Ash Wednesday | Come Back to God

in-640517_640

Ash Wednesday (February 14, 2018)

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says,

“At just the right time, I heard you.
    On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us,and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 | New Living Translation (NLT)


Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of the season of Lent. As a recap, Lent is the Latin word for Spring. Spring reminds us of the new life that we have in Christ.  Just before the verses that I have quoted begin, Paul reminds us that God has brought people back to himself through Christ.  God reconciled people through Christ and for those who trust in Christ, our sins are no longer counted against us.  We are also reminded because of the way that God reconciled us back to Him that we to should reconcile others to Christ.  We are Christ’s ambassadors – we speak for God.  God is making his appeal through us.  What is the message on this Ash Wednesday?

Come Back to God

“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with Christ.”

Paul pleads with the Corinthian church, do not accept the marvelous kindness of God and ignore it. Ash Wednesday is designed to show us our mortality.  We were formed from the dust and to the dust we will return.  I love the words that are pronounced during the imposition of ashes “Repent of your sins, and believe the Gospel.”

Listen to what the prophet Joel writes:

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
    but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish.
14 Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve.

This again is the message of Ash Wednesday; “Come back to God!”

Advertisements

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

AshLongBanner

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday (March 1, 2017)


2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 | New Living Translation (NLT)

20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says,

“At just the right time, I heard you.
    On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us,and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. 10 Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.


Today is the first day of Lent.  Lent is the Latin word for Spring.  Over the last couple years, I have really begun to appreciate the value of this season.  Here in northwest Pennsylvania, we are in the middle of a spring-like stretch of weather.  Not sure what to do with that.  I remember some Lenten seasons when we were in the capital region of New York, when there was snow on the ground on the first day of March and we had snow on some of the days we had services.  This is quite different.

I’ve often referred to Lent as Spring Training for Christians.  It is a season of preparation, much like Advent is a season of preparation.  Advent is a preparation for Christmas and Lent is a preparation for Easter.  In the early days of the church, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for new converts as they readied their hearts to enter into Christian baptism on Easter Sunday. Since these new members were to be received into a living community of faith, the entire community was called to preparation.

Lent is a forty day journey – from Ash Wednesday to Easter – not including Sundays, that includes prayer, fasting, self-examination and penitence.  This season reminds us how much we need grace in our lives in order to live a transformed life that reflects God’s love.  We are called to renew our commitments and our faith as we continually acknowledge our need of God’s transforming presence with us.

This morning our scripture is a reminder that God is working through us to call others back to God in an act of reconciliation.  As Paul reminds us God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with Christ.  Today is the day of salvation.

I love Paul’s words – we live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us.  Further down in 8, we have these words, “We are honest, but they call us imposters. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed.  Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.”

I would encourage you to read the rest.  It sums up what we are to do as ministers of the Gospel and as believers.  I think it also sums up what Lent is all about.

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Why Ash Wednesday?

Ash-WednesdaySo today is Ash Wednesday…today also marks the beginning of Lent (which is Latin for Spring.)  Lent is forty days of prayer and fasting before the season of Easter.  You may say, “hold on a minute, there are 46 days between today and Easter.” You would be correct.  The forty days refers to the weekdays – the six Sundays between now and Easter are not fast days.

These forty days are days of preparation for the celebration of Easter.  In the early church, the forty days preceding Easter, where a time to prepare the baptismal candidates for baptism on Easter Sunday. At least for me over these next forty days, I focus on the cross of Christ – the sacrifice that was paid for my sin.  In reality that is what Ash Wednesday is really all about.  It is a service remembrance that we are all human, that we are all frail, that we are all dust and to dust we will return.  Today many will read the words of David in Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,
    because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
    blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
    Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
    and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
    teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
    you have broken me—
    now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
    Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
    and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
    then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O Lord,
    that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit—
    with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.
    Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

Times of reflection are important in our lives.  Take a look at how God reminded the Israelites time after time to remember.  The best example is after Joshua led them across the Jordan River.  Once they had crossed, God commanded them to take twelve stones and pile them up as a memorial to what God had done.

