When our first parents disobeyed God and ate from that forbidden tree, it was not as though they were breaking some arbitrary law. Through that rebellious act they were actually turning away from the God of love whose Word was the very source and foundation of their lives.
When they disobeyed, when they ate, death immediately entered the world and began working in them and therefore also in us. St. Paul put it this way: “Just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
Got that? It means that for those who bear the image of Adam their father, the mortality rate hovers steadily at 100 percent. Therefore, because all sin, all die. Simple as that!
You see, we Christians have never been in the business of shying away from death. We much prefer to deal with these realities head-on. In fact, tonight we quite literally rubbed our faces in it. We smeared ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our death sentence – and our sin that brought it all about.
These days we hardly need to be reminded of death. Especially when you have death counts on CNN and every major news channel in big blood-red letters. Ashes this year might seem a bit overkill.
In our first reading tonight, Joel was warning the folks of a pandemic, too. A plague of locusts, although he is more likely referring to the invading armies of Babylonians or the Assyrians. But whatever plague it was, it was no doubt sent by God, but as a wake-up call, an opportunity to repent and turn to the Lord in a time of trial.
There’s a lesson there for us as well. When the impending plague of destruction was coming down on the people of Judah, Joel took great pains to point out that it’s nothing compared to the day of judgment, nothing compared to the great and awesome day when God will vent His furious wrath upon those who have stubbornly resisted His will and turned away in unbelief.
And therefore, as far as the prophet is concerned, this plague has got to be a time for renewal. For restoration. To set all your priorities right. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster.”
Not a bad blueprint for us in our day. Got a pandemic? Then return to the Lord. Fast, weep, pray, blow the trumpet in Zion. Not exactly, put your trust in a vaccine and just wait for that next stimulus check. Instead, Joel says, “Gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even the nursing babies. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.”
I don’t know about you, but it sounds like Joel is just saying, Come to church, why don’t ya. Pray, sing, confess, and be absolved.
Today is a day to mourn. To lament our sins. To confess they have nearly destroyed us. That we have hurt others. Schemed and jockeyed for power. Crushed others with our disapproval. And offended God by the way we have lived.
Joel reminds us that our sins are actually worth crying over. And they are. But he doesn’t stop there. “Return to the Lord who loves you,” he preaches. “For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” And that’s why He sent His Son to be a sacrifice for sins.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. But remember also that Your Savior became a man of dust just like you are. Assumed a human nature in His incarnation, all to be your blood brother. To bear the curse of the dreadful plague of sin which infected us all. That terminal illness passed down through those many generations – back to Adam, our father.
Well, a second Adam came, the virgin-born, sinless Son of God, to lift us all up.
You see, when our Lord rose from the dead, He did something wonderful. He breathed again into man’s nostrils the very breath of life – to restore, renew, and refresh. And that spirit-filled breath was simply the sweet word of blood-bought Absolution – a word which bespeaks us righteous and undoes the power of death and makes the grave but a short sleep.
Dear Christians, this same word goes out to you tonight. A word of blood-bought forgiveness, which renews and refreshes, and in turn fortifies you to weather any storm, press forward through any plague, and even smile in the face of disaster.
You see, those ashes on your forehead aren’t simply a reminder of death. They are also traced upon your forehead with the sign of the holy cross – the emblem of your salvation – recalling your Baptism, the day that God claimed you as His own.
So remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, but all the more, remember that you are Christ’s and to Christ you shall return. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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OFFERINGS TO LMC
Please remember your gifts to LMC. There are a few options for giving:
- You can mail your weekly offerings to the church.
- You can also do an online bill pay through your bank account, which can recur each month. Your bank then sends LMC a check with your offering. There is no cost to you or LMC for this.
- You can set up online giving through an App called Tithe.ly. There is a small fee associated with this transaction. You may find this option at www.lmcusc.org/give.