Ash Wednesday 2023 (Joel 2, 12–19)

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᛭ INI ᛭

You have sins. You sin because you are a sinner. Sinners sin. It is not the other way around. It’s worldly thinking to say “sinning makes you a sinner.” Sinning does not make you a sinner. You’re a sinner, and so then you sin. “A bad tree produces bad fruit.” (Lk 6)

You have sins. You know that, but do you really? Sure, there are the sins we know, but, then there’s the whole host of sins you don’t know. We live many days of our lives in the delusion that we haven’t sinned that much, if at all! “Those [sins] we are not aware of” (SC Confession) are the bigger problem. The undetected, undiagnosed cancer is far more dangerous, than the one caught early.

We should actually be more afraid when we can’t think of any sins! Our flesh blinds us to our sins, even more so to our sinful condition. Our sinful flesh says, “Because I don’t know of anything against me, I’m good!” That’s the arrogance of our flesh. But what you don’t know, God knows. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Cor 4:4)

So, the LORD preaches His Law. He preaches His Law to and through Moses, and the main reason He does this is “to reveal our sin” (Rom 3:20), to “increase the trespass” (Rom 5:20), and make our sinful condition “sinful beyond measure” (Rom 7:13)! The hymn Salvation unto Us Has Come puts it this way: “The Law is but a mirror bright To bring the inbred sin to light That lurks within our nature.” (LSB 555) Sin is hidden unless God makes it known through the Law.

The Lord Jesus makes His Law known through His preachers, whether that’s Moses or Joel or Jonah or any other prophet or His Apostles or His Pastors. Through them the Lord preaches His Law to show that you’re not as good as you think and that you’re far worse than you could possibly imagine. Pick a Commandment, any Commandment! Each of the questions in Confessional Mirror drives you to “consider your place in life,” your daily life, “according to the Ten Commandments.” (SC Confession) You will see how you “have fallen from the glory of God.”

“Have I “killed” my neighbor … with thoughts of anger, contempt, or hatred?” “Have I been greedy when it comes to returning to the Lord a generous portion of my money as a thank-offering?” “Have I found ways of explaining in the best possible way those works or actions of others that hurt me? “Have I longed for the honor, wealth, happy life, or what seemed to be the ease of others?”

Each Commandment—a call to confess. But why? Why do we confess our sins? Hmmm, well, God demands…repentance. “Return,” He says in Joel. But as sinners, according to our flesh, you have uncircumcised ears, stoney hearts, unfeeling souls, undiscerning minds, and weak flesh. No ability in ourselves to return. So, the Lord sends His preachers to cause His people to return.

People never have much use for preachers. It was true in Bible times and true today. We’ve all been affected by the prevailing cultural delusion of you’re master of your own destiny, so you don’t really need a preacher. Non-essential workers. (Even most preachers don’t have or seek out preachers…) Most Christians think you, your Bible, and Jesus is the recipe for salvation. But since none of us read our Bibles like we should, it’s more you and your idea of Jesus…

But the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t actually work that way at all! He sends preachers. He sent the prophets, the Apostles, and continues to send out His chosen men today. He sent His prophet Joel, and sent Nathan to David and Jonah to Ninevah. Again, the Lord sends His preachers to cause His people to return. The Word does what it says. His Word is always creative. It creates the reality When the Lord says, “Return.” His people return.

Let’s consider a couple examples. Psalm 51, which we used earlier in the service should remind us of this reality. Psalm 51 is “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after David committed adultery with Bathsheba.” David was told, “You are the man!” “You deserve to die for your sin.” Confronted with such a Word, David confesses, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” Nathan absolves him: “Yahweh has put away your sin; you shall not die.” So also Ninevah was brought to repentance by the preaching of Jonah.

So, now we return, to Confession. (To any of the Lord’s Gifts really. They are to be delivered by the ministers.) But to Confession and absolution. Why do we confess our sins? We focus on the confession. If it is about your confessing, better get to it, and better not leave anything out! If you do, better go count for it later. (When forgiveness is dependent on confession, you can see how the medieval understanding that you need to confess every single sin or end up in purgatory for longer came about.)

We don’t think we need to confess though. Most of the time we just shrug off our sins, or try to. (No Jesus in sight.) Time just sediment-izes our sins to our already craggy hearts. Do we even “want to do better”? Not really. “I am who I am,” we think, “Just the way it is. Take it, or leave it.” “God loves me just the way I am.” No, no, He doesn’t, otherwise He wouldn’t have needed to shed His blood and die… He wants to make you new.

So, fine, sure we’ll confess before God, I guess, when it’s demanded, but “before the pastor.” “No way! I don’t need him.” The not Lutheran “me-and-Jesus” crowd at the Reformation did that, too. But pastors, just the like the Prophets and Apostles of old, are sent to deliver forgiveness for your sins. We’re afraid of our sins. We want to keep them hidden, hidden from everyone, hidden from God. (Would we pray for forgiveness for a specific sin or just general forgiveness for all?)

So, here we go. This is what it’s all about. Forgiveness. Jesus’ forgiveness. The forgiveness He achieved on Calvary. He delivers right into your ears. You’re not limited to the one-way conversation of Prayer. In fact, the answer for forgiveness for that sin, is the Absolution! So, you’ve already been forgiven for all your sins earlier this evening. Here again I announce, pick a sin, any sin, “I forgive you all your sins in Jesus’ name.”

It’s not conditional. The Lord isn’t saying, “I finally forgive you, because you confessed.” No, we confess our sins because we believe we will be and are already forgiven. Old Adam says, “Then I don’t need anything else, I’m good!” See how he wants you to stay away from Jesus’ promises! But when it’s all about forgiveness, boy, the New Man will come a-running to drown the Flesh in the promises of Baptism, to strike him deaf and dumb with the Absolution, to choke him to death with the body and blood of Jesus. When it’s about forgiveness, confession is like telling the doc your symptoms to get the right medicine. The pastor’s final medicine is always Jesus’ forgiveness.

You aren’t forgiven because you confess, or because you know your sins, or because you feel them in your heart, because you’re really, really sorry. No. You are forgiven for Jesus’ sake alone. It’s all about His death for you, His paying for your sins, winning forgiveness for you. This is the reality preached in Joel!

“Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments…” for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 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?

Of course He does! He will give you mercy. He will leave a blessing and grain offering and drink offering for you. He will drop right into your lap, or rather, right into your ears: “I forgive you all your sins.”

᛭ INI ᛭

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