Jesus even instituted the Lord’s Table, so that we could remember.  I think that is why I find myself drawn to these more liturgical forms of worship.  One of the things that I have learned is that these forms of worship do not have to be cold and formal.  It depends on the attitude of the heart.  Isn’t that the way it is with all of our worship – it depends on the attitude of our heart.

I did not grow up in a liturgical church. In fact, I was in my thirties when I first was introduced to the church year.  The first time I ever participated in an Ash Wednesday service is while I pastored a small church in upstate New York.  We were invited by another evangelical pastor to the community ecumenical Lenten services.  While I wasn’t an official member of the group, several times that year, I participated by leading part of the worship along with the other clergy.  Yes, it was strange, and it was awkward, but there was a sense of connecting with the greater Church.

Some may think, I am doing something that is catholic.  One of the things we tend to forget in our 21st century minds is that for 1500 years after Jesus’ resurrection, there was only one church.  Immediately following the Reformation, you would have seen very few differences in worship from the church that Luther started as a result.  Even the grandfather of our own movement, John Wesley, was an Anglican and would have followed the forms of the Anglican church.

Here are two links that ask the same question: “Why Ash Wednesday?” and answer it in greater detail.  I liked the way both of these writers said it.

One of the things that I have noticed is that those who attended our service last year, where greatly moved, not only by the Ash Wednesday service, but by our Good Friday service as well.  All of these help us prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus crucifixion and his resurrection.  How will you be preparing your heart?  What areas in your life need to be renewed?  Is there a place in your heart for revival?

Ash Wednesday

ash crossAsh Wednesday (February 10, 2016)

 

 

 


2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10 | New Living Translation

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says,

“At just the right time, I heard you.
    On the day of salvation, I helped you.”

Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.

We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.


Return to the Lord

From Joel 2:

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
    but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish.
Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve,
    sending you a blessing instead of this curse.

A theme for Ash Wednesday could be return to the Lord.  It is the words penned by Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth.  It is the words spoken by the prophet Joel.  Today marks a new season – the season of Lent.  Today is Ash Wednesday.  In another post, I’m going to answer why Ash Wednesday, but at the moment I want to take a look at these scriptures.

Return to the Lord.  So many times we make a big deal about New Year’s resolutions.  Even though it’s only been six weeks since New Year’s, I’m sure most of us have already laid those aside.  I don’t think many see those resolutions as a spiritual exercise or a spiritual discipline.

In both of the passages I highlighted, we find call to return to the Lord.  There’s something about the way that it is said that demands urgency.  This is not a call that we hear very often anymore.  The prophets of the Old Testament were very good at it.  Even John the Baptist was good at it.  It doesn’t seem like we have that kind of prophetic voice anymore. Return to the Lord, while there is still time.  We are reminded that now is the day of salvation.  This is a spiritual exercise – this is a spiritual discipline.  This is why I love the church calendar and the seasons of grace – for lack of a better way to put it.

Last year our church at the time had an emphasis on revival and renewal – just in time for Spring and in time for Lent (which just so happens to be the Latin word for Spring.) I love the fact that just as we are in the heart of winter (and we are going to get another blast of winter this weekend – apparently cold and then some snow,) we start thinking about how soon all will be well – it will get warmer – and the grass will turn green – and the flowers will bloom.  During the winter, the vegetation “goes dark.” But in Spring, it all comes to life.

We have those times – more often than we would like to admit I’m sure – that we get into spiritual winters.  Lent is a time for us to renew ourselves – to return to the Lord – to put ourselves back on track.  Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust and to dust we will return – we are human – we are frail.  It is only through Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection that we are saved and are able to live lives that are pleasing to him – so today – Come, return to the Lord.  He is merciful and compassionate and filled with unfailing love for His people.

