Ash Wednesday (Joel 2, 12–19; 2 Pt 1, 2–11)

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
Bethlehem Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO

᛭ INI ᛭

Lent isn’t about you. Lent isn’t that time of year where you really focus on being sorry for your sins. 40 days of repentance, as if that makes up for the other 325 days where you really don’t care that much about your sins. (Always care about other people’s sins, though.)

Ash Wednesday isn’t about you either. It’s not a special day devoted to your repentance. Ash Wednesday isn’t about what you do for God. Fasting isn’t about something you do for God either. Fasting is actually about “not living by bread alone,” or whatever other thing (job, sports, family) you want to live by and for.

Putting aside something is, well, it’s as Paul says, “I discipline my body,”—a reading we heard a few weeks ago. But instead of doing that, of confessing and recognizing our false gods, we’d rather view our poor, miserable excuse for repentance, like the cholesterol pill or insulin shot that lets us keep eating whatever we want. Repentance the thing we do for some of our sins—the ones we don’t like—so we can keep on doing the ones we do.

But here’s the kicker. Even repentance isn’t abut you either! It’s not about what you’re do for God! Repentance isn’t the thing that earns you forgiveness. It’s not like you rack up debt with God by your sins, and your repentance, your being sorry, is some sort of payment against that debt. Same thing with faith. Faith doesn’t earn you anything with God either. We turn faith and repentance into works.

Repentance “is not activa contritio, a contrived remorse,” (SA III.3.2) only being sorry when you get caught, or because you at least have to look sorry. “But [repentance] is passiva contritio (SA III.3.2). It’s something God works in you. He must do it because if He waited on our action to do something, we’d never be saved. Christ didn’t die for the sorry, for the repentant. He didn’t die for the mostly good, for those who’ve got just a few things to work on. (40 days’ll be enough.) No, “Christ died for the ungodly,” as St. Paul says.

Repentance is the godly thing to do. It really is. Which is why you and I aren’t the source of it! Repentance has to do with godliness. So, does avoiding sin. So does doing good for those around you. All these things are godly. And as 2 Peter says tonight:

YOUR GODLINESS COMES FROM GOD.

That’s literally what it says, “His divine power has granted to us”—gifted to us—“all things that pertain to life and godliness.” That means YOUR GODLINESS COMES FROM GOD. It’s a gift. We actually see that in our Old Testament reading, too. “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 that, give that, He gives the sacrifices! That’s what the LORD says through Joel: “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.”

((I. We don’t want this to be true.))

But we don’t really want this to be true. We expect that godliness comes from us, from our action, from our behavior. And we demand this to be true of other people—their behavior, their action, their personal godliness. “But don’t people have to repent?” Who are you thinking about when you ask that? Whose name and face pop into your head? There’s certainly no mirror in your mind’s eye…

“Yet, even now, declares the Lord, return to Me with all your heart.” Return to Him: “heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Not a little bit. All of you. And you—not them. Any other name than your own is just tearing your garments, is just being a whitewashed tomb, is just washing the outside of the cup not the inside. “But don’t they have to repent?” Don’t you? For if you have, would you even be asking about them? “Straining out the gnat.”

“All of you together repent! …false penitents.” Only sorry when you get caught. “…false saints.” Good outwardly. Ignoring the evil within you. “You all need the forgiveness of sins because you all still do not know what true sin is, let alone that you ought to repent of it or avoid it. No one of you is any good. You are full of unbelief, stupidity, and ignorance regarding God and His will.” (SA III.3.31–32)

Paul says so in Romans: “There is none who does good…no, not even one.” “This repentance teaches us to recognize sin: namely, that we are all lost, neither hide nor hair of us is good, and we must become absolutely new and different people.” (SA III.3.33–35) How different? Different in “heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The grudge holder becomes a giver of forgiveness. The stingy generous. The callous warm. The one who priorities themselves first actually selfless. The one who looks at how good they’re doing to trusting in Jesus alone for them…and for others! This is impossible! For us, yes. But not for God. “With God all things are possible.” Even saving the ungodly, and making them godly. YOUR GODLINESS COMES FROM GOD.

