Choosing Grace

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Kenora                                                                       Ash Wednesday
Year A
26 February 2020

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 103:8-18 pg 842
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

O God,
you delight not in pomp and show,
but in a humble and contrite heart.
Overturn our love of worldly possessions
and fix our hearts more firmly on you,
so that, having nothing,
we may yet possess everything,
a treasure stored up for us in heaven. Amen.
__________________________________

I was looking at the texts for today, at the same time, I had been, at one time, asked a question in regards to the nature, the source, and the definition of “Grace”, something we don’t often bring up on casual conversation.

So, lets begin at the beginning. The Catechism tells us that a Sacrament is “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace.” (BCP pg 550)

So, then, by definition, Grace, God’s Grace, comes to us from God, as a part of the sacraments that we celebrate, together.

And looking at both the Anglican and Lutheran catechisms, they both emphasize our need for repentance, as well as the receipt of God’s forgiveness , God’s absolution in order for God’s Grace to take place, to take hold in our lives, in our hearts.

Interestingly, as we begin to turn our faces to the cross, this evening, as we begin to walk at Jesus side, as he turns toward Jerusalem, to his physical death and his eventual resurrection, the centre of that relationship with Jesus lies in our use of, or participation in the sacrament of Confession and Absolution, or Forgiveness.

Many years ago, now, I was having a conversation with a woman who told me that she didn’t believe that I, as a called and ordained priest, had the ability to absolve anyone of their sins – and she was right.

What is conveyed, when I stand in the chancel, facing you, raise my hand, and make the sign of the cross, all the while reciting the words of forgiveness as stated in the BCP, or the BAS, or any other book of liturgies, is the ability for God to enter your hearts and absolve all who confess and repent of their sins before God.

What is hoped for, when we engage in the sacrament of Confession and Absolution, is for God to complete what is begun on the cross, reminding us that Jesus fulfills the law rather than overturning the law.

The readings, for tonight, point us to honest, humble worship of God, in all things, and in all aspects of our lives.

Joel points out to us that we will constantly turn away from God’s love, from God’s embrace for our lives.

He reminds us that we willingly turn to other gods, and we will choose to live in exile, away from God’s love.

But exile isn’t just being away from home, from family, from the familiar, rather its being away from God’s influence in and for our lives.

In addition, we are often distracted in our faith, in our patterns of worship in where we place our attentions on a day to day basis, all pulling us further and further from God’s love and grace, from God’s embrace.

But when this happens to us, and you’ll notice I say when, not if, then barriers, walls go up, in our lives, in our communities.

Walls that are constructed of our interpretations of the law, and they always point out to us that the laws are impossible to fulfill.

And this is the point of the law, isn’t it? To hem us in, to make sure we’re contained and behaving ourselves?

At the same time, God sends us Jesus in order to fulfill the law, in order to set us free from its bonds. Free to be with God, free to be what God created humanity to be in the beginning.

God tells us, through Joel “Return to me with all your heart.” (Jl 2:12b)

This is the heart of our choice.

God gives us a choice. We have the choice to accept God’s forgiveness, to lay down the burden of sin that keeps us bound to the law, that keeps us away from the light and love of God.

“Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Jl 2:13b)

The Catechism tells us: “what is required by persons to be baptized? Repentance; whereby they forsake sin, which separates us from God: and faith; whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that sacrament.” (BCP pg 551)

So, then, if Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, this fulfillment isn’t for God, it’s for each one of us, its for you, and for me.

God offers us a way to be reconciled through the rite of confession and forgiveness. Through the sacrament of confession and forgiveness. Through Jesus actions on the cross, and in each of our lives, the law is fulfilled.

Paul, in the reading from 2 Corinthians, for today, says: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor 5:20b-21)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)

In this case, the “him” is Jesus. He’s the one who puts it all on the line for each one of us, so that the barrier of the law is broken.

So, it’s a jailbreak! Right here, in the Sacrament, in the receipt of God’s grace.

We’ve been broken out of the prisons made by our own attempts to adhere to the Law by Jesus actions of taking on our burden of sin, by dying in our place on the cross, the only way to fulfill the law.

Yet, are we free? Have we truly accepted what Jesus has done for each one of us? Are we truly ready to be reconciled to God, through Jesus actions?

Are we able to truly fulfill the letter of the actions of God on our behalf? Or, are we not yet ready to be reconciled? Is there doubt in our hearts that we are able to even handle God’s absolution, love, embrace, or even God’s guidance for our lives?

This is what it comes down to, in the end.

This is the gift we have been given. It’s a gift in which we participate every Sunday, when we say the words confessing our sins, and asking for God’s forgiveness.

Yet are we able to accept that gift from God? Or do we continue to put up walls, and hide behind our doubts and our fears?

Throughout the pages of the bible, we find ways in which to live our lives, words of those who wish us to do better than they’re witnessing in their day, in their times.

Even Jesus words urge us to heartfelt and honest forms of worship, not worship for the sake of being seen, but worship for the sake of the relationship between us, and God, for the sake of those who have no knowledge of the depths of God’s love for each one of us, but needs that knowledge, that ability to join us before the throne of God.

The bible tells us over, and over again that God wishes only to be a part of our lives. That God wishes us to be sincere in our affection, in our actions toward God and toward each other.

Yet, the world still doesn’t value honesty, and sincerity of action. We turn more readily toward sensationalism than we do to honest integrity. Good deeds are seen to have a catch, to be retractable, like a practical joke.

I’m reminded of a line in the movie Incredibles 2. The erstwhile hero’s are told: “politicians don’t understand people who do good simply because its right. It makes’em nervous.”

The gospel for today, urges us to earnest worship, to heartfelt praise and prayer. It urges us to open our hearts, to open our lives, to let go of the burden of sin that separates us from the love of God, and to return to God like the lost children we are.

We try to do it on our own, to break the bonds of sin and death that keep us imprisoned in the law, that uses the law to separate us from God’s love.

We listen to sources other than God. Sources that tell us that our success lies in ‘pulling ourselves up by our own boot straps.’ They tell us that our success in life is a direct product of our faithfulness in and toward God. They even tell us that if we want something bad enough, all we have to do is pray for it and God will give it to us.

And every time the world tells us differently than what we read in the pages of the bible, than what we hear in the teachings of Jesus, or even the advice from Paul, we duck our heads, we feel that bitter taste in our mouths, and we, being human, blame God for getting us into this mess.

But God gives us choices. God has broken open the jail in which we live and move, and we’ve turned to the corner refusing to look at the opening in our hearts and lives because that’s scary, that’s filled with the light and the unconditional love of God.

In many ways, we’d rather live in the darkness of sin and death instead of the light of God’s love and grace. The darkness is familiar where the light reveals everything before God.

We’d rather just go through the motions. We’d rather be seen in the performance of a righteous act rather than actually, with our whole hearts, doing the righteous act.

God hopes that we will return, that we will open our hearts and our lives, pour it out at God’s feet and allow God to fill us up with God’s love, God’s grace God’s forgiveness.

Tonight we begin our Lenten pilgrimage. Tonight we have the opportunity to walk at Jesus side as he walks to the cross. Not condemning us, but loving us with each step toward that one place. Toward the place of the cross, toward the place where life and death intersect.

Tonight we have the opportunity to begin, again, to change how we see the world around us, how we interact with that world, and how we receive the love and grace of God.

We have the opportunity to change our lives. Tonight, we have the ability to return to the love and forgiveness of God in all things, in all aspects of our lives.

All we have to do is open our lives, and our hearts. All we have to do is accept Jesus fulfillment of the law, and God’s love and forgiveness for our lives,

All we have to do is accept the gift of grace that is available to us, through the cross, within the sacraments, and from God’s loving embrace.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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