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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

Repent and Return to the Lord

Repent and Return to the Lord

Ash Wednesday – 2/14/2024

Joel 2:12-19

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer

 

That portion from God’s holy Word for consideration this evening is our Old Testament lesson from the book of the prophet Joel in the second chapter with special emphasis on verses twelve and thirteen which read as follows:

 

““Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”[1]

 

Thus far the Scriptures.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

                Dear friends in Christ, today is Ash Wednesday and begins our time in the season of Lent. Lent has traditionally been attached to fasting, giving to charity – especially the poor, prayer, Christian instruction, and repentance. And lest we get too focused on ourselves, it is good for us to remember that the purpose of these things is not so that we would focus on ourselves, but instead, would learn to despair of our attempts to fix the problem of our sin and instead focus on Christ our Savior.

                It is a strange thing that a season that is meant to remind us of our own sin and its due wage of mortality can become an occasion for an inward focus when the purpose of these things is to remind us of our Lord and His saving death which forgives our sins. That is to say, too often we spend time using Lent as a sort of late New Year’s Eve resolution factory in order to get another crack at trying to improve our behavior in some way. So, for example, giving up things in lent or fasting is sold to the conscience as a diet plan rather than a reminder that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.[2] Similarly, repentance becomes about behavior modification in the reduction or end of bad habits rather than a turning towards the Christ who saves us.

                Much like how the Word of God stands as the truth even when it is misused or ignored, so too does this season of Lent. No matter how it may be abused or misused, it stands as what it is regardless of how it may be abused. And, certainly, Lent is a needed thing here in our time.

                Lent requires us to examine ourselves, repent and turn away from our sins and sinfulness, and turn our attention towards Christ who is Himself the Savior. Now it is not only the season of Lent in which we need to do this, but it is easy for us to forget such things in a busy world. Hence the custom arose to have seasons, that is, certain times in the church year, set aside for to encourage us to Christian life and godliness, particularly in the manner of repentance.

                The Prophet Joel, writing some eight hundred fifty years before the birth of the Lord Jesus, gives us this very theme. God does not want the death of the sinner; the Lord does not desire that any of us be destroyed or condemned. But it is also the case the rebellion and hatred of God will not be rewarded with life and blessing, rather, these deserve punishment. In a great irony, our attempts to grow beyond the need for God and His instruction lead us not to the great blessings and life that we imagine, rather, they lead us to the hellishness that we are trying to escape. Sin brings the illusion of power and control; however it only ends with slavery and death. And such is its sweet allure, it constantly snaps up us in our desire to usurp God and to go our own way.

                Joel knew this, as do all honest people in our own time. And through him the Lord called ancient Israel back to Himself. This is, in essence, what repentance is: a turning away from sin, self-righteousness, self-justification, preoccupation with self, hatred, lust, greed, envy, and every sort of evil  and to instead turn toward the crucified Lord and to cling to Him for our salvation. Now this is important, repentance has as its end Christ and His forgiveness. Without this, no amount of despairing of sin or hatred of evil would be enough to fix the problem of sin and death. The point of repentance is to remove idols, stop outward acts of wickedness, and above all, to cling to Christ our Savior in faith.

                And so Joel was given the very Word from God that I give you today: repent of your sins. Turn away from idols and evil. Stop your hatred and lust. And do not do this in a way that only makes you look pious and holy from the outside, instead, rend your hearts and despair of the foolish games we all play in pretending at holiness of our own accord. And turn again to God, who is merciful and gracious and abounding in steadfast love. Turn to God who is slow in His anger, giving us time to repent and turn to Him in faith. Turn to God, who sent His Son to effect salvation in His death so that you might be freed from sin, death, and the devil.

                Yes, this is exactly what God loves to do more than anything else, to give forgiveness and life and salvation to repentant sinners. It is His will that all men be saved and that you, yes you, receive eternal life and every blessing of heaven. Now this is not granted to us in our working for it, nor in our supposedly pious thoughts and prayers. Instead, it comes from our Lord Jesus Christ and His work on our behalf for our salvation. In other words, dear friends, the central logic of repentance is to remove all obstacles and hindrances that might tempt our eyes away from Christ or that would entice our feet to step away from His good gifts. We must repent, but it is not our act of repenting that saves us. That honor belongs to Christ alone.

                So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us take the advice of this season and turn from our sins so that we might find more time for prayer, fasting, charity, and learning the Christian faith. But even more, let us see our Savior and His salvation and cling to the same in faith.

 

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 


[1] English Standard Version.

[2] Matthew 4:4

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