ASH WEDNESDAY – MARCH 5, 2014
READINGS: JOEL 2:12-19; 2 PT. 1:2-11; MATT. 6:1-6, 16-21
TEXT – LUKE 23:34
“THE PARDONING WORD”
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


“Return to me with all your heart,” declares the Lord, “rend your hearts and not your garments.”  “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven….when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…when you fast, do not look gloomy…anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret.  


And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites…that they may be seen by others…But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Dear Lenten worshippers of the Holy Trinity - our mid-week sermons will focus on Jesus’ words from the cross.  The first word Jesus is recorded as speaking there is a prayer that sets the stage for all His other words.  To utter this prayer He could not go into His room and shut the door.  He did not pray it hypocritically to be seen by others, but it was seen and heard by others and recorded for us.  Out in the open – in public naked display – with arms outstretched and hands driven through – Jesus prayed – Father forgive them for they know not what they do!   The Greek verb is imperfect - suggesting that His prayer was ongoing for a period of time – not spoken just once.  Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!  

ASH WEDNESDAY – MARCH 5, 2014
READINGS: JOEL 2:12-19; 2 PT. 1:2-11; MATT. 6:1-6, 16-21
TEXT – LUKE 23:34
“THE PARDONING WORD”
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


“Return to me with all your heart,” declares the Lord, “rend your hearts and not your garments.”  “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven….when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…when you fast, do not look gloomy…anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret.  


And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites…that they may be seen by others…But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Dear Lenten worshippers of the Holy Trinity - our mid-week sermons will focus on Jesus’ words from the cross.  The first word Jesus is recorded as speaking there is a prayer that sets the stage for all His other words.  To utter this prayer He could not go into His room and shut the door.  He did not pray it hypocritically to be seen by others, but it was seen and heard by others and recorded for us.  Out in the open – in public naked display – with arms outstretched and hands driven through – Jesus prayed – Father forgive them for they know not what they do!   The Greek verb is imperfect - suggesting that His prayer was ongoing for a period of time – not spoken just once.  Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!  


Part of what God must forgive in us is the desire to be noticed.  God does not want His people trying to impress others or themselves with their giving or their spirituality or their discipline.  He does not want us to do good things with one eye on the good things.  You are not to try to get others to notice that you are the salt of the earth.  When you do that it is your salt that is flavoring things and not Christ’s.  We are not to broadcast that we are on fire for the Lord and letting our light shine.  When we do that it is our light that’s blazing and not the light of Christ.  Jesus wants us to be good at keeping good secrets about ourselves while confessing Him!


That is a bit unsettling – just like the black of Ash Wednesday and its blunt reminder that were are dust and to dust we shall return.  For our hearts do wrestle with concerns of self-awareness and self-promotion.  We want to matter.  We want to be sure that the value of our presence and our actions are known by others.  The desire to be noticed is part of being created in the image of God.  We were made to notice and be noticed by the Holy Trinity. 


That desire, however is now marred by the fall.  Now the human heart notices itself too much.  Self-centered concern is so constant that God uses it as the basis for dealing with our neighbor.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This self-love causes feelings of under-appreciation – lack of contentment – even resentment.  As Jesus so clearly conveys – this desire to be noticed can corrupt good acts of charity and fasting and prayer.  That doesn’t mean doing good isn’t noticed!  Recall how Jesus ended each of His exhortations.  Each time – after warning against putting on a show with phony actions he said, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”


God doesn’t quash your desire to be noticed, He elevates it.  Your Father who sees in secret wants you to have so much more than the fleeting recognition of those who are dust and will return to dust.  Your loving Father sets you free from the futile effort of impressing others and yourself!  That freedom is trumpeted in Jesus’ first word from the cross.  This pardoning word unbars the door!  It turns the key to the prison.  You are free precisely because you are freely and fully forgiven. 


The prophet Joel declared, Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…!  But who could have anticipated wondrous, abounding, steadfast love like this?  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  They were raging but He was praying!  While they were killing Him, He was curing them with His blood!  Here is love that pardons the persecutor!  Here is love that forgives the injurer even as the injury is being inflicted!  Here is love that makes peace with the enemy even while the battle rages on.  Such a pardoning word the world does not know and cannot speak – but the Suffering Servant can and does!  Jesus anticipates in His words what is happening with His death – atonement for the sins of the entire world!


Even as the hammer blows drive spikes through His flesh, Jesus is heaven-bent on forgiveness.  He taught His disciples to pray as though forgiveness depended on them: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).  He then underscored the meaning of this petition – For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:14-15). 


