Friday, February 20, 2015

Material people in a material world. . .

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, preached on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

    No less a prophet than Madonna, the singer not the Blessed Virgin, reminds us that we are material boys and girls living in a material world.  And it all seems good when material things are what we want and need. But what happens when they fail us?  Under it all we find a hidden truth none wants to admit - being material means we are flesh and blood.  We are dust and to dust we shall return.
    Even if it does not bother us to die, it bothers us when our loved ones mortality lies naked and exposed.  Tonight we come to the Lord as mortals who are dust.  Though we have struggled to make peace with our mortality and we will settle for a long and full life, God has made no peace with death.  It bothers Him even more than it bothers us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. 
    As good as it is, the material world is temporary.  Every moment in time lasts but for a moment. The Psalmist says that the water in the stream is always moving.  So it is for us and our lives. We do not stop but move day by day from birth to death, without pause.
    The material treasures of this world are consumed by moth, destroyed by rust, and stolen by thieves.  The rulers and kingdoms and powers of this mortal world ebb and flow.  The Psalmist warns us against trusting in them because they will all disappoint us in our hour of need.  We will all die.  It is not if but when.  Sooner or later is little consolation.  If we squeeze another day or week or year, we gain only weakness and not the strength of eternity.  Ashes and dust we are.
    The Lord is eternal.  His Word is eternal.  It is the voice of eternity.  But we who come here tonight come because the eternal flesh for us.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, as one of us.  God became dust so that the eternal Lord might die.
    Now there is a mouthful.  The eternal became flesh to embrace what we run from – death.  Because He became flesh for us, He is able to speak rescue to the sinner and hope to those mired in the darkness of sin and the shadow of death.
    The Word endures because death could not hold Him.  So all who trust in the treasure of the Word will not be disappointed by life too short or death too soon.  The Lord became flesh to die so that those mired in death might be free for eternal life.
    This Word will not fail us.  The God who raised His only Son from death to life will not fail to raise those who live in Christ from death to everlasting life.  This is why we come tonight, amid snow, cold, and weakness.  We come as sinners and dust seeking life and hope.
    We wear on our foreheads the ashes of our mortality.  All things will die.  We will die.  But in the midst of death, Christ is still Lord and His Word gives hope to those marked by sin for death.  This gift of life begins by remembering and confessing the somber truth of our mortality.  It is called repentance.  Admitting who we are so that we might receive the favor of God’s forgiveness and new life.
    No, ashes are not sacramental.  They are not a sign from God but our sign to God.  We wear on our foreheads what we admit in our hearts.  We are mortal.  We are sinful.  We are the dead, who came from dust and who will return to dust.  But from the dust we await the promise of the Savior who wore our flesh with us, who died, and who rose where death cannot go.
    He will dig down into the dust of the earth, breathe in us the breath of life, and raise up the dead and buried to eternal life.  Then, when these mortal shall put on immortality, then shall come to pass the prophecy: O death, where is Your sting? O grave, where is your victory.
    Now is the day of repentance when ashes are signs of faith and repentance.  When we admit we know who we are, who Christ is, and that our only future is the one He has prepared.  Return to the Lord Your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.   You will not be disappointed.  Even in ashes, God has placed hope.  The sign of the cross.  Amen.

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