Christ. And remember that we are just at the beginning of a season and the remainder of your life. Listen to God’s call and grab hold of the ministry that he has set before you. For through the cross of Christ, he has broken down the dividing walls between us. As we disperse may we share this good news in his name and bring healing and wholeness to the lives of others. May this be so, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.