Tag Archives: humility

Ash Wednesday

Remember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we do not need any formal type of confession because our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus we may be missing the point of confession. From the First Epistle of John:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Ash Wednesday offers us an opportunity for fasting and repentance. Perhaps we should take it?

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

He Shall Renew Your Strength

In this world we often grow weary. The world is a fallen one. It is a difficult place. But we have this promise from God given to us through the Prophet Isaiah:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.   (Isaiah 40:28-31)

As we grow older we quicklt learn that our physical strength diminishes. Even youths will faint and grow weary Isaiah tells us. The best human strength we can muster is not enough. The psalmist wrote:

God is not impressed by the might of a horse;
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who await his gracious favor.   (Psalm 147:11-12)

We cannot rely upon human strength alone, at any age. All of us need a source of renewal. From today’s Gospel we read:

After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.   (Mark 1:29-31)

Jesus wants to refresh us. He loves us and he needs our service. As soon as Simon’s mother-in-law was restored she started serving Jesus and his disciples. That was her desire. She wasted no time making excuses for herself. She understood that the healing was not just about her. It was also for the sake of others.

Jesus ministered to practically the whole city of Capernaum that day, healing the sick and casting out demons. This left him very tired. Again, reading from Mark:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.   (Mark 1:35-39)

Jesus had human limitations just as we do. He grew weary. He needed his rest. And he knew how to be refreshed from God the Father. He got up early and prayed. He spent time in the Spirit with the Father. He was able to refresh and restore others because he, himself, had been refreshed. He got his strength from the Father through the Holy Spirit.

Do we know how to be refreshed today? How much time do we spend with Jesus? Jesus he makes this promise to us:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   (Matthew 11:28-29)

There is no rest without his yoke. The secret to many of us who avoid him is that his yoke is easy and his burdens are light. Maybe it is time to lay down our burdens before him and learn from him. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 1To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.   (1 Peter 5:5-11)

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Holy Name

Yeshua (ישוע) – Deliverer

In Judaism names have meanings. A name does more than merely identify someone. It speaks to their character, to their calling, and to the blessing that God has placed upon them. Abram was renamed by God so that he became Abraham, the father of many nations. Jacob became Israel because he had wrestled with God and had prevailed. Simon became Peter, the rock upon whom God would build His church.

The Son of God was named Jesus or, in Hebrew, “Yeshua” – which means God saves. In today’s Gospel we read:

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew:18-21)

It was customary in Judaism to dedicate each male child to God on the eighth day after his birth. This was the time that the child was circumcised and was also given his name. This was true for Jesus. From Luke we read:

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  (Luke 2:21)

God the Father wants to place us on the same footing as Jesus. Jesus received his name on the eighth day and the blessing of the Father. We are to receive that same blessing as well if we come under the name of Jesus. God does this through an adoption which occurs when we embrace Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Paul wrote in today’s Epistle:

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.   (Galatians 4:4-7)

God has always desired to bless His people and place His name on them. During the time of Moses He instructed His priests how to do this:

The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”  (Numbers 6:27-28)

We are so blessed to have the name of our Lord placed upon us. We are called Christian because Jesus is making us into His image. When we receive the name of our Lord with humility and thanksgiving, God the Father places upon us the character and nature of Jesus. Have we been adopted by God? If not, now is the day of salvation.

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:12)

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