Our Savior Lutheran Church
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
February 13, 2002
(The prophet Jeremiah began his ministry around the year 626 B.C. His was a thankless task initially, for he was to call the people of Judah to account for their sins and tell them of the disaster that was coming upon them as a result of their faithlessness. He describes their sin in detail in the opening chapters of his prophesy. The people of Judah had chosen to worship at altars of gods made of stone or wood or to mix the worship of the one true God with that of such false and meaningless idols. Jeremiah laid his charges: “…My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water…As a thief is disgraced when he is caught, so the house of Israel is disgraced – they, their kings and their officials, their priests, and their prophets. They say to wood, ‘You are my Father,’ and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, ‘Come and save us!’”
(Jer. 2:11, 13, 26-27)
FOR CENTURIES, SACKCLOTH AND ASHES HAVE BEEN SIGNS OF SORROW AND MOURNING.
The prophet of old exhorts the people of Judah to mourn over their impending destruction, their sins, and their unfaithfulness.
History records that Jeremiah’s prophesy was fulfilled.
The armies of Babylon swept down from the north besieging the holy city of Jerusalem for 2 ½ years.
Toward the end of that time starvation became so severe we are told that cannibalism occurred within the walls of God’s city.
Finally, the wall was breached, the city fell and all but the old and infirmed were carried off to 70 years of captivity.
All of this happened because of the substitution of other gods for the one True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Would Jeremiah need to call us also to such repentance were he with us today?
While Judah worshipped gods of wood and stone, we often fall down at slightly more sophisticated altars.
We trust in the wood of our houses or the stones of our jewelry.
Perhaps we fall down before our perceived security of our money market accounts and mutual funds.
We too have dug cisterns that cannot hold water, for we often put our trust not in God, but in ourselves and our own accomplishments.
Jeremiah accused Judah of ignoring God until they needed Him, but we also do the same.
We put God on the back-burner until life throws us a curve and suddenly we summon the Almighty as though He were a dog we call when we feel the need of his attention.
We too must confess that we pay attention to God only when it is convenient for us or especially expedient.
It is interesting that Jeremiah’s complaint is not against lying or stealing or cheating or killing or committing adultery; but rather he describes their sin as their failure to give their total allegiance to God.
When we place our faith in anything other than God, all the other sins then follow.
Faithlessness is the root cause of sin.
It is to our faithlessness that we, this night, need to repent.
Often, it is our spiritual attitudes for which our repentance should be manifest.
It’s our, “I can take Him or leave Him.” attitude.
Or our, “I’ll worship if it’s convenient.” attitude.
Or our, “Oh, I believe in God, but this area of my life is none of His business.” attitude.
Or our, “Sure, I believe in Jesus, but everybody knows that if you want to get to heaven, you’d better follow the Golden Rule and live a better than average life” attitude.
Or our, “God helps those (and only those) who help themselves” attitude.
If any of that describes our attitude, God is saying to us, “O my people, put on sackcloth and roll in ashes.”
SUCH FAITHLESSNESS STILL BRINGS DESTRUCTION.
Jeremiah says, “…for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.”
The ultimate destroyer is death!
The imposition of ashes reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
Death is a tragic, ultimate result of our sinfulness.
If we were not sinful, then we would not die, but the wages of sin is still death.
That realization should move us tonight to put on sackcloth and roll in ashes, to mourn and issue bitter wailing, as if we had lost our only son.
This is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which culminates on Good Friday.
On Good Friday, the Father did loose His only Son.
On that dark day, the Father must have put on sackcloth and ashes!
Not for His Son – for His sacrifice was ordained by the Father for our salvation.
Rather, the Father’s mourning would be for what caused such incalculable suffering.
Christ’s suffering and death was directly caused by our sinful actions and attitudes.
Mourning and sorrow marked those terrible six hours on that black Friday, while Satan and hell rejoiced in their seeming triumph.
AS WE MOURN OUR SINS, LET US ALSO GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR HIS VICTORY OVER DEATH!
Death still serves as a grim reminder of our sin, but no longer destroys us.
I Cor. 15:56-57)
It is Jesus, the Christ, who was foretold by the prophet Isaiah when he spoke the Word of the Lord. (Is. 61:1-3)
Later tonight, when you wash the ashes off your forehead, remember the water of your baptism, which initially brought you into God’s kingdom and connected you with Christ…And remember that as the ashes disappear, so do your sins in the sigh of God our Father.
CONCLUSION: Thanks be to God whose Son has purchased us from sin and the grave with His holy, innocent, precious blood and grants us the totality of His resurrection victory! In Jesus, Amen.
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