Ash Wednesday (Joel 2, 12–19)

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

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᛭ INI ᛭

((5. Oops!: Our hearts are often—daily and much—turned from the LORD.))

“Return!” “Return!” The LORD says. “Repent!” “Repent!” The LORD says to you.

His Word isn’t just to the people of Israel. His royal decree isn’t just for ancient Jerusalem or Judah. His Word is for you. He inspires Joel to write it for you. He speaks to you. Because His Word from Joel isn’t even just for Ash Wednesday. It’s a daily word: “for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.”

Our hearts are often turned from the LORD. They turn—daily and much—to other things. Our hearts want things, and then our minds justify the actions we take to satisfy our these inner desires. We are in need of “daily contrition and repentance,” and so His royal decree rings out: “Return!” “Repent!” “Come!”

((4. Ugh!: We toy with the LORD and His Word and Gifts.))

How often His Word falls on deaf ears! “Tear your hearts and not your garments.” No outward show allowed. The Lord knows that’s a bluff so you can keep doing want you really want to do—ignore Him and His Word. (Half-hearted apology.)

We toy with the LORD and His Word and Gifts. We think because life’s still relatively comfortable—present global stresses notwithstanding—that we’ve gotten away with our sins, our lusts, our coveting… Pick a Commandment, any Commandment!

We think His Law’s a game. We forget: His Word of Condemnation is the Last Day Word ahead of time for all who’d rather have any of these things more than Him. “Oh, the Lord wouldn’t throw me in hell!” “Why not?”

We hear His “Do this… Don’t do that…,” and we use His Gospel to say and live, “I don’t really have to, do I? He’ll just forgive me. I can just keep on living how I want.” His Law becomes just a minor inconvenience for sermons. His Gospel an excuse and license for ourselves, but we bemoan others who do what we do! “Do you despise the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, ignoring that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4)

We don’t believe His forgiveness, not for others (yes, them, too), but also for ourselves! Forgiveness wipes the slate clean, but we don’t act as if it is. Still bargaining with God, toying with His mercy. We live as if we’re still in debt, not forgiven. We live as slaves to our sins, rather than free baptized sons and daughters of God.

Besides that, if we truly would take the Lord seriously, we’d clamor for His gifts all the more! We’d actually “call a solemn assembly.” We’d ask for the Lord’s gifts to be offered rather than think, “Do I have to? How much do I have to? Isn’t this or that enough?” We’ll use the fact that the Gifts are free and use that to justify that we don’t use them!

((3. Aha!: Yet, the LORD deigns to bring His Word to you.))

The Lord’s Word through Joel is timeless. His accusation against His people fits His people of all times and places: “stiff necked.” “Old Adam is a recalcitrant, obstinate donkey.” (SD VI)

Yet, the LORD deigns to bring His Word to you. “Return!” “Return!” But why? Why does He deign to issue such a seemingly foolhardy decree! “Yet even now, declares the Lord, return.” Foolhardy according to our standards, but “In the wisdom of God it pleased Him to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching.” (1 Cor 1:21) He deigns even today to bring His Law and Gospel, His condemnation and vindication, because His Word will actually change you. He brings His Word to save you, and that gets at the heart of who He is: merciful.

((2. Whee!: He truly is gracious and merciful.))

In spite of us, God is truly gracious and merciful. “God,” the Triune God, the Holy Trinity, “is love.” (1 Jn 4) In Himself He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster.” He is that toward you, toward me, toward all mankind.

This is seen in the death of the Son of God. At Calvary God relents over disaster by taking the disaster upon Himself. The Son endures the Father’s wrath over sin. He subjugates Himself, “taking on the form of a slave, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2) The Lord and Creator of the universe, the Son of God, “came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 24), for you.

“You were bought with a price!”—Jesus’ “holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” He “removes the reproach of His people,” their sin, their death. They become His. You are His. In Holy Baptism, the Father brought you “into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1)

The merciful and gracious nature of God is seen at Calvary. It is seen and heard at the waters of Holy Baptism, but it also heard each time His Word is proclaim, each time His “Return!” is preached, each time His “I will not give you shame anymore among the unbelievers” is preached. You sitting here today is the mercy of God in action. Anyone not—last day judgment in action.

((1. Yeah!: HE GIVES ALL YOU NEED FOR YOUR FAITH AND SPIRITUAL LIFE.))

But the Lord isn’t finished. He knows how much we need Him, even though we often don’t. And this good news is what He really wants to make known through Joel. This really silences our trying to work for God and make what Joel tells us all about us: “We need to return because He told us to.” (Partly) “We need to gather because He commands it.” (Partly true) “We need to give up our sins because that will make us God-pleasing people.” (Not true) (That’s just more toying with His Word.)

The Good News is:

HE GIVES ALL YOU NEED FOR YOUR FAITH AND SPIRITUAL LIFE.

We return, we repent, we gather, we seek out the Gifts not because of anything to do with us but “because the LORD is gracious and merciful!” We gather because He “leaves behind Him a grain offering and drink offering to the LORD our God.”

HE GIVES ALL YOU NEED FOR YOUR FAITH AND SPIRITUAL LIFE.

And this includes His being merciful and gracious. In spite of us. This includes His Calvary. His Suffering and Death. This includes His resurrection, too. All He does for you. That’s the source of your faith and spiritual life.

But it’s also what He leaves behind! He sends His grain, His Wine—His body and blood for you for the forgiveness of sins. He leaves behind His anointing, His oil—His Holy Baptism. He has His ministers who stand for you to say, “Spare your people, O LORD.” They surround you with the “shouts” and good news “of your deliverance” in Holy Absolution.

And so whether you’re a minister or lay person, old person or young person (nursing infants!), it’s all for you. “He speaks peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” (Ps 85:8) That won’t be you, but only because of His Word, His Gifts that truly rescue you from the folly of sin, unbelief, and death.

HE GIVES ALL YOU NEED FOR YOUR FAITH AND SPIRITUAL LIFE.

᛭ INI ᛭

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