Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Homily for Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today, on this first day of Lent, we remember. We remember that we are dust, and that to dust we shall all return. We remember that this is so because we are sinners, conceived and born in sin, sin that was inherited from our fathers, and from our fathers’ fathers, all the way back to our First Father Adam, and sin that we also have committed in the past and sin that we continue to commit in the present. And, not only do we remember that we are sinners, but we confess this fact about ourselves each and every time we gather in this place to receive our Lord’s gifts. However, this day we remember and confess our sins in a different way. Today, we wear our sins. We show them for all the world to see. We hide nothing. We wear our sins boldly, and not in shame, but in confidence, because we know and we believe that all our sins, all our guilt, that which we have committed ourselves along with that we have inherited from our fathers, has been forgiven, washed away, and absolved in the precious, holy, innocent, and cleansing blood of Jesus on the cross.
This day you were marked with ashes, you were marked with dust, as you heard these words: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” God made your First Father from the dust of the earth. Because of his sin, and because of your sin, you are destined to return to that earth and dust from whence you came, for you were conceived and born in sin, and sin continues to dwell in your flesh, and the wages of sin is always and only death. And yet, the ashes you wear are in the form of a cross, for your sins are absolved and forgiven in the holy and innocent shed blood of Jesus, the Second Adam, who, having no sin, submitted to the death you justly merit, in your place, that He might give you, in blessed exchange, His holy, righteous, and eternal life. For, in your Holy Baptism you were marked and sealed with a cross you cannot see, and even more, with the Word and Name of God that forgives your sin and seals you in God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what you must remember this day, and every day of your life: That you are dust, but you are forgiven dust. That you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner. We are all forgiven sinners, for only sinners can be forgiven, and Jesus Christ has laid down His sinless life unto death for you, and for me, and for all people so that, though we all return to dust, we all may be raised a new creation.
And so, today we remember. And what we remember is the goodness, the grace, and the mercy of our Lord and God. And so, we prodigal children also return to Him in repentance: “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” Today we remember that our Prodigal Father is good, gracious, merciful, and unchanging. Today we remember that, though we have often wandered far from Him and squandered His gracious gifts, He remains for us, steadfast and waiting to receive, to forgive anew, and to restore. Therefore, remember and return. Return, therefore, remembering, that there is something, there is someone, to return to. Make your confession, but offer Him nothing; only receive what He gives: forgiveness, life, and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And, instead of mourning, He calls you to a feast and a blessing: grain, wine, and oil, His gifts of love to you, for “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
And, what shall you render to the Lord for all His benefits? Eat the bread of His body by which He gives you the forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation. Take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord. The highest worship of the Lord is to receive His gifts. Therefore, lay up your treasures, not on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up your treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Your treasure is incorruptible, for it is not a thing, but a person. Likewise, your treasure cannot be taken from you, for your treasure is Jesus.
And, because you have a treasure that cannot be taken away, that cannot be corrupted or lose its value, you have the freedom to live freely. For, you have been made partakers of Christ’s divine nature and are no longer ruled by the passions of the flesh. Remember. Remember who you are in Christ and do not submit yourself once again to the passions and the desires of your flesh. Therefore, this Lententide, take the opportunity to focus more upon those things that proceed from your heavenly treasure and less upon those things that merely satisfy the desires of the flesh. The traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are useful and beneficial, for they focus the soul upon the true gifts that the Lord provides and they strengthen faith, love, and charity.
But, most of all, throughout this Lententide and all the time, remember this: There is always a home to come home to, and a Father with open arms watching and waiting for His wayward sons and daughters to return to Him. Even now the fatted calf is slaughtered and the feast prepared. Come, for everything is ready. Come, bringing nothing but your repentant and contrite hearts. Come, and receive forgiveness, healing, life, and salvation anew. For, the Lord is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love for His children. Return, because there is something, there is someone, to return to.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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