Friday, February 12, 2016
A real feeling or feeling the new reality. . .
No less an icon of pop culture Madonna sang “like a virgin,” putting into words and notes the longing of a people to feel new, fresh, clean, and pure -- after finding themselves feeling dirty, used, and discarded by spouses no longer loved, relationships gone sour, work become a prison, and pleasures that no longer satisfy. She sang to a people who know exactly what she means. We have indulged in a promiscuous pursuit of happiness and pleasure that did not satisfy but only left us feeling all the worse for wear. But her words sing only of an exchange of feelings -- not really clean or fresh or pure but only feeling as if it were the case. Absent the prospect of anything more, feelings have become the tolerable substitute for real newness, cleanness, and purity.
Christian life sometimes seems like this. It is an endless cycle of indulgence to desire and then confession of our sin on Sunday morning without making any real headway toward holiness. We are supposed to feel better but is that all faith is about -- feelings? Without real repentance and without the promise of the God who delivers what He says, Christian life might seem to be mere resignation to the fact that we will soil ourselves with sin and but we have a God who takes us back anyway. But that is not what God promises. Christian life is not about feelings but a new reality.
The false reality of feelings cannot be rejected until the Spirit leads us to to see the false treasure of the emotion of the moment, of good works never really enough and feelings that fade fast when we count on them most. Today on Ash Wednesday, the Lord tells us we cannot settle for an imagined newness; we need the real newness. This is God’s work in us - not better or longer lasting feelings but the new reality of what His Word and promise declares.
Repentance is not about shaping up your life to earn God’s favor. Repentance is the fruit of God’s favor at work in you. It is first His treasure that will lead us to reject all false treasures. His reality declared in the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin is more real than what our eyes see or our hearts feel. Nowhere is this more clear than on Ash Wednesday.
Without God's aid, our eyes are blind to how perishable things are. Even when we glimpse their temporary reality, sinful desire would gladly choose a moment in the sun with money, fame, and power over righteousness. Our hears fear that the worst consequence of life is disappointment but the real worst consequences are death and hell. The treasures of this life are consumed by moth, destroyed by rust, and stolen by thieves. All that we see is already passing away. Even our own flesh. Dust you are and to dust you shall return.
You are perishable. You body is failing and you cannot escape death. It is the one thing we can all be sure of. You were made from dust and to dust you shall return. Hope would end right there if God had not chosen to inhabit dust. Because our Lord Jesus Christ wore our dusty flesh died the death of dust, God has hidden His life even in dust. Where Christ is, there is our hope. There is our life. God has entered our flesh to bear the stain of our sin and died our death to kill death once and for all. This is where true repentance begins -- where the new reality of what God has done is revealed!
The Word of the Lord endures forever. Turn off your cell phones, let go of the distractions of this mortal life, and forget trying to find solace in your feelings. Hear and believe! That is the call of Ash Wednesday. You were baptized into a new reality. Sin is swallowed up by forgiveness and death is swallowed up by life. Return. Return to the Lord who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This is the word not for the pagan who knows nothing of God but fear or disdain but for the people who know and forget who they are by God's grace and mercy.
God never waiting for humanity to wake up to the emptiness of the world and its false hope of mere feelings before He acted. While we were yet sinners and enemies He came in His Son to save and redeem, to satisfy the law and paid our debt. Even now He does not demand that you shape up your life before He loves you. God does not wait for your actions to match up to your words. He meets you where you are -- in ruins of your sin, in the darkness of your death, and in your failed pursuit of newness, happiness, and holiness. In the ravages of the wreck of our lives, God comes declaring that these are old and YOU are made new! Lent is time of renewed awareness of this reality declared in the Word of God and written in the blood of Christ.
He swallows up sin with the blood of His Son. He provides forgiveness to the unworthy and undeserving. He swallows up death by the power of the life that death could not contain. So the call to repent comes because God has already provided for you, for your salvation, for your forgiveness, and for your new life. God does not offer you the feeling of newness or being clean or pure. He makes it so! You are made new! You are forgiven! You belong to Him!
So do not play at faith. You cannot serve two masters nor can you bank on two treasures. Your feelings are not trustworthy. You don't need different feelings. You need the new reality born of your baptism and written in the Word that endures forever– so real that death cannot over come it. Ashes, dust, decay and death are the outcome of a world ruled by feelings and content with a brief moment of peace. But God offers you the reality of a clear conscience, the concrete reality of new life, the eternal clothing of Christ's righteousness, and an imperishable treasure, hope, and life. Don’t settle for merely feeling new when God offers you the real new life. Repent. Return to your baptism. Hear His Word. Eat His flesh. Drink His blood. Believe and live; you are already new. Even in ashes is the sign of our hope in the cross. Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. In the name of Jesus. Amen
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The last paragraph of this sermon should read everyday in this season of Lent.
Faith is maybe the simplest religious activity, yet God holds it as one of our highest religious exercises.
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