Ash Wednesday 2018 (Joel 2:12–19; Mt 6:16–21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO


Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. That’ll be you some day—dust, ashes. You’ll die. You’ll decay. You’ll be bones. Skeleton buried in the ground. Then, not even that—a pile of dust and ashes in a coffin.

Dust and ashes. That’s your life now, too. It’s how you live: ashes, dust, dirt. Are you willing to confess that? With the nasty parts of our life, sure. It’s easy to say that our sins are dust and ashes. The skeletons that rattle around in the closet of our consciences. The memories of deep, dark sins, the secret sins, the evil thoughts no one knows, the angry words maybe only a few know, the icky deeds only you know. But “your Father sees in secret.” No part of your past or present is hidden from Him. He sees everything: your actions, words, and even thoughts! The wages of your sin: death, dust, ashes.

Dust and ashes really is your life. Are you willing to confess that? Are you willing to say that even your best is smeared and dirtied with the dirt, dust, and ashes of sin? Your best! What treasure of your righteousness will you hang on to? What good work? Which kind word? What good thoughts and vibes? What sorrow over sin will you parade out? What prayer? What good deed? What will you use to white wash your sins away? What bargaining chip with your Father? What nice thing have you done that’s nicer than what those around have done? “Rend your hearts and not your garments,” “for where your treasure is,” Jesus says, “there your heart will be also.”

“All our righteous deeds are filthy rags,” Isaiah says. Nothing good. Nothing righteous, except the Lord. As Solomon says, “There is not a righteous man on earth, someone who does good and does not sin.” It’s not only our sins that are filthy. The part of us that we think is good, is redeemable, is worth something isn’t.

We need true and real repentance, real ashes and sackcloth. So, Jesus gives that to you: He deaths you, dusts you, ashes you. “The wages of your sinfulness is death.” You will die. “Turn to Me with all your heart.” Weep. Lament. Mourn. Sackcloth. Ashes. Confess. But even those things won’t save you from your sins, save you from your own righteousnesses. “For all your righteousness is a filthy rag.”

So, why do the repenting thing? Our unworthiness. Our sin. The Lord calls us to repentance not to earn His favor or His forgiveness. We “repent of our sins and want to do better” “because He is already gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” And so the Psalmist says, “With You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared,” loved, and trusted.

And so the Lord becomes smeared with your sins. He goes into the dust of the ground. “He who knew no sin becomes your sin.” He is your sin, your unrighteousness, and since your righteousness is also filthy, He becomes that, too. He really was crucified for your worst. He also died for your supposed best. He takes on all that is yours: your sin and your own righteousness. He delivers to you there, there, there and there all that He is and has. You are no longer death, dust, and ashes. You are the baptized, you are the absolved, you are the fed with His body and blood, and because of His death and His Word and His Gifts, you are the very righteousness of God. You don’t have your righteousness. You have and are His righteousness.

Your life is dust and ashes—the good, the bad, the ugly. So, stop your sins. Stop pointing to your good that only whitewashes it. Christ! He was your good, your bad, your ugly—in your place. Baptized into Him, you are His good, His perfection, His righteousness. He returns You to Himself, He spares You in His absolution. He “sends you the grain and new wine” of His body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. That He would live in you and you in Him and would resurrect you on the Last Day.

Some day, there will be ashes to ashes and dust to dust. “The wages of sin is death,” after all. You will die. You’ll decay. You’ll be bones. Skeleton buried in the ground. Then, not even that—a pile of dust and ashes in a coffin. But in Christ Jesus, your crucified and risen Savior, the ashes and dust are in the sure and certain hope of your resurrection from the dead to eternal life on the Last Day. That’s just the way it is. Jesus’ Baptism, Absolution, and Supper say so.


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