When Peter asked about limiting his forgiveness to a generous seven times – seven times my brother sins against me; seven times I forgive him – Jesus raised him seventyfold.  “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:35). Dear Christians, here is reason to rend our hearts and not our garments. 


Forgiveness does not flow naturally from corrupted hearts.  Condemnation comes quickly – grudges hold on easily – settling the score bubbles up effortlessly.  Our reflexes are not geared to “letting go.”  That is what “forgiveness” means at its core.  Letting the thing go!  Leaving it be!  Releasing it!  Pulling the plug on your hurt and anger!  Literally dropping dead to the thing as though it had never happened!  Forgiveness renders a thing powerless!


Not forgiving hardens the heart!  That’s why the refusal to forgive is spiritually toxic.  The heart that is softened and opened to God’s forgiveness becomes callused and calcified in the refusal to forgive others.  Jesus made the petition for forgiveness part of His followers’ daily life of prayer for one reason – because of His love!  Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us.   It’s not that your forgiveness causes God’s forgiveness of you.  Rather, the forgiveness you speak is the forgiveness you hear spoken to you from God.  What you receive vertically – flows to others horizontally!  It does not start with you but with God!  Only God can set a heart free to forgive! 


On this day when we consider the depth of our sin and its wages of death – it is good to hear God’s answer.  On this day when Jesus uncovers the sinfulness of doing good to be noticed – it is good to hear Jesus’ desire for our eternal good.  As they hoisted Him up to die with convicted criminals on either side – His first word is a word of life – a pardoning word of forgiveness.  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Who are the “them” – those ignorant of the once for all sacrifice that is taking place?  The soldiers, Pilate, Herod, the Chief Priests, the people, Jesus’ deserting and denying disciples, the women who followed Him.  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Even as they gamble for his garments – even as they mock Him – even as they misunderstand Him and doubt Him – even as they weep as if this is the end instead of a new beginning for all mankind - He forgives them.  Every sin, every blasphemy against Him, he forgives. 


What sort of man is this who is so passionate – so intense – so fixed in His will to forgive!  He is the Son of Man – humanity restored to the image of God, the Son of David – the Messiah - reflecting God’s perfect forgiving love to the world in our human flesh.  He is the perfect forgiver, the unflawed Absolver, who came to forgive men their sins – even those committed against Him!

 

His prayer to the Father is for you as well.  Hear this prayer as your own.  Jesus pleads for you before the throne of grace, showing the wounds of His crucifixion, bearing your sin.  Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.  To be honest, we do not know what we are doing.  We do not fully see the damage we do to others and to ourselves.  How much is there that we leave undone in this world of need and unbelief?  How much is there that we do to help that actually hurts another?  How much is there that we do with the hope that others are noticing?  We have only a small inkling of our sinfulness, and even that we easily rationalize.  It is no accident that the most frequently referenced Psalm verse in our Lutheran Confessions is Psalm 19:12 – “Who can discern his errors?  Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” 


Peter speaks of qualities lacking is those so nearsighted they have forgotten they were cleansed from former sins.  Adding knowledge to virtue and self-control to knowledge and steadfastness to self-control and godliness to steadfastness and brotherly affection to godliness and love to brotherly affection.  Who can discern his errors?  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord.


Beloved of God, Jesus has called you to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to you his precious and great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…  Your Father who sees in secret has noticed you and notices you now!  He esteems you!  He gave you His very name in your Baptism!  To satisfy you - to take away your reproach the Son gives grain made into bread that is His body and wine that is His blood!  With this heavenly food He gives you His forgiveness!  There is no need for phoniness, no need to live life for the right look!  Your Father sees in secret and He has you covered. 


Father, forgive them…  It is a sweet, divine melody spoken by this dying man!  A melody played against the noisy, cacophony of a dying world!  A new song sung against the old song of our sin!  A tune of truth sung against the devil’s lies and accusations.  You hear it – in the Absolution at the start of the service.  It is heard in individual absolution – a gift we too easily avoid as a burden instead of seeking as the lifting of a load.   


Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  Jesus insists on your forgiveness!  He petitions the Father for it and the Father always gives the Son what He asks for!  Jesus’ prays for your forgiveness through the blood of His sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world! 


Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.  You are the Father’s treasure and His heart is with you in His Son!  What Adam did – this Adam undoes!  God and man are reconciled – at one – at peace in Jesus!  In His Name, Amen. 


The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a