Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ash Wednesday Sermon 2012

Ash Wednesday
God’s Gift of Forgiveness
Save Me Because of Your Unfailing Love (Psalm 6 )

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Our text for tonight is the Psalm for Ash Wednesday, Psalm 6.

Lent in many ways is a journey. We journey with our Lord to the cross and deal with the forgiveness of our sins. Each week we will hear a portion of the reading of the Passion story of our Lord, and we will reflect upon our Lord’s death and what that means to sinners like you and me. That reflection is a familiar part of Lent.

It would be easy to make a journey like that as far as the journey goes. A trip down memory lane. A stroll through the story of Jesus’ death. But Lent in the Church really has two focuses: First, it is a time to reflect on Christ’s Passion and death. Second, it is a time of learning and spiritual renewal through the Word of God. In the Early Church it was during Lent that those preparing for Baptism received their final instructions in the faith before being baptized. So what we will be doing this Lent is hearing about Christ’s Passion and death, and about what that has to do with who we are as Christians who need Confession and Absolution.

Take a look once again at Psalm 6, which we prayed a few minutes ago. This is a psalm of David belonging to a group we call the penitential psalms. The word penitence or penitential is related to another very Lutheran word: repentance. What is repentance? Repentance is turning away from your sins and turning to Christ for forgiveness. Repentance, then, is ultimately a gift from God, because only God can turn the sinners heart toward Him. It reminds me of Luther’s words about Baptism in the Small Catechism:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

This process of contrition and repentance is daily, not once. Law and Gospel. Sin and forgiveness. This is the cycle of the Christian life. That is why we continue to repent and receive absolution. That is why we go to the Lord’s Supper week after week. It is about living the Christian life, not simply knowing right answers.
This is what God is going to teach us in the penitential psalms. In Psalm 6 David begins by lamenting that it seems like God has abandoned him. Law. God is angry with David, and so David prays that God will have mercy on him because he is weak and troubled.

Where does this start for you? What does this tell you about God? Well, it first of all tells you that God hates sin, and that when you sin, God hates you. Does that sound harsh? You bet! God’s Law is very harsh. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 5, “You hate all evildoers” (5:5). The Law doesn’t wink at sin. You and I try to wink at sin. Yes, our sin is bad, but let’s just ignore it. This is like saying, “My cancer isn’t that bad; it’s just on the top of my skin.” You can’t ignore sin. Sooner or later it will dig in and do it’s work of destruction.

But let’s go on to verse two of Psalm 6. David prays that the Lord will be gracious to him and heal him. Like blind Bartimaeus, or the Canaanite woman, David is not going to let God off the hook just like God won’t let David off the hook. You see, David knows God’s true character. He hates for a time but loves for eternity.

Now think again about the effect that this sin has on David. He is faint, his bones are in agony, his soul is in anguish. He even cries out, “No one remembers You when he is dead. Who praises You from the grave? (cf. v. 5). David is afraid for his very life. Worn out from groaning, flooded with tears, eyes, weak with sorrow, fail because of all his foes.

David’s picture in Psalm 6 of the effect of sin is profound and even painful. It’s a picture that makes you squirm. It makes me squirm. I don’t like to talk about my sinfulness or think about it. I would much rather think of myself as a basically nice person. I’m a Christian, and that means all this sin talk is for someone else. But remember, David was also a Christian. David grew up in a household that looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Sin isn’t just something that unbelievers have to deal with and address. I think sometimes in the Church we can get the mistaken idea that sin and forgiveness is for the bad people, but that the Christians just praise God because He’s so great. Well, that’s a false comparison. The angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. That means you.

There is hope. That is the message of Psalm 6. No matter how messed up your life has become. No matter how far down the path of sin you have trod. No matter what nightmares trouble you and pain you have caused to yourself and to others. God is merciful and forgiving. He hates the sinner for breaking the Law, BUT because of Jesus Christ, God loves the sinner even more. He loved you so much that His Son, Jesus, went to the cross and died for you. God hates the sinner, and He took all of that wrath out on the cross. God’s unfailing love will put you back together when nothing else can. Only God can scatter your enemies: sin, death, and the devil. Only the mercy of God in Jesus Christ can turn your life around and remake you in the waters of Baptism. Only God has given His Son in a Holy Meal to feed you and forgive you.

This Lent we are taking a journey together. We are taking a journey together to the cross of Jesus Christ. On this journey we are going to learn about God’s mercy for lost sinners like you and like me. We are going to hear about God’s gift of forgiveness that He gives in confession and absolution. For some of you, this will be a journey that you’ve taken before many times. But for most, this may be a new journey, or at least a new path on this same journey. Confessing your sins, not generically but specifically, is a hard thing. So hard, in fact, that many will never even try it. But I am here today to hold up God’s gift of forgiveness to you, and everything He has to give in His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer (cf. Psalm 6:9). In the name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: