Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-19
Bror Erickson

[12] "Yet even now," declares the Lord,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
[13] 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.
[14] Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?
[15] Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
[16] 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.
[17] Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep
and say, "Spare your people, O Lord,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
'Where is their God?' "
[18] Then the Lord became jealous for his land
and had pity on his people.
[19] 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. Joel 2:12-19 (ESV)

[12] "Yet even now," declares the Lord,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
[13] 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.

The Lord calls. “Return to me” he says. Return to me my children. Come to me, come back to me. Come to me he says “with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning and rend your hearts not your garments.”
This is don’t just make a show of repentance. Ripping a garment used to be, I suppose it still is, a sign of anguish, a sign of sorrow, repentance. Perhaps not bad in and of itself. But then sometimes the temptation is to rip your garment while not meaning it. You might even wear cheap work clothes while doing it. God isn’t interested in the show if there is no sincerity behind it. He doesn’t care about your clothes, he cares about your heart, your soul. Even now return to me. Come to me with humility.
So there we have the fasting. What is the point? The point is a forsaking of this world and the things we love in it, knowing that this world will pass away and nothing should come between us and God. This really isn’t about health, losing weight, or breaking bad habits. In fact the lenten fast is kind of peculiar. We give up something we enjoy. Of course it is a bit optional. No law about it. But good custom. But the fast is set up so that it is six days a week. Sunday doesn’t count. In fact on Sundays you are supposed to indulge in whatever you gave up for Lent! Which is why giving up smoking during Lent is a bad idea. If you want to quit, quit and good on you. But it doesn’t make for a good Lenten fast. You would be somewhat obligated to indulge in it on Sunday. Breaking with sinful habits also. Break with those. That is what is meant with rending your hearts. If you have a sinful habit, one that is sin in and of itself, forbidden by God then give it up, do all you can to break its hold on you. Better that you pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin, than with both eyes to be cast into hell. Of course the problem there is, rending your heart might not be enough, you might have to tear it out completely. Because in the end, it isn’t your eye, your hand, your foot or any other organ that causes you to sin, but your heart. And know not the one that requires a bypass every once in awhile in old age, but that heart that you like to associate with love, peace and happiness.
It is a cesspool of sin if it is anything like mine. It doesn’t draw me closer to God, but keeps tearing me further away. Ever looked in the mirror and hated yourself, been totally disgusted with yourself? Sometimes it’s a bit healthy to take a long look and see just how sinful and decrepit you are. But we don’t like to. We like it more when we can pat ourselves on the back and think of how good we are. And that is what God won’t have. He won’t have you approaching him under false colors. He won’t have you approaching him with pride in who you are. He knows who you are. He knows you are a sinner. And if you are going to stand on judgment day it does you well to come to grips with that now. It doesn’t matter the personal demons you conquered. It doesn’t matter the personal betterment you have been able to make for yourself. All that is good in its place, but that place is not coram deo, before God. Before God you are a sinner, and you better rend your heart in acknowledgement of that. By all means conquer the demons. Don’t let them destroy your life anymore then they have already. Do all you can to break them.
Eating too much, Gluttony. Drinking too much. Perhaps even promiscuity, pornography, adultery, sloth, pride, gossip, are you guilty? Yes. We have sins. And we ought not let them control us. We have died in Christ and been raised to new life. Put them away, do all you can. You sin it hurts you, it hurts those around you. And it is hard to put these things away at times. Some of these sins are so addictive. Not in a million years did you think you would get stuck in them. Now here you are.
That is the nature of sin, that is who you are. And because of that you will die. From dust you were made to dust you will return for sin kills indiscriminately. But then the lord brings to life. And this is why we don’t fast on Sundays during lent. The lord brings to life. Through his death and resurrection he gives us forgiveness and life. And it was Easter, a Sunday morning when the tomb was discovered to be empty, and our life appeared to the disciples in flesh and blood. Yes our life. Christ is our life now. The full glory of which awaits us. Not because we managed to become better sinners, but because he died to forgive our sins, and rose to give us life. And that happened on a Sunday, something worth celebrating every week. Something that never gets old. So we discipline ourselves, we train ourselves to give things up. To despise the world. We train ourselves to say no to things that would come between Christ and us. But on Sunday we celebrate his resurrection.

1 comment:

Brigitte said...

This imagery of "rendering" is so rich. It "renders" the heart just to contemplate that that is what God wants, this ridiculous heart of mine "rendered". What does he care about it?

He does. There is some much grace there already. Is there any other religion on earth that has a "god" who wants such a thing? There is not.