Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday 2015

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Psalm 51:1
Theme: Divine Pardon

Dear fellow travelers to the cross,

Lent looks forward. In Lent you can look forward to the reconstitution of your ashes; that is, your decaying physical frame and its complement, your soul. You can view the future because Christ has reconciled the past. He has covenanted with you. And He is true to His word. Return to the Lord. The imperative of the prophet is clear. But it is no legalistic demand. It is the summons for the weary sinner to be embraced by a merciful God. The Father runs to the Prodigal while he is still a long way off.

The theme for this 2015 Lenten season involves a look at some of the Psalms of repentance. Candid, vivid, and profound they penetrate the heart of the human condition. They are always suitable, never obsolete. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out all my transgressions…Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight…Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”1David pleads that the Lord would hide His face from the sins of the king. It was an urgent supplication asking God to look away, turn aside, and cover His eyes lest the divine gaze of judgment be more than he could bear.

Every time Lent comes around the devil has a problem on His hands. People are drawn nearer to God. Reconciliation is proclaimed. He also has an opportunity. Self-righteousness can be cemented. Our dark thoughts and past sins, our secret offences and hidden faults are an open book before God. We can encase them in denial, conceal them in silence, and bury them in regret; but they still exist, lingering, lurking in the shadows of our heart until the opportune time. Then they grab our conscience by the throat, suffocating our vain and foolish idea that they will just die a natural death. Dear friends, the guilt of sin never dies a natural death. It must be taken to the grave by the Crucified One. Guilt must die a “divine death” otherwise it lives on.

Time heals all wounds but it doesn’t forgive sins. Christ forgives sins. Do not take your unconfessed sin to the grave. Christ went to the grave so that you wouldn’t have to. God sees. He knows. He pardons. He heals. The prophet says, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.”2 The Scripture says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.”3 He is gracious and merciful. He desires that ours be a steady diet of grace and not the artificial sweeteners of the world. That’s really what fasting is all about.

The church throughout the ages has recognized the value of a focused piety and honest solemnity during the season of Lent. A plain reading of the text indicates that Jesus didn’t consider fasting to be optional. When, not if, is His directive. In a culture in which affluence has a long-standing tenure the mindset of intentional deprivation is largely a foreign concept. Our society associates meaning with indulgence. But there is more to life than the material comforts we have come to cherish. The Bible says, “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”4 Consider a mini fast before receiving Holy Communion, it may give you a new perspective. More importantly, consider the value of deliberate self-denial as a beneficial spiritual discipline. Christ sacrificed everything for you.

What is the nature of the Lenten journey and the entire baptismal life for that matter?
The Holy Spirit is not teaching us to be navel-gazers. Faith is not a venture of introspection. If you look into your own heart you will find darkness, enmity, jealousy, selfishness, callousness, the need to be like; the desire to control. When you look at the heart of God you find pure compassion, unmatched love, unrestrained mercy. Christ hung from the cross in self-giving sacrifice. The heart of God was rent at the cross. There our mortality was rescued from the jaws of death and the gates of hell. His resurrection opened the gates of heaven.

Where do we find a gracious God? We can’t go back to meet Him at the cross. He comes forward to meet us here. He claims us in the waters of baptism. He dines with us at the altar. He wore a crown of thorns that you might wear the crown of life. The conveyance of information is only the incidental purpose of Scripture. Its purpose is to kill in order to bring life; condemn in order to free; suffocate in order to revive. Scripture brings us into contact with the God who acts. The Word of God is living and active. The Spirit is dynamic. Like enzymes facilitating the processes that transform from one state into the next, the Word of God brings light where there is darkness, hope where there is despair and life where there is death.

Dear friends, you, individually, are a particular collection of ashes. Your baptismal identity with God is more specific than the most powerful forensic tools we possess. He has a place for you beyond the scope of this existence. You are a living stone in His temple. And you, collectively, are the body of Christ. You are defenders of His truth and agents of His mercy. Just as from the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!”5 and He made all things new. So too, every time the declaration reaches you that your sins are forgiven the promise holds in heaven itself. You have a new lease, a new hope, a new horizon. Lent looks forward- to your future. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Psalm 51:1, 4, 9
2 Isaiah 30:18
3 2 Corinthians 5:18
4 1 Timothy 6:7
5 John 19:30
6 Proverbs 13:12
7 Isaiah 53:5

Ash Wednesday
18 February 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

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