Different Audiences (Ash Wednesday)

I didn’t capture the recording, but here is Ash Wednesday’s Sermon with a little reflection about a recent commercial embedded…

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

I’m often stumped on Ash Wednesday or in the season of Lent itself.  Here is my general thinking why. Lent is supposed to be this penitential season. And Ash Wednesday has this extremely heavy call to repentance.  “Remember that dust you are.”  And maybe my history or understanding is off, but in the days of Christendom, the days with a name – like Ash Wednesday – were days of Holy Obligation. Everybody showed up for services.  So the Christendom preacher actually got the chance to proclaim to those far off, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”  And the beginning or the renewal of Faith is always repentance.  A holding before sinners the cross of Christ.  “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

But today, the preacher rarely gets such a chance. Today, those who show up for Ash Wednesday, or a midweek service, are most like those who already keenly feel their poverty of spirit.  The law has already done its work.  Proclaiming “repent” again feels like whipping the defeated.  It risks turning the deadly serious into play acting.

This is the tragedy of the “He Gets Us” Superbowl add, but reversed. It is not exactly that the ad’s message is wrong, but it misses its audience.  I can take that ad and proclaim it here tonight completely.  “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” Today is the favorable time.  All those failures that have brought us here with our cry to God.  Today He has listened to you.  What those later Ashes represent – our death due to our sin, “now is the day of salvation.” Christ has become sin, that we might have his righteousness.  He had washed your feet already in those waters of baptism.  He washes your feet every time we receive the absolution. Don’t receive the grace in vain – but believe it. God has heard you and has saved you.  Let that mighty work of God strengthen your faith.  There is nothing that Satan or the World can do that shall take the Grace of God away from you.  Not afflictions, or hardships or calamities, beating or imprisonments. Honors or dishonors, slanders or praise.  There is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the grace of God – from the absolution of all our sin by that cross. Receive the grace of God for you – today.

But broadcasting that message to those who have not repented is proclaiming acceptance, not absolution.  And that also makes vain the grace of God, just as much as not believing it.  If God just accepts there is no need for sacrifice, there is no purpose in the cross.  God wishes to absolve us, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.  God does not say “poor child, I know that you will never be different” and leave us in that sorrowful state.  For that is ultimately what acceptance would do, leave us in our sins.  It would not really be a listening and certainly not a day of salvation. But the grace of God has come to us and creates a clean heart and renews the Holy Spirit within us.  And does this so that we might become righteous.  To the extent “He Gets Us” is proclaimed to the unrepentant, it confirms us in self-righteousness.  Not the righteousness of Christ.  It says don’t worry about repentance or holiness or receiving the Grace of God, because you are just fine.  It makes the cross vain.

An old saying from the world of salesmen, “stop selling when you get to yes.”  Stop preaching the law when people are desperate enough to show up mid-week. Today, you are reconciled to God.  The Father has heard and sent Jesus.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The one through whom all things were made, who will gather our ashes and remake us on the day of salvation.  Amen.

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