Friday, March 11, 2011

Sermo for March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday
March 9, 2011
Text: Joel 2:12-19

Dear Friends in Christ,
For the people of this age, life has allowed them to believe a lie. Even our older people who should know better, have in some cases forgotten. Let me brag here for a moment. I have not forgotten. But I can claim no credit for this. It was a lesson learned early and painfully. It was taught to me by my oldest sister - Sandy. I was a small child, at that age where you get carted from pillar to post - to small to be left home, to small to be in school, but old enough to be a complete pest. So basically, most every place my mother went, I got dragged along. I remember my mother had a small tape measure in a pink metal case that she kept in her purse. I remember because I saw here using it all the time. What was she measuring? Headstones. My sister Sandy had died about five or six years earlier - two years before I was born. She had been just ten years old. She had been buried in a new plot in the newest part of the church cemetery. They had not as yet, put a stone on the grave. Then one day, Dad stayed home from work and he went with us to look at head stones. Eventually a brown granite stone was selected, Dad poured the foundation for it, and it was installed on the plot, with Sandy’s name engraved in one of the small windows on the stone, with the family name wrote large in the center of each side. What is this lesson that Sandy taught me? That we die. That death cannot be cheated. It is a reality. We can’t run away from it.

It was many years later that I finally came to understand that Sandy died because she was a sinner and that I would likewise die because I too am a sinner. Sin brought death into the world. Every human being, born in sin, is doomed to die. We cannot curse death, because we have no control over it. Our curses will not chase it away. We cannot run from death. The father of fitness guru Jim Fixx died of heart disease at a young age. Fixx thought if he was fit enough, he could run away from death. He literally tried to run from death. But, like his father, he died young of heart disease, in spite of all his efforts. Death cannot be beaten, it cannot be cheated. It will claim us all.

Sadly, many Americans, because of our great prosperity, have forgotten this reality.
Often it is times of prosperity that lead people to turn away from God. They hide death under the blanket of our earthly success. So too with ancient Israel. The more successful they became, the more they turned away from God. The more they ignored the reality of death. Then God would send prophets like Joel to remind them.

Our text is not so much reflecting the attitude that the people had, but the attitude that they should have. Martin Luther, in the first of his “95 Theses” said that the whole Christian life should be one of repentance. He might well have had Joel 2 in mind. We are to be mournful over sin. Nor is this to be only an outward show. But we are to mourn in our hearts. And with this mourning over sin, ought to be a desire to turn from sin, to amend our lives.

Why are we to this? It goes to very nature of God Himself. God is just. He punishes sin. He condemns sinners to eternal flames. But He is also “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” God will forgive the repentant of their sins. He will restore them to His presence. Otherwise, there would be no point to repentance. Why should we admit guilt if it changes nothing. But here with God, He forgives the sins of the repentant. He will not punish them.

What we know from ancient Israel is that ultimately they were not repentant. They continually returned to their sins. And this seems to be much the same in America today. We are caught up in the economy. We are worried about jobs. We are worried about taxes and health care coverage. But these are earthly things. They pass away and one day will be of no importance. This whole world will come to its end. And how many people of this world, so caught up in these things, have no time for the things that will last for eternity. God gives us clear warning. Hell is real. Condemnation is real. But the grace of God is real as well. It is there for all people. Only some choose to reject it. Let that not be us.

Today/Tonight we being the season of Lent. It is a season were we take extra time to focus away from the things of this world and focus upon the things that are eternal. It is a time for us to focus on cleansing our hearts and clearing away our sins. It is time when we focus on the reality of Christ’s suffering for our salvation. It is also a time for us to spend more time in the Word of God. Not only should we do this privately, but as couples, families, in small groups and in church. This is why we have extra services as this time. But also consider things like Bible study on Sunday mornings. These are all ways that we can dedicate ourselves to the eternal things. We do this because we know we have a God who is forgiving. We have a God who Himself paid for our sins and our salvation. And when we turn to the Word we are learning ever more about the things that God has done for us. We are learning about the things that will not pass away - the things that are eternal. We are learning about life with God, in Christ.

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