SERMON FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, 2-26-2020
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
My favorite TV show is Gunsmoke. Yeah, it’s an old show. It’s what they are watching in the nursing homes mostly, but oh, is it good. James Arness plays Matt Dillon, a U.S. Marshal in Dodge City – a place filled with crooks, gamblers, drinkers, shady characters, and criminals of every kind. Every episode begins with Marshal Matt Dillon taking a walk on Boot Hill, the cemetery, at the outskirts of town – contemplating all the men in the grave – put there six-feet deep by violence, sickness, revenge, or even by the arm of the law – sometimes by Matt Dillon’s own gun.
The Marshal’s walk through the cemetery is a gritty reminder that he and all the people in town live in a fallen world. There’s betrayal, violence, and Hatfield and McCoy feuds in nearly every episode – oftentimes winding up all on Boot Hill. Sure, The Andy Griffith Show is funnier, but we all know Mayberry, even for its time, was a bit too rosy and unrealistic. Nobody really lives in Mayberry. But Dodge City, the folks there, now that’s a place we can relate to – a world in which we live. A fallen world, a Wild West with betrayals, greed, lust, ambition, violence, and death. And it all leads to the cemetery. No one is spared from Boot Hill – each grave marked with a wooden cross sticking out of the dusty earth.
On Ash Wednesday, on these foreheads of ours, we’ve got a gritty and sobering reminder that we live in Dodge City – that each day is one day closer to the grave – to Boot Hill.
God had warned in His Word that the day we turned away from Him we would die.
The writing was on the wall, but we disobeyed God. We became outlaws and vigilantes. We turned away from God, away from His life-giving word, and befriended Satan and his lies instead. We sinned. The devil promised pleasure, but he gave us hell instead. He promised life but he gave us death. And ever since we’ve become like the walking dead, dragging our feet along up to a dusty death on Boot Hill. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.
Tonight you are marked with ashes – a sobering reminder of the physicality of death. Through sin death entered the world, through one man, the first Adam, a man of the dust. By his disobedience all men fell. We were run out of Eden. We turned away from God and became outlaws. We hurt ourselves. We hurt those we love. We betray. We are betrayed. We gossip. We hope the worst for others. Our thoughts are soiled with sin – our daydreams are “X-rated.” Our bodies are broken from hurt and decay. So the curse of sin and death is working in all of us. So you, citizen of Dodge City, confess your sins, confess that you are not the Mayberry type. Confess that you too are a rebel – a vigilante – a sinner – bound for Boot Hill.
So take a walk through that cemetery. Look at the graves, and recall the ashes. But then remember there is another marshal in town. He doesn’t rule with a gun or a badge but rides into Jerusalem, humble and mounted on a donkey. Behold your marshal, your shepherd of peace and love. He rides into Jerusalem and weeps over the carnage. He weeps over those who would betray Him. Weeps over your sins and the damage they’ve caused. And yet still He loves you. And resolves to do something about it.
He goes not to Boot Hill but to another hill. Called Mount Calvary. He brings justice not with a gun or with a badge but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. He walks up Golgotha’s dusty path. And He becomes the outlaw. He becomes the criminal for your sake. Bearing the curse and punishment for every shady character, every sinner the world has ever known.
This man of dust, a flesh-and-blood man, the second Adam has come. He who knew no sin became the sin that you are so that through him you might become the very righteousness that He IS.
So stop running. Stop hiding. And turn toward this gracious Lord. For in Him, the lawless become upstanding members of the community. Crooks, gossips, gamblers, drinkers, and gunslingers are welcomed. Prodigals and rebels come home. Vigilantes find a place again at the family table to which they belong.
The old saying from the Marshal is true, “Get out of Dodge.” And some day you will, delivered from this valley of tears – delivered from the violence of sin and the curse that comes with it. Like Christ you will yield up your spirit and fall asleep and lay down to rest on Boot Hill. A cross adorning your grave.
But Christ didn’t stay there long, and neither will you. Because the tomb cracked, the whole earth shook, and He walked right out. In Him, your bones, your dust and ashes will rise up. You’ll stand upon the earth with a new body, a heavenly one. And you’ll walk upon streets paved with gold, no more Dodge City but God’s City, the New Jerusalem, illuminated by the light of Christ the Lamb. Where there is nothing but peace and gladness.
So tonight. Saddle up. Pick up your cross and follow Him. Begin once again your journey to the cross and the empty tomb. Where there is forgiveness, life, and salvation. Go ahead and hear that judgment. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But all the more rejoice and give thanks. remembering that you are Christ’s and to Christ you shall return. In the name of Jesus. Amen.