“A wounded Savior, for a wounded People”

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-19

February 25th, 2009


            When we think of Lent usually we think of things we are to turn away from things or even giving up something (Do Lutherans have to give up something for Lent?)    Themes like repentance, sorrow, tend to predominate, and this is all salutary, and part of our walk with Christ.  However, Lent is more than “giving up chocolate and doing the extra duty of going to church twice rather than once in a week”.   Rather it is about an invitation, a summons, a call to return to the Lord.  Our text today says “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” (Joel 2:13).  This sounds great, so the question is what keeps us from returning to this gracious Savior.  Obviously it si sin, but let me suggest a couple of ways that our old nature, the world, and the devil hinder us on our return.             Imagine for a moment you are asked to return to your old High School to speak about your experiences at that school and receive a distinguished citizen award.    Your first response is to turn it down.  In other words, your life is fine now and you’re not prone to live in the past.       You might even question  the motivations of those giving you this award.    Could it be they know you have obtained financial well being, and by getting you on board this way they are looking to you for funds?     In this scenario, you fail to return because frankly your life is better as is.   Sadly, this viewpoint keeps us from returning, getting close to Christ.  Things are fine, and while connecting to God’s word and his Word in the past were helpful in the past, and helpful to some in the future without a connection to his means of Grace.  Ah, what’s the big deal if I don’t hear from God this week in worship or personal bible reading?  I know what I believe.  Might it be that this is why such devastation comes upon the people to whom Joel prophecies.  Joel is not a well known prophet, but he does speak of the devastation on a people in the day of the Lord.  Why does this happen, well specific sins like lying, cheating, stealing, and the like, rather it was a general staying away from God and his Word.   Simply put, why do we fail to return to our Jesus?   We quite frankly don’t think it is necessary.

               The second reason we may not return to the High School, is that we believe that we really aren’t worthy to receive the award, or set an example to the kids.  For that reason e are not sure of the true reaction of those in charge.     For we remember how we treated our teachers and staff, and frankly our life since High School really hasn’t always been a “model “ to be emulated.    Translation, deep down we are not sure that God is really content with us.   Rather than face him head on, let’s just stay away and take our chances.   What does Joel say “Return to the Lord your God, for his is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love”.  Going back to the High School example, maybe we have sold short the compassion, and graciousness of the staff who is giving the award.  To often we sell short the Savior who was wounded for our transgressions.    What keeps us from returning in the second scenario?   Might it be a deep down “uncertainty” that we just aren’t the Christians we ought to be, and that maybe the forgiveness of Christ can’t be applied to us as it might be to some. 

            In the first scenario   our return is hindered because we think are lives are just “fine” now.  To that we are reminded of Genesis 3:19 “Dust we are and to dust we will return”.  We are reminded of our mortality, and that the wages of sin is death, and with that death come ashes.      This is not pleasant to sit with, and frankly it puts us in a powerless position, a position we are not comfortable with.   Someone recently commented that there are no “societal competitions for Ash Wednesday”.  You have the Easter Bunny and Easter, Santa Claus and Christmas, football and turkeys with Thanksgiving.  Yet, there is little one can do to spice up Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, they remain primarily religious holidays.   Why?  They bring us the “bare faced “truth of our limitations, but also of a Savior who more than makes up the difference.   It is good to be reminded that before our God, on our own, all are righteous acts are like filthy rags.   It’s not only that our life is more challenging, less fulfilling without Christ, Lent reminds us that without him our life is nothing, like dust.   I have in my ministry always been in places where ashes were distributed, but it is a rather new tradition in some Lutheran circles.   I find it hard to place the ashes on young children, for we especially don’t like to think of their mortality.  Yet, the truth is sin and death is the lot of us all.  Y Yet, these ashes are placed in the sign of a cross.  Granted, sometimes the ashened cross is not in a perfect shape, it gets in the hair, and it might run a bit down ones forehead.    But it’s a reminder that we are real honest to God sinners, who have failed to love God and others.  Sin and death is messy, and not easily controlled. Yet, the one who invites us to himself really does love us.   The ashes are in the shape of the cross.  In essence God is inviting us to come where even ashes are redeemed, and made into something.  Come to the one who knew no sin, became sins for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Return, with your whole being, sins, diseases, problems, joys and all to the one who lifts us up with him on Calvary.  Here our Savior gives us real hope, real life, in the midst of ashes.   Return to the wounded Savior, about whom it is said “by his wounds you have been healed”.   It may be that our hearts are broken, but remember Psalm 51:17 which says “A broken heart he will not despise” or 1 John 3: 20 says “Whenever our hearts condemn us, god is greater than our hearts.  Lent is about being renewed, getting reconnected to the one really is compassionate, to the one really will not despise his children, including you and me.     Giving up things for Lent is fine, but returning to the one who invites us to himself, is really what Lent is all about.  Amen.