Preached at various churches in the Diocese of Saskatchewan, Ash Wednesday 2019.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart O God you will not despise – Ps. 51:17
We belong to God, who loves us, who is love itself. Who has gathered together a people. Who has formed them from the dust. Who has breathed his own breath into us. Who has pursued us and desired us. He has wept for us, he has waited for us, he has suffered for us. God is love and those that abide in love abide in God, and God in them.
It is this same God who causes Joel to cry out in alarm: SOUND THE ALARM! BLOW THE TRUMPETS! GET READY! Joel tells the people to be afraid, to tremble with every inch of who they are, for God is coming and he is coming in judgment. The love of God is king. He reigns on high and has come to claim every inch of who we are. There can be no evil in love, death is swallowed up in his victory. Let me put it another way, our God is holy and he comes to judge the whole Earth. He does not tolerate injustice and his anger against sin is just. His anger is real. Joel sees it as flame, as thunder, as the great sound of the advance of a mighty army. In the face of it, Joel says we need to tremble, and we need to prepare.
Even now return to me with all your heart God says. In the face of his utter judgment he still pursues us, pursues all of us, to come to him. We are to have a fast and outward signs of repentance, but to help us give ourselves to God. Rend your heart not your garments-the purpose of any ceremony, of ashes or abstaining from food or self examination or private confession is to help us present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. It is to help us give him our hearts and return home.
Pursue holiness, pursue love, pursue life, because everything else is passing away. God’s judgment will burn against everything that is in open rebellion against him. We have a king an anointed one, Jesus the Lord. Letting him reign in us is the foretaste of eternity. Lent is a time to let that reign become more real within us, it is a time to be penitent, it is a time to store up treasures in heaven.
Let me say this. Don’t choose a long list of things to focus on in this holy fast. Choose one thing and be disciplined about it. Is it pride? Then watch your heart to see where you are boastful and eager to prove your own worth. Focus on leaning on the worthiness God gives you as his adopted son or daughter. Is it anger? Focus on handing judgment and sovereignty over to God, seek to interrupt yourself and let go and acknowledge your weakness. Pick one small thing and be deliberate, attentive and patient with yourself in it. Seek to hand it over to God’s mercy and righteousness.
This is between you and God. Not a mission for you to shout from the hill tops or share during coffee hour. This is an offering, a beautiful vulnerable gift from you to God, from him to you. You may want to share with a close friend for encouragement and accountability but not widely or for show. Jesus says to pray quietly in your room, to disguise your fast.
And finally brothers and sisters take courage as we prepare to observe this lent. You are the beloved of God. He is pursuing you, be received by him. You are made of dust yet God fills us with his own breath and life. May we walk the road of suffering with our Saviour and hold tightly on to him. Let us know we don’t walk this road by our own strength.
Deliver me from death, O God, and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness – Ps. 51:14