A sermon for Ash Wednesday
February 22, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
In parish halls and church basements across the country, week after week, something amazing happens. A group of people gathers to confess shortcomings and failures; they ask for support from one another; they love each other through their triumphs and their slip-ups; they recommit themselves to following a new way of life. I wish I could say this happened in the Sunday liturgy. Sometimes it does. But far too often we are too proud, too self-obsessed, or maybe too fearful to admit just what we are. We are too often more concerned with convincing others (and ourselves) that we have it all together instead of confessing that we’re sinners. No, I’m talking about groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Pills Anonymous. Folks come to these groups because they are ready for a change and they need help. They come to confess their sins. They come, not because they have everything figured out, but precisely because they don’t.
These folks come because they have stopped living in denial. Denial, AA would tell us, stands for “Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying.” They’re tired of lying to themselves. They know, all too well, that something is wrong and must be put right. So they come, faithfully, humbly, to confess and own up to who they are.
They have a lot to teach the Church. We live in denial–we don’t even notice we’re lying about who we are. We think we’re mostly good, that we mostly have things together, that we mostly have it all figured out. We convince ourselves that if we have enough time, enough money, enough years, enough friends, enough promotions, enough vacation days, enough energy, enough good deeds, enough political connections, enough Bible knowledge, enough religious piety, enough whatever, we can save ourselves. That’s denial–we don’t even we’re lying to ourselves! Something is wrong and must be put right, and we’re not able to do it. But we’re living in denial, trying our hardest to block out the dread of sin and inevitable death by our own power.
Today calls us out of that denial:
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
“I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.”
“Most holy and merciful Father: We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned.”
Today, the liturgy helps us break the denial and realize, if we listen, that something is wrong and must be put right. The liturgy entreats us, like St. Paul to the Corinthians: Be reconciled to God! Be reconnected to God. Make God a friend and not a stranger. It is possible now, today, for Christ himself has taken on our sin so that we might take on his righteousness; Christ has taken on our death so that we might take on his life. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. Don’t wait. Be reconciled to God today.
That’s what repentance is: It’s becoming reconciled, reconnected, to God after we have separated ourselves from him by sin. We stop living in denial and we acknowledge our wrong. We acknowledge we are sinners. And we ask for grace, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help walking a new way. We don’t deserve it, but God grants it out of love and mercy, for the sake of his Son our Savior, Jesus Christ. God grants forgiveness because God in Christ has sacrificed himself, freely and completely, to defeat sin and death for the whole world. For you and for me.
My friends, something is wrong and must be put right. You and I can’t do it. Try as we might, we just can’t. But God can. And God has through the cross of Christ. So tonight, as you wipe that ashen cross off your forehead, remember that in the same way and because of that cross, God wipes our sins away from us when we come with contrite and humble hearts; and God removes that sin from us, as far as the east is from the west.
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