Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sermon Ash Wednesday 2015

Ash Wednesday – Feb 18, 2015
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
St Stephen Lutheran Church
The Rev. Maurice Frontz, STS

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today we begin our forty-day journey
toward the cross and resurrection of our Lord.
Today we hear once again the call of Joel:
‘Return to the Lord your God.’
Today we hear the plea of St Paul:
‘We entreat you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.’

We read in the Old Testament
in books like Joel and Jonah
how those convicted of their sin
sat in sackcloth and ashes
as a sign of sorrow for their sin
and plea for forgiveness.
And so we, like them,
receive ashes on our foreheads,
that we might acknowledge
before God and ourselves
the gravity of our situation,
that we might physically enact
the desire of our hearts and minds
to return to the Lord our God.

But perhaps we who are here do not think
that we need much repentance,
certainly not a change of mind and heart.
We may think of all those in the world
who we think need repentance;
the murderers, the violent and the abusive,
the sexually immoral, the greedy,
those who tell lies, those who covet what belongs to others.
But today is not a day for judging others.
Today is a day to come face-to-face
with our own participation in the human rebellion against God.
Even if we have lived lives which are relatively good
none of us can claim to have lived according to the great commandment,
upon which hang the Law and the Prophets:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind,
and love your neighbor as yourself.’
We come face-to-face with the failures and brokenness in our own lives.
which give concrete evidence of our rebellion.
We recognize in ourselves those
who have not feared, loved, and trusted God above all things.
We recognize in ourselves those
who have misused the name of the Lord;
We recognize in ourselves those
who have not remembered the Sabbath Day;
who have pursued our own interests,
failing to keep God’s Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

And so we accept the ashes as those
who have committed sin before God,
and we acknowledge our community with all sinners,
even those whom we believe are the worst sinners before God.
To stand praying as if we were holier-than-thou
would be the worst offense on this Ash Wednesday.
Indeed, perhaps those of us who are baptized into the name of Christ
are more guilty than the rest,
for we have been given the Word of God
and the promise of Christ,
but like the ancient people of Israel,
we have forgotten the promise and neglected the Word.

But when we accept the ashes,
we do so in hope.
We do so in sure and certain hope that as the prophet Joel says,
‘the LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.’
Without this good news,
we would never celebrate Ash Wednesday.
Instead we would deny our sins,
or we would blame God for them.
Trusting in God’s promise,
we can come face-to-face with who we are,
because of who God is.

The ashes are traced on our forehead
in the shape of the holy Cross.
St Paul writes,
‘For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’
In our Lord Jesus, God himself came among human beings
as a human being.
Not only did he take up our flesh,
he also took on our sins.
Indeed, Martin Luther, who died four hundred sixty-nine years ago today,
could call Jesus magna peccatrix, the greatest sinner;
not that Jesus was a sinner himself
but because he really took on all the sins of the world
and bore them all in his body.
Think of it.
The sins of the murderers, the terrorists,
the rapists, the abusers, the thieves great and small,
the liars, the coveters;
all of them carried by Jesus the innocent one.

As a sinner for us,
Jesus too sat in the ashes of repentance.
The way of the cross, the way of suffering,
was the repentance he made for us.
His suffering was a patient waiting for his Father to have mercy upon him
and upon all the people with whom he shares everything.

In accepting the ashes on our foreheads,
and accepting them in the shape of a cross,
we not only confess that we are sinners,
but that it is Christ who bears our sins himself
and for them walked the way of the cross.
We do so not in despair,
but in sure and certain hope,
because the one whose sign is the cross
dies for us and is raised for us.
In the sign of the cross,
we are given the Gospel;
the Lord who made himself known in Christ
is indeed a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
In this faith and trust,
we may come face-to-face with ourselves
and with the God who saves us.