Ash Wednesday Message

So here we are…most of us have completed week 5 of the Downpour series.  At the end of the video session we were challenged to confess our sins to one another.  So how are you doing?  How is the sin in the mirror looking?

Sin – it is such a simple word – just three letters.  I know that our Bible study has defined sin and in the praise team study we have looked at just a bit different definition of sin.  Sin, as John Wesley defines it, is a willful transgression of God’s law.  I think that better defines sin.  It still doesn’t let us off the hook.  We don’t like to talk about sin – we would rather talk about mistakes – or bad judgments – poor decisions – or even call some sin a disease.  Unfortunately the middle letter of the word sin – gives us a little clue.  It is the letter I.  If you think about it “I” is the root of all sin.  Let’s look at James 1: 13-16

13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

Sin comes from our own desires – no wonder it is so easy for Satan to tempt us…he only uses what we give him to start with.  We have been discussing this during our Bible study…we often look at Adam and Eve and say, “I could have done better.” O really?  The Bible is quite clear that given the same circumstances, we would have ended up just like Adam and Eve.  In Romans we are told that “All have sinned, all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  I really like that translation of that verse.  We often talk about falling short of God’s glory, but sin really is falling short of God’s standard.  We like to compare – we usually try to compare ourselves to someone who isn’t as good as us – we say, “I’m not as bad as so and so…but they are not the standard when it comes to sin…God is.  In light of our Downpour study and some of what you all have been studying on Sunday mornings with the Louie Giglio videos, we really do fall short of God’s glory…can we make the earth stay on it’s 23 ½ degree angle…can we keep all the planets spinning…can we keep the stars on their courses?  No, a hundred, a thousand, a million times no.  Who can compare to God?  No one!  In a few moments we are going to look at our sin in a litany of penitence.  I hope that you have been following along in your Downpour books, because most of this week’s assignment was examining the sin in your life.

I found the Romans passage that Pastor  James used interesting…because toward the end of Romans 1, we are given a list of sins…Paul writes, “Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful.  They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents.  They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy…” Ouch.  I think this is interesting being that this list of sins come after this passage on sexual sin.  So many times we like to categorize sin – there are little sins and big sins.  The little sins are nothing to worry about, but we better worry about the big sins.  It’s clear in this passage that there are no little sins – all sin is equal in God’s sight.  That’s the bad news….

But here is the Good News – it’s not too late to turn around – God is the antidote for sin.  Listen to these words that come from the James 4:

So humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the World.  Let there be tears for what you have done.  Let there be sorrow and deep grief.  Let there be sadness instead of laugher, and gloom instead of joy.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. 

These words are the essence of the Lenten season.  We live in a world that loves to celebrate – we live in a world that loves to lift itself up – we live in a world that loves to celebrate evil….to the point of promoting it.  Remember the Downpour video from last week.  Sin only escalates!  Sin leads to unrestrained passions then to perversion (I want to sin even if it is wrong…even if it hurts others…even if it hurts me,) then to pandemonium (there is no wrong) and then to promotion (everyone ought to do what I do.)

It is time to humble ourselves before the Lord…it is time to wash our hands…to purify our hearts…to draw near to God…perhaps even as James suggests – let there be tears, sorrow, deep grief, sadness, and gloom.  These are not popular topics or emotions by any stretch of the imagination.   J. Michael Walters, a professor at Houghton College writes in his commentary on James, “We are confessing this life of humble repentance every time we pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. Unfortunately the life of repentance and brokenness before God is not a popular approach to religion in modern culture, and therefore we can understand the shallowness of much of North American Christianity.  The season of Lent (the six Sundays prior to Easter that elevate the need for repentance) is the most disliked season of the church year.  We would much rather celebrate than come before God broken by our sinfulness and cry out to Him for the grace that He only bestows upon the humble.  But the curse of double-minded religion never can be replaced by the blessedness of true religion until the place of authentic repentance is found.  This is the promise with which James ends: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”