ASH Wednesday Sermon

Wednesday 1st of March

2 CORINTHIANS 5:20-6:10

Ash Wednesday as we well know brings us to the beginning of the season of lent. Now given the fact this day is upon us so early this year it can be a bit of a challenge to move from Christmas to Lent so quickly. The heart of this season is thinking about who Jesus really is as he makes his journey to that cross, and also about who we are as sinful people that caused him to make that journey. So consequently in lent we hear about our sin and also about our need for repentance.

Tonight’s reading from 2 Corinthians 5 says this about Jesus: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Now as Lutherans this kind of verse speaks to us because we know it puts the right emphasis on Jesus. It describes Jesus as a sacrificial victim, the One who fulfilled the sacrifices and the Law of the Old Testament, and as a result we have righteousness given to us because of what he did for us.

This is the Christian faith we know: We have a list of sins, Jesus came and made his journey to the cross so that our sins are not counted against us, therefore we are now free from the anger of God because of what Jesus has done. All of this is true, but the truth is there is more going on here than merely keeping a tally of our sins and forgiveness. There is more here than the fact that we are saved because God makes a correcting entry in his ledger on account of Jesus for us. This is what we deserve because of our sins, but God through Jesus has taken care of the cost. This is the very strong image that is behind much Lutheran preaching on God, sin and forgiveness. Perhaps that is because this image does make it clear that salvation is accomplished by Jesus alone, and not by our own works. This however, does not include all of the biblical witness about the forgiveness of sins.

Just before today’s reading from 2 Corinthians God’s word says this: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). This, I believe, sets up a different image to describe Jesus’ sacrifice. One that suggests that Jesus’ sacrifice for us involves us being a new creation.

Jesus’ sacrifice on that cross for you and me gives us forgiveness but it changes our identity. Who we are as people of God is now determined by what God says of us. God is the one who created us by breathing life into us, and now He is the One who is recreating by His speaking as well. You see, when God works in us through Jesus, He reconciles us to himself by forgiving our sins and in doing so he is not employing an accounting trick, evening up the scales if you like, but he is giving us a new identity. You and I are a new creation because he says we are.

And a new identity brings with it a new way of looking at the world. And this is to make a difference in how we view Jesus, his work in us and also in how we view each other. Paul mentions a number of examples of this in the verses before today’s reading. He speaks of how the life that we live in this world is very fragile and temporary and how as followers of Jesus we face many hardships and we carry many burdens. He encourages us to be of good courage in the face of these hardships we face (2 Cor 5:1–10). He also speaks, in verse 12, of how because we are new creations through Jesus and he is working in us that we work for him, not to make a big thing of ourselves and how good we are, but to point to Jesus. He speaks of the importance of our hearts being more important than outward appearances. This is at the heart of this evening’s Gospel reading from Matthew, where Jesus is directly challenging us to look at our own hearts rather than how we appear in the eyes of others.

A reading like tonight’s calls on us as his followers to, yes, to seriously look at our sins, but also to look at the way that God himself is working in us to reconcile us to himself, by recreating us, giving us new identities.

When Jesus took that journey to the cross for you and me to take our sins upon himself he did this so that we could have not just a rigid forgiveness before a harsh judge, but a life of forgiveness that also brings us true life. A forgiveness that doesn’t remain stuck in the mud, but forgiveness that gives us a new identity so that we can be close to God and can reach out to those around us.

So during this time of lent as you reflect on all that Jesus has done for you, remember to also reflect on all the things that he is still doing for you in your life, the way that he has given and is also giving you a new identity and as the reading today says: “we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain”. Think about all that has been done, all because of Jesus and death on that cross for you.

I would like to leave you with a short quote from Luther out of his Small Catechism that, I believe, gets to the heart of this sermon. Luther says this: “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

I encourage all of you to think on this, as we journey through lent together.