+ Ash Wednesday – February 22nd, 2012 +
Joel 2:12-19; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10; Matthew 6:1-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Vanity of vanities says Solomon. All is vanity. Meaningless. Empty. Chasing after the wind. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? Nothing. He who dies with the most toys still dies.
Everything that you love, everything that is a treasure to you is going to end up the same way: dust, gone. All the books l love to read, all the sporting equipment you have, all the video games you or your children play, all the cell phones we use, our homes and all our possessions, all of the money we carry around or wish we carried around — it’s all going to be Dirt. Dust.
That’s why Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” Because that's how it all ends up. Ashes, ashes we all fall down.
For everything there is a season and a time for everything under heaven. There is a time to laugh, a time to heal and dance and rejoice. A time to be born and a time to rise. And that time is coming soon. But for now we are in the season of Lent. Where there is a time for mourning and weeping, a time for being broken and repentant. A time for sack cloth and ashes. A time to die. Rend your hearts, not your garments. For the sacrifices of God are a broken and a contrite Spirit.
You see, Lent really isn’t about giving up stuff –whatever it may be. Nor is it about self-improvement. You don’t need the season of Lent as an excuse to eat less chocolate, exercise more often be nicer to people or get better gas mileage. If that’s all Lent is about you don’t need Jesus.
But if it’s sin you have, then it’s Lent you need. You need Lent because your sin is far worse than you think: that’s what that symbol of ashes and death on your forehead reminds you about. But as good a reminder as the ashen cross is…You need more than a symbolic gesture to save you because you don’t have symbolic sins. You have real sin. We are real sinners. Our old Adam is a professional hoarder. Hell bent a treasure hunt that leads only to death.
The season of Lent comes to strip all of that away and pour ashes on all your idols. To lay you bare before the cross in repentance so you are clothed in Christ. Remove your treasure trove of self-made deities – all those trophies in your personal hall of fame that show exactly how much you fear, love and trust in anything except God. Lent calls you to Solomon’s confession: “vanity of vanities…all that I have and all that I am apart from Christ is vanity.” Meaningless. Dust. Dirt. Dead.
All those particular sins are only symptoms of the disease. We sin because we are sinners. A corrupt tree brings forth corrupt fruit. Its fault lies not in its being a tree but in its being corrupt. What’s wrong with us is not that we are human but that we have gone wrong, we are sinners. You are part of Adam’s family tree. Corrupt and dead as the root from where you sprouted.
Lent reminds us that the worm wins every time. Well, almost every time. Moth consumed the cloaks that Jesus wore in mockery. Rust destroyed the spear that pierced his flesh. But there is one treasure in heaven and earth that the moth and rust cannot destroy. There is one treasure that cannot be stolen away from you by any thief, even the devil himself. There is one treasure that the dirt and dust of the grave could not hold down. The Last Enemy has been destroyed. The victory goes to Jesus and from Jesus to you. And where his treasure is, there is heart shall be also. You are his great treasure.
And so there is a time for repentance. Not one Wednesday out of the year, but every day the Lord gives you. Daily dying, daily rising. Adam must die, Christ must rise. Return to the Lord your God. He has come to you. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He will not pronounce a death sentence over your head, deserved though it would be. Jesus has heard and taken upon Himself. You have a life sentence pronounced over you. Forgiven, washed, justified, sanctified, holy. What Adam has done, Christ has undone and more.
Lent is also a time for forgiveness. Absolution. This is why our midweek services and guest pastors will focus our thoughts and meditation on Confession and Absolution as the double-edged sword of God’s Word comes to pierce our hardened hearts with repentance and to bind us together in Christ’s absolution. This Lenten season you’ll hear about the Office of the Keys, our need for confession and absolution, the sure and certain declaration that comes in the absolution both publicly and privately. Confession and absolution is God’s gift to you His people.
Are you looking for a sign of mourning over your sin? Don’t look to your foreheads but to a better cross – the cross of Jesus. There you will see the grief and suffering your Sin caused the Son of God.
Do you want a sign of your life and forgiveness? Trace the sign of that cross, upon your forehead and upon your heart, where God Himself marked you in Baptism as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.
For there are two crosses on your forehead today: a cross of ash. And the cross of your Baptism. One a symbol of your death. The other the reality of your life in Christ.
That’s the best sign of the cross you could possibly remember. Not your ashes. They’re paid for, washed away in your Baptism just like your sin. Jesus didn’t come to impose ashes on your forehead. He came to bear all your sin and death on his, in his own body. Jesus did not come to give you a death sentence, but to take yours upon Himself. Lent reminds us that your dust has become Jesus’ dust. Your dirt and filthy sin has become Jesus’. Jesus Crucified is your greatest treasure.
While the ashes are a symbol that points you to Jesus; they’re still a symbol. Thankfully when it comes to your salvation, Jesus doesn’t use symbols. He gives you real sacraments and real forgiveness for your real sin. God actually gives the very thing he promises to you. Baptism isn’t a symbol of rebirth – it is your rebirth in Christ. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a symbolic gesture of Jesus’ forgiveness, it actually is His forgiveness. The Absolution isn’t a symbol of God’s promise; it actually is His promise declared to you: “I forgive you all your sin.” All of it – gone, buried in the dust and dirt of Christ’s tomb. All your vanity all your meaninglessness is washed away more easily than you’ll wash those ashes off your forehead tonight. Down the font they go.
So it's OK if you want to give something up for Lent. But do it for the right reason: do it because you're reminding yourself that such a thing is not your true treasure, that it won't last forever. And it’s OK to receive the ashes or not. Either way you are Baptized and forgiven in Christ. Your sin has been washed away. And his cross over you is the only one that really matters.
But more than all that giving up stuff, the real way to celebrate Lent is to have more Jesus. More of the true treasure! More hearing His Word. More confessing your sins and being absolved. More eating and drinking of His body and blood. More study of His Word and prayer. For in these gifts Christ piles up for you more riches that you can even imagine! And where your treasure is this Lent, there will your heart be also.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.