Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday Sermon: "Down in the Dirt"

+ Ash Wednesday – March 5th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Joel 2:12-19; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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

Today, the name says it all: Ash Wednesday. Dust. Dirt. Ashes. Death. Ash Wednesday hits us square in the heart with a sobering reminder of our mortality.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

God made you out of dust and dirt. For all the intricacies of the human brain, the complexities of our DNA structure, and the wonder of organs like the human eye, the fact remains that the composition of carbon, chemicals, and cells that make up our body is a miraculous transformation of dirt. From a pile of soil in Eden, God miraculously and marvelously created man.

the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Dirt, clay, and mud, molded and fashioned into bone, tissue, and flesh. In Genesis, Adam’s name literally means “earth”. God is the potter; we are the clay. We are dirt.

And just like Adam we do dirt and we will return to dirt because of what we’ve done and what we’ve left undone. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday is quite literally, mortifying. The ashes aren’t just a symbol of our sin; they’re a reminder that what God brought out of the earth and gave his breath of life to also returns to the earth. Death is one great compost pile of dirt, dust, and ashes.

So, that little smudge of ashes captures our problem pretty well. Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and sorrow over our sin – the dirt we do as well as the dirt we are. 

The prophet Joel knew a thing or two about dirt. All of Israel was about to become one giant wasteland. The locusts were coming. A plague that would wipe out Israel’s crops and land, reducing it to dirt, dust, ashes, and death. It was a picture of judgment upon sin, just like the ashes of Ash Wednesday.

And so the Lord calls out to Israel and to us, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

 Our dirt isn’t a smudge, or slight surface damage. Our sin is more than skin deep. We do dirt because we are dirt. We sin because we are sinners. That’s the biblical diagnosis. We all have a terminal disease, not a behavioral problem. We don’t need to put a mask over our sin and peel off the dirt. We simply can’t scrub our dead sinful flesh away. We need something far more radical: we need a new heart.
Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Even hypocrites know how to rip their garments for show. You can always buy a new set of clothes. And everyone knows how to look and act sorry on the outside. But our Lord demands more: rend your hearts. For it is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person dirt, but what comes out of the mouth; this makes us dirt. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
That’s the nature of our sinful plague, blacker than a locust horde – an empire of dirt, and death, and ashes. 

But with these ashes the season of Lent begins, and our Lord comes to the rescue.
Though the depths of our sin is great; the depths of God’s love for you is greater. God will not let you wallow in the dirt, nor rot in your sin, and death. 

No, the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Joel recites the Old Testament catechism for us. Hear, O Israel this is the God you have. Hear, O Redeemer, this is the Lord and Savior you have. He is all of that, for all of this, my dirt. For my sin and yours. 

We may be made of dirt, clay figures. But we are not lifeless statues, God’s toys and game pieces. We are his own dear creatures. Your value comes not from the soil of the earth, but from your Father who is in heaven. And in order for you to be with him he performed an even greater miracle than the creation of the first man from the dirt.

God put his eternal Son in the same human body that you have. And he bears your humanity forever. This is my beloved Son, down in the dirt for you. Incarnation into human dust for you. Born to take on your dirt and sin and death. All the dirt we do and the dirt we are, Jesus became. 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Christ, who knew no dirt, and dust and ashes and death became your dirt, dust, ashes and death so that he might breath resurrected life into your flesh.

That is why the ashes are made in the sign of the cross. For on the cross the Father poured out your sin upon Jesus. His very body was rend and beaten, judged and condemned, punished and killed for you. And then the Lord who breathed the breath of life into Adam, gave up his spirit. And his body was buried in the earth.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

But Jesus would not stay in the dust and dirt of the earth. 

For on the third day Jesus rose from the earth. The Potter stepped out of the mud and clay of his creation. And on Easter the true Adam, the truest Man there is, rose out of the ground once and for all. No more ashes, dust, dirt, or death – for Jesus or for you. 

It is a marvelous reversal. In Christ’s holy death he makes you clean. In Christ becoming your dirt, he makes your sins that were scarlet, as white as snow. You brought only sin, dirt, and death…But Christ gives you his forgiveness, life – his very body and blood. 

In the Lord’s Supper, God fulfills his promise to Israel by the prophet Joel: Behold, I am sending to you grain and wine and you will be satisfied. In the grain and the wine of the altar, behold the God who became your dirt. He is here for you, gracious and merciful, and abounding in steadfast love.

And all of your dirt, sin, and death have been washed away. That is what Jesus has done, and is doing daily, in your Baptism. There the Lord gave you a new heart. He gave you his Holy Spirit. He breathed new life into you. He creates in you a clean heart, not a heart of stone, dead and dirty with sin, but a heart of flesh, alive in Christ. A new heart that rejoices in prayer and charitable giving during Lent. A new heart that delights in God’s Word and lives in faith towards God and fervent love for one another.

So come. Rejoice with Israel. The Lord calls a solemn assembly. He gathers you. He consecrates you. You are no longer dirt and ash. You are joined to the very Body of Christ by His flesh and blood. You are baptized into His living and dying and rising. The God who bows and serves and rescues you comes to feed and nourish you here at this altar with his own body and blood. Down in the dirt with you and for you.

Christ has overcome your dirt and death by taking on the dirt and death we’re made of and all the dirt we’ve done.

Our ashes, and weeping, and mourning may tarry for the night, but the joy of Christ’s resurrection comes in the morning.

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

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