February 10, 2016 — Ash Wednesday
The Imposition of Reality
Come back later for the audio of this sermon.
In the Name X of Jesus. Amen!
Beloved in the Lord,
The Imposition of Paradise Lost
It is not now what it once was. For there was a time when there was no sin in the world and with no sin so also no death. There was a time when humanity was free from sorrow and full of joy, when man could walk with God in the cool of the garden and draw near to Him without fear of judgment, without fear of rejection. Yes beloved, there was a time, a long time ago, when God and man were by nature friends. But that time is no more. Sin has entered the world. Death has spread to all men, women, and children. Paradise is lost.
Despite such failure humanity continues to press forward under a curse, suffering delusions of grandeur, believing lies and living an illusion. The serpent promised that eating the fruit Adam and Eve “would be like God.” It was a vain and empty promise, one that could never be delivered. Yet Adam believed it. He took of the fruit. He ate it and gave some to His bride. Together they fell. Together they rebelled. And to this day we their children are cursed with their original sin. We too suffer delusions of grandeur. We too believe the lies and live the illusion. And for too many of us that is our preference. But God is a God of truth not preference, of Love not tolerance, of mercy not judgement. Despite our appetite for the cursed fruit and the forked tongue lies of our adversary, the Lord would awaken us to reality. Rather than allow us to dream our existence away into hell He imposes the truth upon our foreheads. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” In other words, the ashes on your foreheads are a testimony of reality against your preferred illusions. Humanity has lost paradise because Humanity thought it could be like God without God.
Make Me to Know My End (Psalm 39:4)
You are always tempted away from this truth. You are always tempted to believe that you can be like God without God, that you can decide for yourself what is good and what is evil, what saves and what damns. That is the illusion! That is the delusion of grandeur. Humanity, you and me, we are always wanting to believe that we are better than we are, that we can justify ourselves, explain away our sin, cover over our failures, even pretend to be good enough to make up for the wrongs we’ve done. And because of this we are always wanting, always believing, always trying the wrong things in order to avoid death.
But not King David. David prays by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Lord make me to know my end, that I may see how frail, how fleeting, I am.” David prays that God would continually reveal reality to him, not just as an article of faith – like “the souls that sins shall die” but David prays that the Lord would make such truth know to him in his flesh. Humanity is in denial of the end. Because of our sin there is and will be an end to us. You will die. Dust you are and to dust you shall return. That is reality. It’s a cold reality. It’s a difficult reality, but it is a reality that know to be true and we even feel it in our bones. What is traced upon our foreheads, though it doesn’t hurt at all, actually hurts to the very depths of our hearts. Because what is traced on our foreheads is exactly what David prays for, and it is exactly what you need to know and feel in the very depths of your soul. Dust you are and to dust you shall return. This is reality! There is no hope in your flesh. There is no strength in your bones. You are not like God apart from God. You cannot determine what is good or what is evil. Only God can do that and what God says is what is real. Dust you are and to dust you shall return.
My Help Comes from the Lord! (Psalm 121)
Until you embrace this reality you will continue to press on with delusions of grandeur while believing the lies and living the illusion. But . . . But once you acknowledge the truth, surrender your fight, give up the dreams, humble yourself under the Word of God it is then that the Lord swoops in to save. “When I confessed my transgressions unto the Lord, You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” That cross is not traced upon you to condemn you but to awaken you, to impose God’s reality upon you. Dust you are and to dust you shall return. Therefore, repent! Turn away from your strength and merits. Confess your sins. Return to the Lord your God with sack cloth and ashes, with weeping and mourning, with sorrow for sin and genuine heartfelt contrition. Look not to yourself. Take your eyes from your belly button and lift them up unto the Lord. Look up! Behold your God. He comes to you righteous and having salvation. He is meek and lowly, approaching with a Word rather than a sword. Coming to die rather than kill. Drawing near to suffer in your place, bear your wrongs, endure your punishment, weather God’s fury, withstand man’s rebellion, brave humanity’s failures. He’s come to be crucified, dead and buried, to offer His own flesh and blood in place of your flesh and blood. He becomes the sinner, though knowing no sin Himself, so that you become righteousness of God. And having died for you, having paid the price for you, having been buried for you and all people, He rises on the third day.
His flesh and blood wins the day.
His flesh and blood conquers death.
His flesh and blood never dies again.
For His flesh and blood is the cure for our flesh and blood.
His flesh and blood is the medicine for our flesh and blood.
His is the pure, righteous, life-giving flesh and blood we need to cover our fallen, cursed, destined to dust, flesh and blood.
We are dust but Christ is risen.
Death is our destiny but Christ is risen!
We have no merit in our strength, but Christ is risen!
We are sinners but Christ is risen!
We were deluded, but the Light of Christ’s resurrection has pierced through our hearts! Christ is risen! That is our hope! That is reality in flesh and blood for you and me and the world.
A New Reality
This reality is given you as a gift in your baptism. “For do you not know that all of us who have been baptized were baptized into His death.” Dust you are and dust you shall return. But the sting of that curse has been taken away. The power of those words has been undone. The illusion has been shattered. Reality has broken in to your world, into your heart through water and the blessed Word of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. With water and God’s Word your heart is wiped clean. With water and God’s Word a new reality is traced upon you, you have received the sign of the cross marking you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Those ashes you will wash off as soon as you get home or maybe even sooner. But not Christ’s mark. You can’t see it, but it is there. Not even death can undo it, only unbelief. Therefore believe! He who believes and is baptized shall be saved!
When you sin, do not doubt the promises of God, but as Luther says, “sin boldly” do not hide your sin. Do not attempt to cover it with pious words or a strict devotional life. NO! Sin boldly. Confess your transgressions unto the Lord, lay it on the table, before the altar so to speak, give it up, surrender it to the Lord. Acknowledge the truth of what is real and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Confess your sins and believe the gospel! Hold tight the gospel! Cling to the Christ and His cross. Recall the promises first spoken over you in that Holy Water. Return to your baptism and return to your God. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and mercy. His greatest delight is forgiving sins, washing away stains, healing wounds, regenerating hearts, resurrecting the dead. He would do this for you, for any and for all who humbly draw near to Him.
The Offering of Paradise
Therefore the Lord draws near to you today. He offers Himself, His flesh and blood, to you. Come. Come out of the bushes. Enter into paradise. For wherever Jesus is there is Eden, there is God walking with His people, forgiving His people, sharing His life with His people. That is what happens today. That is what happens in this place when the Word is preached, when people are baptized, and when the faithful gather to eat and drink of the Lord’s gifts. This is paradise and here in paradise there are no illusions, no delusions of grandeur, only the reality of our condition and of God’s eternal love for sinners like us. Though things are not the way they once were, it is not up to us to get back to Eden. Christ blazes that trail for us and bids us to follow Him. Following Him we get back to Eden. Following Him we enter the promised land. Following Him we pass through death and into life eternal. Thought things are not what they once were, it is not long before things will be what they should be, even now we get a foretaste of that day. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!