Here is last nights Ash Wednesday reflection in case you missed it. Please read Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 before hand:
Tonight, and what we come together to acknowledge while we are here, is, to be honest, one of the least uplifting forms of worship that we practice. The reason is simple, we don’t like to think about our sin. We don’t like to think about how far we fall short of God’s glory and grace. And yet the season of Lent, and tonight in particular, is about just such things. It is about opening ourselves, and our hearts, to the reality of the sin that resides within us.
The passages that we heard read tonight, particularly those from Matthew and Joel, speak about repentance but they speak about it in a way that kicks us right in our hypocrisy. Their point is that so often as religious people we simply go through the motions. The work that we do is more about the show than it is the meaning behind it. We are far more concerned with the appearance of our sinfulness over the actual sin that plagues us.
An example of this is what we have done with the season of Lent over the years. The practice of giving something up for Lent is meant to be a way to rid us of sin and draw us closer to God. And yet in many ways we have simply turned it into a way to show others how holy we are by laying aside our bad habits for 40 days. The appearance has become greater than what actually lies beneath.
So I want to ask you a question tonight. I want to ask myself a question. Are we concerned with the appearance of our sin or are we actually concerned with the sin that truly plagues us?
The Book of Joel speaks to this in one of the most honest ways I can think of. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”
God is saying a few things here. The first is that there is a divide that exists between God and ourselves. We of course know this divide as sin.
God then instructs us on how repair this sin, and it begins by becoming aware of this sin that exists within us.
But its this last little bit that I find the most challenging. “Rend your hearts and not your clothing.” You know what God is talking about here?
It was a part of the Jewish custom that when one was in mourning they were to rend their clothing. They were to tear it. And this was a sign of their mourning. It was a sign to the world that they were not well, that something very upsetting was taking place. But God says that when it comes to the sin of our lives our mourning shouldn’t just be something that we wail and cry over for the sake of appearances. Rather, God says, we are to truly mourn. We are to truly see the depths of which we are sinful people. We should find our hearts torn by the acknowledgement of what lies within us.
That’s pretty challenging isn’t it? I mean we talked the other week about holy friendships and how they help to point us towards the sins we have come to love. I think that’s what God is talking about here.
None of us mind talking about the sins that we hate do we? We don’t mind talking about those superficial things that we find wrong in our lives, but those sins under the surface, those sins that creep up in our heads when no one is home, those sins that whisper in our ears when no one else is listening, those sins that pulls us into hiding when no one is looking…those sins? Let’s not talk about those sins. Let’s not talk about our lust, let’s not talk about our greed, let’s not talk about our selfishness and judgement of others.
And yet that is what we have come here tonight to do. We have come here to air these sins. We have come here to be honest with ourselves and to be honest with God about the dark parts that lie deep within us.
And though we are called to rend our hearts, though we are called to despair, we cannot despair for too long, for there is also a message of hope that we find this evening. This message will reveal itself more and more to us throughout this Lenten season and culminate in the blessings of Easter, but tonight we will simply point to it, in the hopes that as these coming weeks of searching ourselves go by, we might come to see this message more clearly.
Here now Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In just a moment you will come forward and receive the ashes. They are given as a sign of our mortality, our sinfulness before God, and as a reminder that we ourselves are not God.
The first words we will hear are a beginning, they are ones of conviction. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
But the second are even more powerful, for they have the strength to overcome the first. “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
Tonight we begin the journey of Lent. It’s a tough journey, but it is one that leads us to a place, to an understanding, unlike any other.