Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:21 (CEV)
Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so that Christ could make us acceptable to God.

The four Rs

On Sunday we heard about Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and his meeting with Moses and Elijah and the voice from heaven.  God the Father spoke from the cloud and affirmed Jesus as his own beloved Son in whom he was delighted and the prophets encouraged Jesus because they all know what lay ahead of him.  From the Mount of Transfiguration he would now head toward Jerusalem.  This was not going to be a sightseeing visit.  This will be a difficult road to travel – a road of suffering and pain, a road of ridicule and rejection, a road that will lead to extreme agony and death.

Today marks the beginning of Lent and we are beginning our walk towards Good Friday.  This isn’t the first time we have walked this path as we walk it every year.  We are taking this Lenten journey again because we are fully aware that Jesus took that path to the cross for us.  There was no other reason – he had no other motive, no axe to grind with the Jews or the Romans; he had no other personal ambition, no idea of self-glorification or anything like that – his sole reason for going to down the road to the cross was purely for us.  He did it
because he loved us;
because he saw our need to be reconciled to our heavenly Father;
because he knew that we had no other way to enter God's Kingdom. 
He did it all for us.

And so we enter Lent with four purposes in mind -
remembrance, and
The four Rs if you like.  None of these are exclusive to Lent, of course, but it seems they come together with extra significance as we walk the road to Calvary’s cross.

The first R – Lent is a time of reflection on our own personal journey and how well we have managed to follow Christ, be like Christ, to let the love, mercy and peace of Christ flow through us and affect how we speak and relate to others.  As we reflect on how well we have been the love of Christ to others we find ourselves in this rather strange paradoxical situation.  We are followers of Christ, members of his kingdom, people committed to being like Christ to others and yet at the same time we are terribly flawed.  Sin is still very much a part of our lives and creates havoc far more often than we care to admit and ruins far too many of our good intentions and the loving service we want to do for others.  Too often it just takes control and willy-nilly we do unkind things and speak harshly and unkindly and often with the intention of causing hurt. 

As people who belong to Christ and know his love, we see the hurt we cause, we know this is not pleasing to God and so we come to the second R – repentance.  Repentance is only possible because of the faith and trust given to us by the Holy Spirit. We couldn’t repent if we didn’t believe that God was merciful and loving.  It is a response to God's love for us and a reaction to the way we have hurt the God who loves us.  We are aware our Father who loves us dearly is terribly saddened by the way we allow sin to dictate how we act and speak.  What is more, his Son gave his life for us; he endured extreme agony for us; he gave up everything because of his love for us and look how we are repaying this generous gift.  We are truly unworthy recipients of so much love and generosity.

We come in total humility and confess our failures.

We join with King David and pray, I recognise my faults; I am always conscious of my sins. I have sinned against you - only against you - and have done what you consider evil... So you are right in judging me; you are justified in condemning me. … Create a pure heart in me, O God... (Psalm 51).

This second R – repentance doesn’t have a tone of hopelessness or despair.  Like David, we turn to God because he is a loving God and we look to our Father for reconciliation, peace, renewal, and a fresh start.  “Create in me a new heart, O God. … Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation”.  It is at this moment that the grace of God comes as a fresh breeze and blows away the guilt and restores us as his beloved child as we hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven”. 

But this forgiveness comes at a price and that leads me to the third R – remember.  Lent is a time of remembering all that Jesus went through for us, especially that last week, Holy Week, as he suffered so cruelly at the hands of his enemies and then was finally nailed to a cross on Good Friday. A really worthwhile thing to do during Lent is to spend a part of each day reading through the Passion story as you find it recorded in the later chapters in any of the Gospels.  Don’t read big chunks just short portions and stop and reflect on that event.  Remember why Jesus did this; remember why he endured so much mockery, suffering, pain and agony on the cross.  It was for us.  It was for no other reason than to take upon himself all of our guilt and replace it with his own righteousness.

Paul said, “Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God” 2 Cor 5:21).
“When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10a).
Peter said, Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

I’m quite sure that we can’t fully appreciate what God has done for us this side of eternity.  Paul says, “Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror.  …  We don't know everything, but then we will” (1 Cor 13:12).  We can see God's grace in a dim sort of way and appreciate it with our own understanding and imagery but its really difficult to grasp what it means for our God who is the almighty, always present, all knowing power in the whole universe to be so kind and merciful to a speck like me on a planet called Earth in a place called Caboolture. 

What is more, that he can be bothered with a blatant insignificant sinner like me just blows me away.  In the big picture of the history of the universe that God should even care about me; that he would even send his Son into the world because he loves me and wants me to live forever is way beyond my comprehension.  The Son of God was hanging on the cross is God demonstrating his love for each one of us and giving everything to bring us back home. 

In Lent especially, that is what we remember.  That God should do all this is humbling on the one hand and on the other arouses extreme joy– our God is truly an awesome God.

This leads me to fourth R – response.  We can travel down the Lenten pathway and at the end we will have had a wonderful experience but we want it to be more than an uplifting spiritual journey.  What does this journey mean for the rest of the year and the rest of our lives as we travel beyond Good Friday and Easter?  Easter brings with it the joy of new life, renewal, and hope for a better future. 

Jesus has done so much for us that it calls for a response – a response of thanksgiving and praise and also the resolution to be who God wants us to be as we live as his new people.

Peter wrote, “You are a chosen people … belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9) and it is this light of Christ that now leads us as we live the Christ-like life. We are called to be Christ’s followers and shine the light of Christ into the dark corners of our world. 
We are destined to be the love of Christ where there is hopelessness and despair.
We are ordained to be the peace of Christ where there is anger, hatred and strife between people.
We are called to be the mercy of Christ where there is hunger, homelessness, loneliness, the lost and the guilty.
We are to be the joy of Christ and bring hope, comfort, forgiveness and newness to all who are seeking a new way.

May God bless each one of us as we travel the road to Calvary and reflect, repent, remember and respond to the great love God has shown us in his Son.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th March 2014

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