Signed with Ashes

Signed with Ashes

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.  For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!  We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,  but  as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through  great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,  beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;  by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,  truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;  in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;  as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed;  10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
 
- 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:10 NRSV

Sermon by Pastor Joshua Demi

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (1 Corinthians 5:20b-21 NRSV) The Christian faith begins and ends with grace, grace and love.  By grace we were created to love and be loved by God.  Out of grace and love, God became incarnate, to rescue and redeem us, to save us from sin and death.  Out of love God offers grace and and mercy and forgiveness, to everyone without exception.  In grace, God sees you exactly as you are, warts and all, and loves you exactly as you are warts and all.  That’s why we receive ashes; that’s what this is all about.  The crosses are made of ashes to remind us that we are mortal, that we are sinful, and that we are loved.  They are ashes, they are dust, to remind us of our mortality and sinfulness, and they are crosses to remind us that none of that – our mortality, our finitude, our sinfulness, none of that – changes that we are loved by God, that has come to rescue and redeem us as we are.  We look our sin square in the eye to remember who we are whose we are, what we have been saved from, and what we have been saved for and whom we have been saved by.  There is nothing you can do to separate yourself from the love of God.  There is nothing that can happen to you that can separate you from the love of God.  There is nothing in the universe that can separate you from the love of God.

In verse 18 and 19, Paul says:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:18-9 NRSV

God is the one who takes the initiative in salvation, God is the one who does the work.  Our communion liturgy puts it beautifully when it says “when we turned way and our love failed your love remained steadfast.”1  There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation and the beauty of it is that there is no need to try.  We are saved purely by the grace of God, and we receive that grace through the medium of faith alone.  Not good enough is not a category that applies to God.  God does not think in those terms.  God does not see us in those terms.  God sees us as we are, loves and calls us by and offers grace and mercy and forgiveness to all who trust in Him, without exception.  That’s what this is: t although we are dust, and to dust we will return, although we are sinful, although we are mortal, although we are small, that doesn’t change the love of God.   

And this doesn’t mean that morality is unimportant.  This passage is beautiful because it goes right from this discussion of grace and mercy, and God taking the initiative to a description of what it looks like to live a Christian life.  God’s grace and mercy, and the fact that we do not need to earn our place, that we do not need to earn our keep frees us to live moral lives, and to pursue God for God’s sake.  God is not the means; God is the end.  Even salvation itself is not the end; it’s God that is the end.  God is not the means through which we attain anything, God is the end for Whom we are made, and this reality frees us to live a life of sacrificial love for sacrificial love’s sake.

Martin Luther who is best known for lighting the spark that caught fire and kick-started the Protestant Reformation, famously defended the doctrine that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, not through the medium of works, but received through the medium of faith alone.  He wrote a tract called, On Christian Freedom.  In that tract, he wrote the following.

"Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss.  For people do not serve that they may put others under obligations.  They do not distinguish between friends and enemies or anticipate their thankfulness or thankfulness, but most freely and most willingly spend themselves and all that they have whether they waste all on the thankless or whether they receive a reward.  As their Father does, distributing all thins to all people richly and freely, making “his sun rise on the evil and on the good” [Matt. 5: 45}, so also the son does all things and suffers all things that freely bestowing joy which is is delight when through Christ he sees it in God, the dispenser of such great benefits."2 

This frees us to stop trying to earn our keep and to simply live out of love, to do good because it’s good –  to help someone, not because we think it’s gonna win us points or give us some kind of favor in heaven, but because they’re in need – to feed the hungry because they’re hungry, to clothe the naked because their naked, to welcome the stranger because they need welcome.  This is what we are called to; this is what the grace of God compels us to do.

Remember this, all our work does not save us.  It can’t and it doesn’t need to, because the work has been accomplished by Christ.  Although we will stumble, although we will fall, and although that will continue to be a running theme in our lives, throughout our entire lives, that will not change this.  We are saved by grace through faith alone.  God has taken the initiative.  God sees you as you are.  God loves you as you are, and always will.  If you have not heard anything I have said tonight, if you never hear anything I say to you, you never hear anything any preacher ever tells you in your entire life, hear this: God love you, you specifically, you individually, you; God loves you enough to became incarnate, die on a cross to rescue and redeem you, enough to rise victoriously over sin and death to save you from sin and death, that you may rise from the ashes into life eternal, and to offer grace and forgiveness, mercy, and healing and hope to you, and offers this freely, without price. God loves you and always will.

  1. The Great Thanksgiving. “A Service of Word and Table I,” Copyright © 1972, The Methodist Publishing House; Copyright © 1980, 1985, 1989, 1992 UMPH. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/book-of-worship/a-service-of-word-and-table-i-and-introductions-to-the-other-forms
  2. Luther, Martin “The Freedom of a Christian”. The Protestant Reformation. Hans j Hillerbrand, ed. HarperCollins. 2009. pg. 51

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