But wow quickly we put human agency, action, behavior into the equation! “They must do something.” Why not you? And if you have done something, why is it always things that are good before God and never anything that fits with anything we just looked at from the Commandments? God through His Word of Law diagnoseS your true problem. That your many sins are just symptoms, symptoms of being a sinner. As are your neighbor’s, but beware lest “you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye.”

((II. Oh, but it is true!))

Everything I’ve said about your sins—yours—proves this is true. Sins come from you, but YOUR GODLINESS COMES FROM GOD. Your repentance does, too. It’s not from you. God’s Word of Law does it to you. Being poor and beggarly before God—that’s what “miserable” means—when it comes not only to sins but also to goodness, godliness is something none of us really wants to admit, let alone act on. And yet 2 Peter says: “His divine power has granted to us”—gifted to us—“everything for life and godliness.”

The kind of repentance we should practice, labeling everything from us as sin, and clinging in faith only to what Jesus has done for us. Well, “this repentance is not fragmentary or [small]…It does not debate over what is a sin and what is not a sin. Instead, it simply lumps everything together and says, ‘Everything is pure sin with us. What would we want to spend so much time investigating, dissecting, or distinguishing?’ … There remains nothing that we might consider ‘good’ with which to pay for sin. Rather, there is plain, certain despair concerning all that we are, think, say, or do, etc.” (SA III.3.36) “Heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

In the same way, “All who confess that everything is pure sin with them embrace all sins, allow no exceptions, and do not forget a single one. Thus, [repentance] can never be uncertain either. For it consists not in our uncertain, sinful works but rather in the suffering and blood of the innocent ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’” (SA III.3.37–38)

He paid for all your sins. All that you need for life and godliness is in His blood. Blood He freely shed for you. Blood He freely gives to you. “There is power in the blood.” Only Jesus is your Redeemer, and “Christ does not stop being our Mediator after we have been renewed.” (AP V.41) He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” “the Author and Perfector of your faith,” not you. Blood bought—Calvary. Blood washed—baptized. Blood nourished—Supper. “His divine power has granted to us”—gifted to us—“everything for life and godliness.”

So go ahead: “add goodness to your faith, knowledge on top of your goodness, self-control on top of your knowledge, endurance on top of your self-control, godliness on top of your endurance, brotherly affection on top of your endurance, and love on top of your brotherly affection.” “Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election.” Oh, but none of that actually comes from you! After all, you’ve “been cleansed from your former sins.” Or, as Paul says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

Or as 2 Peter says, “Jesus has gifted to us, by His divine power, everything for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and goodness, through [His glory and goodness] He has given to us great and precious promises, so that you would become, through these [promises], sharers of His divine nature, fleeing from the corruption that is in the world, in sinful desire.”

Or as I’ve been saying, YOUR GODLINESS COMES FROM GOD. If you have any other thoughts about what comes from you: see this!

((Conclusion.))

Lent, Ash Wednesday, repentance—none of those are about you. It’s godly to repent. “We must become absolutely new and different people” (SA III.3.35) in “Heart, soul, mind, and strength.” That’s something only God can do for you. Any attempt by you means you don’t have godliness. Peter says it comes from God. YOUR GODLINESS COMES FROM GOD. (Your neighbor’s does, too.)

No distinguishing. No logs and specks. No looking at others. Just you. Anything else is from the evil one. But YOUR GODLINESS COMES FROM GOD, and He’s not stingy. He gives it to you. “Gifts you everything” you need to bring it forth.” “Great and precious promises!”

So when you need godliness, which is always, You need His godliness not your own. He gifts what you need! At the Font. “In Christ, clothed with Christ.” In the Supper. “Holy, precious blood.” Giving you “the redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

“Every good and perfect Gift is from above coming down from the Father of Lights,” as James says. Through the Son, His Works, “Promises,” and Gifts, 2 Peter says, YOUR GODLINESS COMES GOD. Or as Paul puts it, “Because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

Let’s make that boast again. Absolution time!

᛭ INI ᛭

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