2/14/2018 Ash Wednesday The text is 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Ash Wednesday…at least in the church. Most people think of today as Valentine’s Day, the Hallmark holiday that focuses on the relationship between lovers. While it may seem strange to have these two occasions intersect, in many ways it is appropriate. For there is no greater love than that which God has given freely to us through Christ Jesus. We have not asked or sought or deserved such love. Yet it was God’s will that Jesus should suffer and die for us so that we may have eternal life. Now, that’s what I call, “love!”
For the next 40 days we will keep this love in the forefront as today we gather with Christians all over the world to begin the Lenten journey to the cross. That journey begins as ashes are placed on our foreheads 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. God loves us, so God does something about it in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we sinners find shelter from judgment. In and through him, we sinners are made right with God. For Jesus is wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and in the process, our sin is transferred to him and his righteousness is transferred to us. All of this is the result of God’s love for us.
Reconciliation, that is being made right 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 until those words become our own. The ashes, with their dark earthen color and rough texture, help us experience the depth of our sin and power of God’s love poured out for us upon the cross.
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 to a pulp and walk around with a heavy heart. These forty days are actually renewing in that they remind us of God’s love for each of us through the sacrifice of the only begotten son. 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 suffers and dies 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 through him, and now that you are reconciled to God, you have been made into an instrument of God’s love and grace within the world. This makes a time to reunite broken relationships between men and women and with one another. It is the time to take the broken hearts and mend them into one.
Renewed by God’s grace and with the knowledge of reconciliation imbedded in your gut, you can mirror God’s love in a way that can help bring peace and harmony. The goal of your life can be establishing lasting relationships of love that bring an end to bickering, prejudice and everything in between that keeps us from being 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. So, we try not to become a stumbling block to others by acting contrary to God’s will. And we try to create no obstacles that would prevent others from enjoying the gift of God’s love that empowers us to care, truly care, about the well-being of all people. For God calls, 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 be dispersed. 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 of the year instead of the somber season we usually make it to be. It is rejuvenating and invigorating as we reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus and his ministry, and what all of this means for our own lives.
So, now is the right time, the acceptable 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 the right time, the acceptable time, for us to see if we are contributing to our community’s problems rather than being part of its healing and wholeness. Now is the time, the acceptable time, for us to take seriously God’s call to ministry, realizing that what we have to offer in 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, wear your ashes humbly. 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. This Valentine’s Day celebrate God’s love. And remember that this day is just the beginning of a season and the remainder of your life. So, listen to God’s call. Grab hold of all that he has set before you. And rejoice, for through the cross of Christ, God has broken down the dividing walls between us and has provided a freeway to life everlasting.
Have a blessed Lenten season, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.