Thursday, February 18, 2021

Where your treasure is. . .

Sermon for Ash Wednesday, evening service, preached on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

    Love is a word central to the Scriptures.  In love God created all things for Himself. Love is the fulfilling of the Law, love for God above all things and love for neighbor as self.  John 3:16 speaks of how God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.  St. Paul speaks eloquently of love in 1st Corinthians – faith, hope, and love which abide but love is the greatest.  The fallacy in all of this is that love has become mere emotion, a feeling for the moment that neither lasts nor changes who we are.  So love has become something weak and fragile.  If you love me, you will not judge me.  If you love me, you will accept me as I am.  But this is not love and it is certainly not the beating heart of Christianity.

    The love that Scripture speaks of is anything but weak.  It is strong – strong enough to confront sin and strong enough to forgive that sin.  Love is not a many splendored thing nor is it a warm feeling.  Love is the saving will and purpose of God, established before the world began.  Before the stars were set in the sky or the sun shone down upon the earth and it brought forth plants or the animals were created or God breathed into the dust of His hand to fashion man, God knew.  He knew that to love enough to create was to love enough to redeem His lost creation.  He knew that to love the world would mean entering it with all its limitations, carrying its wounds in the flesh of His own Son, dying the death that came with man’s choice to sin, and rising to rescue the objects of His love forevermore.

    For the Christian, love is not simply love.  It is love that forgives.  Love that restores.  Love that rescues.  Love that redeems.  Love that pays the cost, the full price of redemption.  So every time you read love, read into that love forgiveness and the cost of that forgiveness born by Christ for you and me.  Love is not the beating heart of Christianity – forgiveness is.  The Lord has not dealt with us according to our sins but according to His mercy.  When we take inventory of our lives, when we acknowledge our sins, when we confess the sins of thought, word, and deed, and when we beg the Lord’s mercy, God is not forcing us to see how bad we are but confronting us with the power of His love – love that forgives the sins of the unworthy and undeserving of mercy.  God’s love is not some generic thing but the specific love that forgives sins.

    Faith means so many things to us.  We treasure so many things when we treasure faith.  We treasure the connections we have with God and with each other, the presence of God and of brothers and sisters in faith in the worst moments of our lives, a purpose and direction for our existence, inspiration for life or self-improvement, encouragement in time of struggle, and an order to a life which is so disordered and chaotic.

They say that people come to church for a thousand different reasons.  But the center of it all is love strong enough to confront us with our sins and love strong enough to forgive those sins.  Our greatest treasure is forgiveness.  It is not merely the hoop we must jump through to get better things, it is the greatest gift of God.  Only through faith can we learn to value this forgiveness for what it is and see in this forgiveness the power of love.  Only faith sees that this is the beating heart of Christianity and through faith this forgiveness becomes the beating heart of the Christian.

    On Ash Wednesday we come face to face with this.  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy or thieves break in and steal.  Your piety is not about the appearance of righteousness before men and your reward is not what others think of you.  Your piety is not about good works done for the esteem of others.  Your prayers are not prayed so that others may see you praying.  Your fast is not for others to notice.  The core and center of your relationship with God is in sin confessed and forgiven by the blood of Jesus.  If this is not the treasure you value most, there is nothing else God has for you.  For the center of the faith is forgiveness and the most valuable treasure God can give us it the gift love won upon the cross.

    Such love is not safe.  It cost Jesus everything on the cross.  It is free to us but it does not come without consequences.  To love God above all things is to cost yourself the privilege of self-indulgence which cares nothing of right or wrong.  To love God above all things costs you the esteem of a world which not only does not understand but dismisses such love as foolish.  To love God above all things costs us the requirement that we live by faith and not by sight, by faith and not be logic or reason, and by faith and not by emotion or desire.

    We live in a world which loves today more than eternity.  I warn you.  Ashes are not safe.  Church is not safe.  Faith is not safe.  And love is not safe.  CS Lewis put it this way:  “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”   We are not here today because it is safe but because the Lord is good and there is no good better than to be in His presence, even if that means owning our sins and acknowledging our mortality.

    So tonight we wear our ashes and admit.  What tore us from God was sin, what keeps us from God is sin, what stains our souls is sin, and what causes death is sin.  Yet those ashes are in the shape of a cross reminding us that there is an answer for sin.  The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  By this love we are forgiven.  In this love we live as a people of hope.  Through this love we are even now being redeemed and sanctified.  This love has provided us a future that not even death can steal.  This is our treasure, the core and center of our Christian hope, and the shape of our Christianity identity.  For our sake, He made Him to be sin who know no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.  Amen.

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