Sermon: Ash Wednesday
Pastor Sean Willman
Good Shepherd Pleasant Prairie
14 February 2018
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Jesus died upon the cross to forgive your sins. It is finished. You are redeemed. Made righteous by the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God that blots out all your iniquities. You are children of the Heavenly Father and heirs of eternal life. And no one can take this from you. So what are we doing here tonight reminding ourselves of our sins? Why have we gathered to mark ourselves with the very signs of death? Why let the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” ring out into ears? Why spend 40 days doing the same?
So that we remember what’s true. Lent isn’t a time to pretend that we don’t know Easter is coming or that we don’t know that we have eternal life. No, the point of all remembering is to remind ourselves of the truth. Hearing the truth again strengthens our faith in it. What’s true is true, whether you believe it or not. If you think 2+2 is five, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s four, it simply means that you’re wrong and don’t know the truth. In the same way, you can deny that you’re a sinner, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are. So hearing it again and again helps us to believe it, and drives us to repent.
The same is said of fasting. When we abstain from something, and don’t satisfy a craving it often hurts. But the point is to be reminded of what’s true: we can live without lots of luxuries that we have come to believe are needs. The pain of self-discipline drives us to repent of our laziness, gluttony, and opulence. But Lent isn’t about denial. It isn’t about fasting. It’s about confessing. Reminding ourselves of what’s true: We are sinners. Fasting simply helps us do that. But if we don’t move from self-denial to confession we’ve missed the point. As the prophet Joel reminds us, “’Yet even now’, declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts not your garments.’” Above all the Lord cares about your heart. He cares about what you believe. He wants you to believe the truth. You’re a sinner.
Of course there’s a second, and even greater truth the Lord desires you to believe: God is your eternal Father, who gives you life and salvation through His Son. Lent is a time for confession, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return! And it’s a time for absolution. Remember that you are forgiven, and forgiven you shall be forever. These things are true, God grant that you would believe them.
Besides fasting, a second discipline that the church has practiced to help her remember the truth is prayer. So throughout this season of Lent, during the midweek services we’ll be focusing on the Lord’s Prayer. And tonight we consider the Introduction: OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him and dear children ask their dear father.
God is your gracious Father who gives you all good things. Even without your asking. So why pray? So that we remember and believe what’s true. We’re sinners, forgiven by God through His Son. When we pray “Our Father” we are reminded again, of who we are, the true and dear children of God, and who He is, our true and dear Father.
So then, you the people of faith pray for more faith. That you might believe what’s true. And believing it, you confess your sins. You lay them at the foot of the cross, where they are paid for and forgiven now and forever.
So whether you fast or pray or give extra time and gifts this Lent don’t do it to be seen by others. Do it to remind yourself of what’s good and right and true: The cross of Christ your Lord and Savior. God grant you faith to believe it. In Jesus name. Amen.