Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sermon: Ash Wednesday - 2011

9 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21 (Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pet 1:2-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,” cautions our Lord Jesus Christ, “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Our Lord tells us to treasure that which is incorruptible, not the stuff that is only eaten by moths, rusts, decays when exposed to the elements, falls apart over time, and runs down. For we have all been reminded of the ultimate corruption, decay, and falling apart: death.

You have been bodily marked with a cross of ashes, and in the words that call to mind the Lord’s sad pronouncement to Adam, through whom all men have fallen into sin and by whom death came into our once-perfect world: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We need to be reminded of this. We push it to the back of our minds. We live like we will never die. We don’t even like to talk about making preparations for death. And we have every kind of lotion and pill and surgery and gimmick imaginable to mask the reality that we are indeed dust and that we shall surely and certainly return to dust.

And that is why we hear again the imperative: “Remember.” Remember, dear friends. Don’t forget! Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can escape death, that you will not age, that your body will not wear out over time. “Remember, O man,” for you are a mortal human being whose sinful nature not only needs to be reminded of its mortality, but also needs to be called to repentance.

The point of the ashes is not to drive us to despair; God is not taunting us by reminding us that we will die. Rather, He is reminding us why we die, and what’s more, promising us that we will live! He is calling us out of the ashes of death, inviting us to wash our faces in the fresh waters of baptism, to rise anew with clean souls to a second chance, a life that will never end. He is calling us here and now, to acknowledge our wretchedness, to remember the Garden of Eden, to confess our sins of thought, word, and deed, those of omission and those of commission, those we know and those of which we are ignorant, those we have committed in weakness, and those we have committed willfully.

Remember those sins! Remember the wages of sin. And remember the somber proclamation given to Adam: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And yet this is not the only talk of returning that we hear on this day of sackcloth and ashes. He also says “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” He bids us, “return to the Lord Your God,” dearly beloved. “Return” to Him! Come back to Him with all your heart! Restore your communion with Him. Renew your friendship with Him. Revive your place at His table, your openness to His Word. For we not only remember that we are dust, but we also remember that our Lord Jesus Christ returned to the dust of the grave, and yet He returned anew as the victor over sin and death and the devil. Remember the resurrection! Remember the promise!

This is what it means to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Our treasure is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, proclaimed in the Word and proffered in the Sacraments. And such treasure is not to be found in the decaying material things of this world, the things that distract us, deceive us, and if allowed, will destroy us.

As those marked by the cross of death, we bear the cross of our own sinfulness. We live in a world of death that we have inherited, but we have contributed to the world of sin that we have committed.

“Remember, O man…” For you are not called upon to remember someone else’s mortality, nor to confess another’s sin. The Lord calls you to remember. The Lord calls you to repent. This call to repent is issued to you, on this day, delivered to you by your God, the one who created you, redeemed you, sanctified you, and who now calls you to “remember.”

For our Creator has chosen to save us from ourselves and our sins. He abhors nothing He has made. By His mercy, He forgives us and offers us new life. By His Son He saves us and offers us eternal life. By the cross He redeems us and in dying on the cross, our Blessed Lord restores us to abundant life.

This is what repentance is about, dear brothers and sisters. It isn’t about fear and condemnation, but rather comfort and forgiveness. “Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” It is not a brutish command but a gracious invitation!

Repentance is part of that remembrance, the remembrance that we are mortal, that we are sinners, but also that He is immortal and that He defeated death to save sinners.

For even as we are reminded today of our corruption, of our sin, and, yes, of our mortality, we are also reminded that in Christ, we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Though we die, we will live. Though we are sinners, we are forgiven. And though we are corruptible, we shall put on incorruptible bodies by the grace, mercy, and “divine power” which “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness... by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”

We are not only marked with an ashen cross of death, but also marked with a watery cross of life!

Ash Wednesday is about remembrance: the calling to mind of our sins and our sinfulness, as well as the calling to mind of our Savior and our salvation.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; He shall send from heaven and save me; He reproaches the one who would swallow me up.”

“Remember, O man!” Remember, and live! Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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