Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12–19)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS

INI AMEN.

((5. Oops!: We actually have a faith problem.))

When it comes to confession and absolution and Lent and repentance, we don’t have a confession problem. That’s what we think. We operate on that surface level, but the iceberg is much deeper than the surface. It’s not that we’re not sorry enough, or haven’t fixed our behavior enough, or even that we haven’t confessed enough or fully or deeply. Our true problem is much deeper.

It’s not that we have a sins problem. We have sins. Lots of them. More than we can ever know. In fact, those are the more dangerous problem. The more dangerous problem for a person with a peanut allergy isn’t labeled jar of peanut butter but the unlabeled cookies on the table. But even the sins we do daily and much are just symptoms of a deeper problem.

We have a Sin problem. “Sin” not “sins.” Original sin. Our flesh. The sinfulness we inherited from our parents and they from theirs, all the way back to Adam and Eve. Our Old Adam, as it’s called. That’s the disease who’s symptoms are the sins we commit. But even our Sin problem isn’t the deepest problem. It may be the the true source, but our Old Adam isn’t the deepest, darkest problem when it comes to confession and repentance.

We actually have a faith problem. We don’t “fear, love, and trust God above all things.” If you trusted God you wouldn’t put your neighbor down. If you feared God, you wouldn’t disregard His Word and Gifts. If you loved God, you would love, serve, and forgive those around you.

((4. Ugh!: Our unfaith leads to a confession and absolution problem.))

This faith problem, the fact that we don’t trust God with “all our heart, soul, mind, and strength” is the reason we don’t “love our neighbors as ourselves.” But our unbelief leads to a confession and absolution problem, too.

We don’t confess fully. We should “plead guilty before God of all sins.” In fact, we should confess. We should even be afraid of our sins. Afraid enough to stop because look at Jesus. What the Father did to His Son over just one human sin, well, what will He do if He catches us so desperately hiding and hanging on to just one of our sins!?

But that’s what we do: we hold back sins. It’s not just the one’s we’re scared of, even though those are the sins, “which we know and feel in our hearts.” We confess the minor sins, because there’s other sins that we keep hanging on to. We don’t trust that Jesus has actually taken them away, and so we pick them up again and again and again, and then we’ll use other works, or the fact that we confess other sins, as the bargaining chip for why we’re forgiven.

We abuse confession by trying to earn forgiveness, too. We think that’s the work that’s up to you. You must confess in order to be forgiven. “Return to the Lord your God” because that’s how you get forgiveness. We act as if the forgiveness is based upon how good our confession is—it’s sincerity and quality. That’s really how we treat other—how good their confession is. We can come up with all sorts of excuses for why we don’t have to be really sorry, but with other people we trumpet, “If they were really sorry, they would…”

We have an absolution problem, too. We don’t want free forgiveness. Well, we do for us. We want a free ride, a pass to not love our neighbor, a reason that we don’t have to love God. Or let our love for God and others be only lip service. “Well, the reason is still deserve forgiveness is…” But with other people, “If we give them free forgiveness, they’ll just keep living how they want.” You mean, like you do?

((3. Aha!: The solution to this problem isn’t you but the LORD Jesus!))

The solution to you faith problem isn’t you. For one, maybe you’re stuck in the darkness. You can’t get out of it. Can’t back out. Can’t tough it out. Can’t make it out. Two, the solution to lack of faith isn’t trying to work up more of that. It’s not confess more. Be sorry more. Do more. Do better.

The solution—the salvation—from your faith and sin problem isn’t you, but the LORD JESUS! Jesus and His forgiveness!

((2. Whee!: THE LORD FORGIVES YOU BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE DOES FOR YOU.))

THE LORD FORGIVES YOU BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE DOES FOR YOU! That’s the message from Joel 2. We want to make it all about us and our action, or other people and their actions. But salvation and forgiveness is really all about the Lord—who He is—and His action—what He does for you.

So, who is the Lord? What kind of Lord is He? How sincere is He? What’s His quality as Lord? We hear all about that in Joel. The LORD “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” And you can sum that up with one word. The Lord is forgiving. The Lord forgives because that’s who He is. The LORD forgives you.

But the Lord doesn’t just forgive you because of who He is. THE LORD FORGIVES YOU BECAUSE OF WHAT HE DOES FOR YOU. “He relents over disaster.” The punishment for your sins is turned away. Forgiveness! But the disaster doesn’t disappear. No, it’s turned away. It passes from you and lands on Jesus. He bears the punishment of your sins. “He saved us from [His Father’s] righteous wrath and from sin, death, and hell.”(LSB ) He was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification, our innocence before God, our forgiveness. His blood cleanses us from our sins.

But the Lord’s not done in what He does for you. “Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?” He does leave a blessing behind. It’s why the prophet talks about them having a worship service after this question. Of course the Lord will do that! He’s “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love!”

So also you, He doesn’t leave His forgiveness at Calvary. He delivers it to you in the true grain and drink offering—the Supper of His body and His blood. But He delivers it also in His absolution. There freedom, there forgiveness, there the gates of eternal life are unlocked and flung open for you.

((1. Yeah!: You can go to the bank on the LORD’s forgiveness.))

THE LORD FORGIVES YOU BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE DOES FOR YOU, and you can go to the bank on the LORD’s forgiveness. His blessings have no end! That’s what happens in Joel 2! “The LORD answered and said to his people, ’Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.’”

So also you. The Lord has more forgiveness than you have sins. If He died and rose for the sins of the whole world, surely you won’t rack up enough sins to exhaust His forgiveness. You can never exhaust it. His forgiveness is without end! That’s how it is with His absolution tonight, and if you need it more, just find me. Drag me by the collar, “I need forgiveness!” His absolution opens heaven for you.

And that’s why we confess: because we trust the Lord. THE LORD FORGIVES YOU BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE DOES FOR YOU, and from faith in Him and His Son’s death and resurrection and His promise to forgive we confess. We don’t confess to earn forgiveness. That’s works. That’ll be the never ending trail of diagnosing your own sincerity, your own motivations, your own reparations, your own repentance, your own making up for them. You can do that. Well, you can try to get forgiveness that way. It’ll be like grabbing a fistful of water, swallowing air to not starve to death.

No, we confess because we believe there’s forgiveness with the Lord and with His pastor-delivered absolution. Picking up a prescription doesn’t earn you the cure. You pick up the prescription because the doctor says that’s the cure! Same with a shot! It’s not about you sitting there, but about the doctor delivering what’s most needed! So also absolution. He puts His forgiveness into you. You won’t starve either: body and blood.

You’ve got sins? Big ones? Little ones? Scary ones? Boring ones? Lots of em? Not so much? Doesn’t matter. His Absolution forgives them all. Why would it be any other way? THE LORD FORGIVES YOU BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE DOES FOR YOU. That’s what confession and absolution is really all about.

INI AMEN.

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