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Pastor John's sermon from ash wednesday 2020

February 26, 2020


Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


[Audio File follows printed text]


When the day of the Lord comes, it comes in terror, in darkness, and the people tremble. Why should it be that way? Why should we blow a trumpet, why should we sound an alarm? Because, as the prophet Joel reminds his people, we are too busy to notice the coming of the Lord. We are too busy working, too busy scheming, too busy calculating, too busy earning, too busy proving ourselves. Too busy altogether with whatever treasures occupy our time and attention. Too busy chasing after whatever our hearts desire. The flicker of promise in celebrity workout videos, the lure of happiness from the sensible financial advisors, the faces of our families, the secrets we harbor, deep and hidden away. The painters of the Renaissance knew how to show us the way we are: all scattered and searching, but the Lord coming in surprise, just when we have turned completely away from him, just when our hearts lay furthest from him.


Some of you are here tonight because the Lord surprised you then, or found you when you wandered. Some of you are here because you know hear the mockery of the peoples, who look at the Israelites scattered and brought low, and say, ‘Where is their God?’ Someone maybe has said that about you: look at you, where is your God? And perhaps in that moment your treasure crumbles in your hands, dust as it always was, and your treasure becomes the God no one can see, the God revealed in the mockery of the crowds, the God who comes in alarm and surprise. And you can point to the struggle, as the Israelites could point to their own exile and suffering and say, “God is here. God has never left. Christ is God’s treasure, and Christ is with me, and so God’s heart is with me, too.” And then, when you see that you are God’s treasure, and Christ is your treasure, everything changes. To those who say, “Where is your God,” we say, “We are treated as impostors and yet are true; as unknown and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing; yet possessing everything, because we possess Christ and Christ possesses us, and all that we have and need God has given.”


Repentance is our theme tonight, but repentance is just a longer word for change. Perhaps you’ve heard it before: repentance simply means turning around, changing direction. It means leaving one road and going to another. You may have heard these things just a few nights ago during our forum on changing the way we get our energy. Our hearts can turn around. Things can change—they can change for good. Instead of digging through life for treasure, what could happen when God comes to you and says, “You are a treasure; you are my treasure; my heart is with you.” Repentance is sorrow for disbelieving that God could says this, for disbelieving that God does say this, for disbelieving that God could love like this. Repentance is turning to love God’s love.


Repentance simply means change. Not change like a random mutation, but change for good—a change to the good. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, Jesus says: repentance is finding your treasure where it is supposed to be, there in the heart of God. The trumpet, the alarm, the sudden arrival of the risen Christ changes us. It reduces false treasures to nothing and captures our hearts and places them where all good things reside: in God’s heart, with Christ himself. Christ changes us for good—for the good that comes from the service of God’s love for all people and the whole created order. Imagine the difference in yourself when you hear Christ say, “Leave your restless searching: you are God’s chosen. You are God’s treasure, and he is your treasure.” What kind of freedom can that bring our weary souls? To feel the chains of sin shatter, to stand in love, and then to see that such love finds a home in all the things God has made?


And when Christ comes, he changes us for good—once and for all. The splash of water drowns us—our treasure is beyond death in the life of God. There is no turning back from baptism, or from the grace of God. The grace of God is irresistible, and it changes you for good. It takes you places you do not expect to go. It helps you see things you could never have hoped to see. It comes in the struggle of life. But the treasure is worth the adventure. Change happens because God comes to us in the struggle. We love because God first loved us; we know Christ because Christ first came to us, first died, and first rose. We change till we change to eternal life with him.


Amen.


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