Ash Wednesday Message: God’s Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 2, 2022

Scriptures: Joel; 2:1-2, 12-17; Ps 51:1-17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:10; Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

Chuck Swindoll relates a story about John D. Rockefeller, (worth 418 billion in 2020 dollars) who built the Standard Oil gas and oil empire of 1870-1911. He was told one day that one of his executives had made a $2 million mistake (a big deal today, but even bigger in the 1880’s-1890’s). As with many such powerful men, Rockefeller was a perfectionist and a workaholic. He worked hard himself, and he demanded hard work and perfection from his employees as well. All the other executives were sure he was enraged and would definitely fire the man who had made the costly error. They all did their best to avoid the boss the day the costly error came to light–except for one vice president who had a scheduled appointment with Rockefeller that afternoon.

When the associate entered the boss’ office, Rockefeller eyed him and asked if he had heard of the massive loss. The vice president steadied himself, said he had heard, and braced to witness the boss’ explosion.

Instead, Rockefeller, replied, “Well, I have been sitting here listing all of our friend’s good qualities on this sheet of paper, and I’ve discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don’t you?” (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.215).

How magnanimous of Rockefeller! Kind of reminds us of our God, doesn’t it? Let’s see what our readings tonight tell us of God’s forgiveness.

1. In Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 the minor prophet is prophesying to the Southern Kingdom that The Day of the Lord—the day of judgment –is coming. In the short term, Judah will be overrun by locusts, resulting in widespread famine. But this is also a metaphor for the long-term prophesy that the Babylonians will invade/take over the Promised Land, unless they change their ways. So his message—from the Lord—is that they need to repent while they still have time. They can avoid locusts, famine, and a Babylonian takeover if they will…

a.) Return to the Lord (stop their worship of idols);

b.) Confess their sins; and

c.) Declare a holy fast, to demonstrate their renewed commitment to God.

Joel reminds them—and us–that God will give them another chance: Verse 13b says He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…[and] He relents from sending calamity. In other words, God loves them and wants them to draw near to Him, to avoid His judgment. Our culture today is in a similar fix: We have stopped worshipping the One True God. Instead, we have made idols of money, influence, power, materialism, our own intellects, sexual experiences, etc. Like them, if we want to please God, we need to humble ourselves before Him, admit our sins and failures, and ask His forgiveness.

Thankfully, it’s still not too late to avoid God’s wrath and discipline, but they—and we–need to get busy! We need to ask ourselves, in the past year, have we been more concerned with the things of this world than with the things of God? This past year has the Lord always taken 1st place in our hearts? Or have we allowed other priorities, or our worries, to crowd Him out? Have we been so focused on those priorities and fears that we have neglected to nurture our vital relationship with Jesus?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual house-cleaning lasting 40 days. Scholars have traced its observance to the early 100’s (Irenaeus of Lyons wrote of it). The 40 days are a reminder of the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Ashes are applied to the forehead, in the sign of the Cross, to remind us of the truth from Gen 3:19 (as told to Adam and Eve by God) Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. The ashes are a sign of our repentance and our sorrow for our sins. As such, they remind us of the need to maintain our commitment to love and please Almighty God.

2. David’s sorrow for his sins is perfectly recalled in Psalm 51.

The prophet Nathan has confronted him about his sins of coveting Uriah the Hittite’s wife, the beautiful Bathsheba; and of his subsequent adultery with her and murder of her warrior husband. His lament to God provides a perfect example of how we should feel about our own sins. He takes personal responsibility—he doesn’t blame Bathsheba or any others. He humbly pleads with God to forgive him and to cleanse his heart (v.10) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast [right] spirit within me. David ended his life as a man after God’s own heart. This means that despite his sins, he pleased the Lord. We too, following David’s humble and heartfelt example, restore ourselves into God’s favor.

3. Paul calls for us to be reconciled to God in 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10. We do this by remembering that Jesus, who was sinless, took on all our sins so that we could stand before God with clear consciences and clean hearts. Paul also tells us we do this by not allowing anything to displace our focus on God.

Do you recognize the theme running through these passages? Remember what Jesus has done for us. Keep God 1st in our lives. Humble ourselves, taking frequent inventories of our sins. Seek God’s face and ask His forgiveness.

4. In Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus tells us how to best go about fasting and doing good in God’s name. We are to fast and practice good deeds quietly, without fanfare. He assures us that even if no one else notices, God does. And that this is how we store up lasting treasure for ourselves in heaven. It’s not how we get ourselves to heaven because Jesus has already done that for us. But it both blesses God’s heart and draws us closer to Him.

Again, today we begin the season of Lent. Instead of the usual agreement to fast, I am asking us all to add something. This will involve a sacrifice of time and energy, but you will be amazed at how it will bless others, and at how God will bless you because of it. I am asking you to pray daily for the people on our prayer list; for the women, children, and elderly of the war-torn country of Ukraine; and that our country would return to Christ.

Rather than pray, you may choose instead to make a list of all those you have not forgiven, and make a commitment to forgive them–a practice that will draw you closer to Christ. Let’s please the Lord by being as magnanimous as John D. Rockefeller. Let’s please the Lord by praying for others. Let’s please the Lord by forgiving others as He has forgiven us. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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