Ash Wednesday, 2019
The Lesson Appointed
The Epistle – Joel 2:12-17
The Gospel – St. Matthew 6:16-21
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
We stop today, come to Church, receive ashes onto our foreheads and begin our Lenten fasting and disciplines.
The Church today, teaches us the duty of these practices as well as the usefulness of them.
First, we must be urged not to take Lent lightly. This is not a time to diet. It is not a time to stop doing something we really won’t miss anyway.
It is a time for us to be very frank and honest about who we are. We are to be honest about why this season is upon us and why it is necessary.
We are sinners. We are sinful people. Yes, we are redeemed sinners. Yes, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ….and He propitiates the Father’s wrath that is rightly directed at us…He turns that away.
But we must never forget that though we are an acceptable people in the sight of God, solely on account of the righteousness of Christ, we still remain sinners.
Few people really realize the opportunity the Church provides for us not only in Lent, but also on Ember Days, when we are to fast and pray for God to call men into the ministry…
We have Rogation Days also where these same disciplines are used to implore God for His mercy on the planting and harvesting seasons.
Some go further and observe Fridays of fasting each week.
There is real spiritual benefit to these disciplines. They are an aid to the devotional life. They are also a “check upon worldliness and unspirituality, and against its misuse as fostering pride.”
So, they keep us from things that hurt us spiritually and they direct us to things that nourish us spiritually.
Our Collect today reminds us of the important things to remember about Lent.
First, though we are reminded of our sinfulness, we pray to God, reminding Him and ourselves that He hates nothing that He has made.
This is not here just to remind us that depriving ourselves of certain pleasures, especially certain foods are done not out of a despising them.
It is here to remind us that God doesn’t despise us. He hates nothing that He has made. He hates sin. But He didn’t make that.
We brought that into the world through our disobedience. Through our own distrust of God and our own unrighteous desires.
Further, He forgives the sins of all those who are penitent. If God hated us, then He would not be moved to forgive our sins.
He created the world in the beginning. He declared each day “good.” He concluded His creative efforts by declaring it all “very good.”
So, we need not put undue fears and worries over God being easily angered by our sins and ready to send down His wrath in an instant and annihilate us.
He hates nothing that He has made. Paul asks his readers in Romans 8, “If God is for us, (implying that He is) ….If God is for us, who can be against us?”
In other words, If God is for us, nothing in the world has the power to be against us so that we cannot be saved by God.
“…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)
“Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.” (ESV)
There are numerous other passages that speak to this truth.
God hates nothing that He has made. He forgives the sins of all those who are penitent.
Yet our prayer today and of all of Lent goes on to say…or we ask… “Create and make in us new and contrite hearts. That we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness may obtain perfect remission and forgiveness.
That is how we pray this day. That is how we can and should pray every day. These are year-round, perennial petitions and truths about God, us and our relationship.
God doesn’t hate us.
God forgives the sins of all who are penitent.
Once we are reminded of those facts then we can, going on that information, call upon Him over and over to forgive us our sins and cleans us from unrighteousness.
He will even help us lament our sins. He will send, as we ask, His Holy Spirit down to us, to plant a lively faith within us…so that we might come to Him again and again for forgiveness.
He will plant within us, a hearty repentance and true faith….This is what the absolution speaks of when the Priest offers it to the people.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith, turn unto Him.
Not turn inward. No wallow in it. Not look for self-help books, and self-help gurus…but with hearty repentance and true faith, turn unto Him. Turn unto God and call out for forgiveness.
In another place in our Prayer Books in the Family Prayers, we pray, “Make us deeply sensible of the great evil of our sins…” and then we immediately ask God this, “work in us a hearty contrition...”
It is God who works in us, even the contrition we need to obtain that forgiveness..
It is all the work of God from start to finish. This is how much we need help and this is how much He is for us and how much He loves what He has made.
And He is just and righteous as well as merciful and He will grant that forgiveness…perfect remission and forgiveness.
Nothing overlooked. Nothing forgotten. Not a little left over to hold over us for later…but perfect remission and forgiveness.
In the Gospel for today, we see Jesus teaching His Disciples.
He tells them that when they fast, they are not to do it to show it off. They are not to do it so as to be seen by others.
He wants inward change. He wants inward, heartfelt contrition and sorrow for sin.
Those who make a show of it already have their reward. They have their friends and neighbors’ admiration for about 10 seconds at least.
He wants it to be true, deep and contrite, but He wants it to be something that acknowledges the sin, doesn’t shy away from it…doesn’t try to mask or hide it.
Try hiding your sins from God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.
That didn’t work very well for Adam and Eve and it won’t work for us either.
He wants us also to look forward at all times for that forgiveness and remission of those sins as well.
Wash your face, He says. Anoint our head with oil.
Your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. God the Father, who sees in secret…meaning He sees all things even the things that are hidden from men…He sees them all.
And if some here think that it’s too late, the prophet Joel today reminds us of the call of God at all times. Never to consider it too late.
He says this to the people of God of the Old Testament, of Judah who were about to be taken into exile by the Babylonians.
They seem to be on the brink…
He says to them,
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
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.”
He then calls the people to come together…. “Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
 gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.”
So in like manner, Lent and Ash Wednesday in particular are played out in this same fashion.
The assembly is called.
The people are gathered.
The urgency to repent is given.
A fast is consecrated.
Our passage from Joel ends in v.17 but in the very next verse we get to see what happens.
Joel says, “Then the LORD became jealous for his land
and had pity on his people.
 The LORD answered and said to his people,
“Behold, I am sending to you
grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
a reproach among the nations.” (ESV)
The call to fast and repent and lament our sins is always met…sometimes immediately…sometimes later…but it is always met by a faithful God who will keep His word.
He will grant true repentance. He will forgive sins. He will accept a true and contrite heart. Let us make that our desire and our goal this Lent.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.