Ash Wednesday – February 18, 2015
In the Name of Jesus. AMEN!
Beloved in the Lord,
Looking for the Experience of Spirituality
The world is not in the market for ashes. Ashes remind us of the wrong things, things we don’t want to be reminded of, things we don’t want to think on, things we don’t want to have to deal with. The world is not interested in religion, with its doctrines, creeds, and institutions. But they are very interested in Spirituality. Spirituality doesn’t have much to do with ashes, ashes are too . . . earthy. People today are in the market for something less earthyand more spiritual, something that will give them a pleasant experience and a sense of meaning and well-being without making any uncomfortable demands. The world doesn’t like demands, rules, laws, boundaries, not even expectations. These all hinder theirspirituality. What the world wants is religious experience without religious belief. What the world wants and what many Christians pursue is a spirituality of experience. They want to feel rather than believe. They want to sense rather than perceive. They want to know without understanding.
What do you want? How many of you actually were looking forward to having those ashes crossed on your forehead? How many of you actually were looking forward to confessing your sins? How many of think like the world thinks? Well, let’s be honest. We all do. Because this sort of craving comes from Adam.
Three Ways to Fail
And Adam is not without his ways and means. Though over the centuries there have been many variations to Old Adam’s spirituality, there are essentially only three ways Adam attempts to approach God apart from Christ: Moralism, speculation, and mysticism.
Moralism seeks to earn God’s favor through achievement of moral perfection – always doing what is right, avoiding wrong doing and keeping oneself under control by sheer will power. Moralism is the laudable desire to be good and is the most natural way we assume to get us to God. Be good, get into heaven. Don’t do bad, don’t go to hell. It’s that simple – at least on paper and in our minds. But it’s not that simple in our life. We keep failing. You keep failing. No one can live up to such high standards. And we know this, which is why moralism is accompanied by hypocrisy. Moralism fails. Our hypocrisy cannot hide from the One who knows the depths of our hearts. Where there is failure there is death. We must repent.
Speculation! That will do it for us. Speculation is the assumption that knowledge is the key to spiritual fulfillment. If we only knew the truth, if we could only find the key to understanding the complexities of life, read the right “how to book”, say the right words, have the right attitude, attain the right comprehension of our life and our world, then we would be happy and content. But as with moralism, the way of speculation becomes another occasion for pride and arrogance. Those who are in the know are better than those who are ignorant. And those who know better grow cold toward those who don’t. And knowledge never seems able to prevent death. Where there is death there is sin. We must repent.
If moralism and speculation fail us then there is always mysticism. Mysticism’s focus is almost entirely on experience, which means that it is almost entirely on emotion, and almost entirely void of the Word of God. Mysticism seeks to leave behind this world and ascend into the spiritual realms, having a direct experience with the divine and tapping into God’s power for our own purposes. In theory mystics want to become one with God, to share in His spiritual power and energy and to avoid suffering and the consequences of sin in this life. But in practice the fine line between becoming one with the divine and becoming divine is transgressed over and over again. Mysticism’s focus on experiencing God really is a surrender to the serpent’s temptation –“ you will know good and evil. You will become like God.” Such an approach to God warrants His curse not His blessing. For there is no sharing in God apart from His Son. Repentance is our only hope of salvation.
Marked for Salvation
True, biblical, Lutheran spirituality faces up to reality. That’s why we gather this morning/evening. That’s why we are marked with ashes. The ashes on our forward are both Law and gospel. The ashes are a testimony against our efforts to reach God through moralism, speculation, mysticism and all its variants. Our efforts are futile. There is no one righteous, no not even one – that does it for moralism; there is no one who understands – so much for speculation; no one who seeks God – and there is the failure of mysticism. Man’s efforts result in death. Dust you are and to dust you shall return.
Our hope is not in the value of our efforts as experienced with the ashes but in the mark traced over us. We’re not just smudging up our foreheads today. That mark is in the shape of a cross. It is a cross because it only by Christ’s crucifixion that we who are unable to come to God on our own terms and by our own strength are drawn near to God through His terms and strength. Jesus took upon Himself our futility and suffered it as God in the flesh.
The ladder on which we attempt to climb back to God, He descended.
The curse spoken upon us He bore.
The death we have earned He suffered.
The isolation we embraced He endured.
The shame of our nakedness He covers.
He is judged for us to be acquitted.
He is forsaken for us to be welcomed by the Father.
He gives His life for us to live forever.
He is buried to sanctified our graves. And He does not see decay so that we who are destined for dust become heirs of the resurrection. He is risen so that one day we too shall rise again.
One Way to be Saved
There is then only one way to God, one way to be saved, one way to share in blessings of the divine. He is Jesus. Jesus is the Way – He does what could not do – lives a perfect life in our place. Jesus is the Truth – He is the wisdom from God manifested in weakness, yet strong to save even the greatest of sinners. And Jesus is the Life. In Him is life and that life is the light of men. There is no life apart from Jesus, there is no sharing in God apart from His Son. Whoever has the Son has life. Every spiritual blessings which comes down from the Father above to us here below comes us through Christ Jesus and only through Christ Jesus. There is one mediator between God and men the man Jesus Christ. He is the only way for you and me and the world.
In Him alone are we to hope.
In Him alone are we to find refuge.
In Him alone are we to rejoice and give thanks.
In Him alone are we to approach the Father.
In Him alone are we grow in our understanding of God’s heart toward us.
In Him alone are we to partake of the divine nature by grace through faith.
Finding Christ by Faith
Beloved in the Lord, the world may not be interested in such earthy things as those ashes across your forehead. These ashes give testimony against your efforts and to the grace of God in Christ crucified. The first step in a right spirituality is confession – agreeing with God’s Word about the merits of your flesh, and absolution – believing that God in Christ has taken away your sins. It is such a faith which justifies you and reconciles you to the Father for Christ’s sake. Such a faith is not an experience – that would be mysticism. Such a faith is not a function of the will as though you could “decide to believe in Jesus” – that would be moralism. Faith does not justify or save because it is a good work in itself but only because it receives the promised mercy. Faith receives from God and serves neighbor. Thus faith is the open hands of a beggar standing before a benevolent King who is eager to share the bounty of His love with those who confess the name of His Son.
Today, faith receives absolution through words, words purchased with a body and blood that was poured out for you on Calvary’s mountain. These Words are the promise, not only of God’s love, but also God’s life. These words beckon the heart to believe unto salvation. And these Words lead us to this altar, where that love and life are given out under bread and wine, with body and blood, for your body and blood, your life and salvation. This is God’s Way of saving you, preserving you, and loving you into eternity, by grace, through faith, in with and under these “earthy” not so spiritual things. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!