Ash Wednesday

Jesus tells us, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

(John 6:29 NLT)

Through the Scriptures, we are witnesses that Jesus entered humanity and took our sin to the cross so that we can be in a new relationship with God.

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  A relationship that is characterised by God’s forgiveness of us and our acceptance of God’s love. Today, as we gather on this Ash Wednesday, may the grace and peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, be with us always.  

Let’s join in a word of prayer: God our loving Father, on this occasion, we gather to remember the life and teaching of Your Son who was born into humanity for our salvation.    By your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to the words of our Saviour, as we experience your love for us demonstrated every day of our lives. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord.  Amen.

Jesus tells us, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” Jesus affirms that many would come to Him in faith, because of the Father’s grace.

The weakness we experience in our lives and our faith from time to time will never keep God’s grace from working. When we come to Jesus, we find that God does not turn us away, nor cast us aside.

One young lady, Charlotte Elliott, learned an important lesson about Jesus one sleepless night in 1834. She was an invalid, so when her family held a bazaar in Brighton, England to raise money to build a school, she could only watch from afar.

That night she was overwhelmed by her helplessness and could not sleep. But her sadness turned to joy when she realized that God accepted her just as she was.

Her experience inspired these well loved words: “Just as I am, without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”  

(Source: from Dennis Davidson, “What Bread Are You Seeking, 7/27/08)

When we begin thinking that we are unworthy of God’s care and concern, we are approaching dangerous temptation. It is probably the most dangerous thinking that leads to the temptation to doubt God, and his love for us.

For a person to stand before God and say, “I am not worthy of your love”, it’s incompatible with our Christian faith.  And yet we know from Scripture that we are only worthy of God our Father’s grace and love because of the faith that we have in the one whom God has sent to us.   

It’s pretty clear to us that a Christian is someone who stands before God and says “there’s everything wrong with me. But your Son, Jesus Christ my Lord,  has overcome all that is wrong in me.”   The only work God wants from us: “Believe in the one he has sent.”

Once again on this Ash Wednesday, we confront all that is wrong with each of us and all that is right about God’s love for us expressed in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The message of Ash Wednesday is all about turning our attention away from our self-centred thinking that we are unworthy to focus on God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  On the wondrous gift to us that removes every doubt and fear; that gives us courage to live in the protection and love God our Father has for us:   Jesus Christ our Lord.

The message of Ash Wednesday is also about turning our attention away from our spiritual weakness and helplessness to the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.

The message of Ash Wednesday is about turning our attention away from our misguided actions and attitudes, to focus on the life, teaching, and sacrifice of our Savour, Jesus Christ.

For us tonight, we hear the words of Jesus Christ “To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” We hear his words, and we receive an uplifting of our faith in a Saviour who loves us, accepts us, and forgives us.

For us tonight, we also discover the wisdom of Paul to the Church at Corinth, ‘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.’

Yes, tonight, we set our hearts to refocus our attention during Lent.  To focus on God’s Son who has made all that is wrong in us to be a witness for our need of a Saviour.  To allow the Holy Spirit to work in us to overcome all that is wrong so we can be more and more like Jesus. 

We turn away from our sins of fear, anxiety, and doubt to accept the forgiveness received because of God’s own sacrifice. 

And then we focus on Jesus.  Filling our lives with acts of faith, of hope, of kindness, with joy in our hearts that God our Father is so kind to us.

The ashes of our celebration tonight remind us of the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives.  Each time we touch our forehead and feel the grit of the ash we remember the sin that brought Jesus to sacrifice himself.  We also remember that we have the sign of Jesus over us.  We are his and he is ours.  We live under the banner of our faith with words, actions and attitudes that line themselves to the will of God our Father.  An outward sign of the inward repentance and renewal received by God’s acceptance and forgiveness. 

So we receive the ashes on our forehead in the sign of the cross to be a sign to us and to each other that we are accepted and forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross of crucifixion.

Throughout the journey of the next 40 days leading to Easter, we will focus on all that Jesus gives us, that makes all the difference in our lives. 

The grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus.   Amen.

David Thompson.