Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sermon for February 24-25

Ash Wednesday
February 24-25, 2009
Text: Joel 2:12-19

Dear Friends in Christ,
For many years, the popular culture has said that life is one big party. When I was in Seminary, Bobby McFarren was singing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Now McFarren, who is a conservative Anglican, has a valid and Christian point about trusting in God to give us what we need. But I think that went over most people’s heads. An earlier generation we had Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians performing “Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think.” And again there is a valid point, warning us to not to get so consumed with making money that lose out on the joy’s of life. But here too, I don’t think most people thought too deeply on the words. For many people in this nation, the moto is “let’s party.” Why do you think we have so many taverns? How many people just stumble through the week to get to Friday so that they can go out and get blitzed? Sadly, I know quite a few. I’m pretty certain that you do too. And what does this group in our nation demand? No consequences. No, I should never get pulled over for drunk driving. Birth control should be readily available so that I can have sex with no risk of a baby and if the girl get’s pregnant we must have abortion. There can be no consequences. And all forms of venereal disease must be eliminated. The clap puts a damper on the party after all.

In our day this attitude has filtered into the church as well. Pastor, don’t talk about sin, it’s such a downer. After all God is love, isn’t He. He wouldn’t really send anyone to hell? Would He? Let’s not talk about all that stuff and just party on. The problem is that the god of the party church is one that they’ve made up in their own heads. He doesn’t really exist. Further, such a God is unjust. Is it right that Hitler and Stalin are in heaven with the faithful Christians - many of whom they killed in this life? Dealing with God has always been a serious business. Those who would make it something less than this, are busy inventing their own god and their own religion. The gathering of Christians is termed throughout Scripture a solemn assembly. That’s even in the time of rejoicing and the thanksgiving. Christians gather in solemn assembly to thank God and offer His praises. This is Our King’s court. It is not a place for flippant and trite displays. This is doubly so for times of penitence. We must remember that God owes us nothing. He can just cast us off and have nothing to do with us if He chooses. We are beggars. We are coming before the greatest king of all, begging for His grace and mercy. He owes us nothing. We are counting on His good will. That is a serious thing indeed.

One of the traditional texts about repentance is found in the writings of the prophet Joel. Joel makes it clear that seeking God’s favor is a serious and solemn thing. But it is not just the outward form that must be correct. Even more important than this, is our hearts. Joel tells us to rend our hearts and not our garments. Christianity and Judaism before it are unique in the way that they view our moral actions. Most cultures in the history of the world are shame cultures. If I don’t get caught, it’s not wrong. But God does know. He knows everything. He knows about sins we’ve committed that we don’t even know about. Christianity is not a shame culture. It’s a guilt culture. We understand that even if no one else knows, God does know. And in the end, God is the One to Whom we must give account for our lives.

We call a solemn assembly to beg for grace and mercy because before God we have no hope. We cannot please God. We’re sunk before we even start. If we try to justify ourselves before God, we will only end up proving our own guilt. So we rend our hearts and come before our King, because that is our only hope, our only chance. Every human being stands condemned before God. Some only dig the hole deeper. Scripture is clear that hell has more than one level. We just don’t know how it all works and how God’s judgement will sort this out. But Scripture leaves us the impression that the sins that anger God the most are those of self justification. It appears that He may be gentler with those who glory in their sins, than He is toward the self-righteous. Remember that He judges not just our actions but our hearts, first and foremost. So in the end all we can do is throw ourselves upon the mercy of the court. One does not do this flippantly or tritely. We must remember that eternity is at stake here. That’s a very long time.

God is not cruel, nor does He take pleasure in seeing people grovel. He is not like some cruel earthly kings who make people beg for their lives and then kill them anyway. Rather, He is gracious and merciful. He promises, in His Son Jesus Christ, to deal with according to the blood of Christ, which was shed for us. And so we go before our King’s throne with perfect hope. Yes, we go as beggars. But we go with the assurance that God’s mercy is there for us. So yes, indeed, blow the trumpet in Zion. Gather the people. Call a solemn assembly. Leave whatever we are doing. Gather before the King’s throne. Plead for His mercy. Plead the cross of Jesus Christ. This coin, the cross, the Judge will accept. This coin, the cross, does pay for our sins. And when we plead the cross, we know that God will relent and not bring us to disaster. Of this we can be certain.

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