Return to the Lord Psalm 51; Joel 2:11-19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b 6:10

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1 Pastor Chris Matthis Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado Ash Wednesday Wednesday, February 18 th, 2015 Sermon: Text: Return to the Lord Psalm 51; Joel 2:11-19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b 6:10 Focus: Yahweh is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Function: That they would repent of their sins and return to Christ for forgiveness. Structure: Text-Application Locus: I believe that Jesus Christ has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from sin, death, and the power of the devil (SC, 2 nd Article of Apostles Creed). Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down! That s the message of Ash Wednesday. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19, ESV). 1 Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are sinners, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23a). Sin is woefully, dead-fully, dreadfully serious business. We all die because we all sin (Rom. 5:12). We disobey and rebel against God, and we break his commands. And our well-deserved punishment is death and eternal damnation. No one does good, not even one (Rom. 3:11). And no matter how much good we try to do, no matter how hard we try to keep his commandments or be nice to people, we will always fail and come up short. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). None of us can live up to God s impossibly high expectations. But that doesn t mean God will let us off the hook. God takes sin seriously. And our holy God cannot just wink or look the other way when we sin against him and other people by the things we have done and the things we have left undone. He cannot merely say, Oh, at least they gave it their best, because that would compromise his character. In the Garden of Eden, God made Adam and Eve in his likeness and image, and they mirrored his nature to the rest of 1 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

2 Matthis 2 Creation before their fall into sin. As such, God demands that the children of man believe his Word and obey his commands. You shall be holy, he says, for I the LORD your God am holy (Lev. 19:2). Jesus ups the ante even more in the Sermon on the Mount: You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). But how can we be perfect when, as David says in Psalm 51, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps. 51:5). David does not mean that it was wrong for his parents to have sex. That would be silly! After all, God told humanity, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). No, when David says that his mother conceived him in sin, it means that he was sinful from the very beginning of his life even from conception. Original sin inherited from our ancestors is the ultimate cause of our inability to keep God s commands. To err is human. It s in our DNA! That is why David says, I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Ps. 51:3). When we look in the perfect mirror of God s Law, the Ten Commandments, all we can see is our sin. The Law always accuses (Apology of the Augsburg Confession). This recognition of guilt will always do one of three things: (1) It will lead to despair and make you afraid of God; (2) it will cause you to excuse your sin (justify yourself!) and further rebel against God s will and ways; or (3) it will drive you to repentance so that you cry out to God for mercy and grace! The first two responses ultimately lead to death and damnation the path we re already on apart from faith in Christ and his works of mercy on the cross. But the third way is the way of life and salvation. Return to the LORD your God! urges the prophet Joel, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster (Joel 2:13b). Don t give up or give in to despair or depravity! Rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:13a). Joel reminds us of the amazing grace

3 Matthis 3 and merciful character of God. He s not malicious or capricious. He s not temperamental or out to get us. No, Yahweh our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster (Joel 2:13). God is patient and kid, loving and forgiving. He forgives even our worst sins. He relents over disaster and what could be more disastrous than our sin?! So Joel reminds us of God s wonderful nature and urges us to repent and return to our loving Lord for mercy and grace. That is why we cry out with David in the plaintive prayer of Psalm 51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from sin. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Ps. 51:1-2, 9-12). How could God not respond to a heartfelt prayer like that? He can t! The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Ps. 51:17). Why is that? How can God listen to our confession and forgive our sins after all of our fierce rebellion and reckless living? Because that is what he promised to do when he sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus took our guilt upon himself, and he took the punishment and blame for our sin. For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin that is, Jesus so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of

4 Matthis 4 reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Because of Jesus death and resurrection, God doesn t count your sins against you. Your sins are washed away in the blood of Jesus in the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). We have been purged with something better than hyssop. We have been washed in Holy Baptism and we have drunk deeply of Jesus blood in his Supper. Because of God s mercy and grace, we don t have to be afraid of God. We don t have to keep fighting him or running away or hiding from him. Instead, we return to the Lord our God, knowing and believing that he is gracious and merciful because of the grace and mercy we see in Jesus eyes and hear from Jesus lips as he died on the cross. Jesus is Lord! (Romans 10:9). That means that Jesus is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. So now we pray a different kind of prayer, a joyful prayer of thankfulness and praise. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise (Ps. 51:15). With sins forgiven and hearts renewed, we cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard what we have experienced at the foot of the cross (cp. Acts 4:20). Now we are called and commissioned to tell others the Good News of Jesus saving name! Now I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Ps. 51:13). For in the final analysis, isn t that what Ash Wednesday is all about? Going out into the world, marked with the cross of Christ, so that sinners will ask us to tell them the Good News? Then maybe they too will return to the Lord their God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him? (Joel 2:13-14). Who knows if God will leave a blessing behind? We know! He

5 Matthis 5 has already left a blessing behind. That s why he sent his Son Jesus! In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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