“Forgiven Before We Ask and Before We Die”                                February 13, 2013

Matthew 6:2-6, 16-21                                                                          Ash Wednesday

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   Let me begin by quoting that well known passage from the third chapter of John, “For God so loved the church and nice people like you and me that he gave…”

A.    Oh, it doesn’t go that way, does it?

1.     No God gave His only begotten Son for the whole sinful world and that sinful world includes you and me.

2.     We are definitely part of it.

3.     In fact, we’ve played a significant role in why it is sinful.

B.     Ash Wednesday is a day that the church reminds us of our sinfulness and as if that weren’t enough – reminds us of our mortality.

1.     The poet, T.S. Eliot, was once asked why people should love the church and his response was “Because she tells them of sin and death and other unpleasant facts of life.”

2.     We get that from the Bible.

3.     God tells Adam that eventually he will die.

4.     “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

5.     Retired Methodist Bishop Will Willimon writes that “Presumably Adam didn’t know that harsh truth until God imposed it on him.” (Willimon, Happy Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013)

6.     For many of you this is not your first Ash Wednesday so you know that those very words will be spoken as the ashes are imposed on you.

C.     It is interesting that we use the word imposed rather than offered or rendered.

1.     You’ll hear people say that somebody stopped by their place of work and their comment will be “His visit to my office was a real imposition.” (Willimon, Happy Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013)

2.     You know what they are talking about.

3.     That person’s visit was not welcomed; it was not what the other wanted or desired or needed.

4.     That’s the way it is with these ashes – they are not something we welcome as who really wants to be marked with signs of sin and death?

5.     But you know, there is something freeing in acknowledging those truths.

6.     Made from frail dust we have fallen into the ways of sin and like dust we can’t get up on our own.

7.     On our own we will just continue to lay with the dirt, end of story.

D.    So what do we need – we need forgiveness for one thing.

1.     This is where I’m going to start to talk about Jesus.

2.     You may have heard of him.

3.     A lot of people in Israel had heard of him 2,000 years ago and so many sought him out to ask him for something.

4.     What they asked for was healing for themselves or their loved ones.

5.     Good request but notice in the Gospels the frequency with which Jesus not only heals but he says, “Your sin is forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

6.     People didn’t come to Jesus asking that their sin be forgiven.

7.     They came asking that he might heal them.

8.     But Jesus saw their total need and the need for their sin to be forgiven was a BIG need.

E.     Think about how Jesus met that need while he hung on the cross.

1.     Think about Jesus’ needs as he hung on the cross.

2.     If it had been you hanging on the cross which of your needs would you have vocalized?

3.     If it would have been me on the cross I would have had my list of needs, but Jesus didn’t run through such a list as he hung there dying.

4.     Instead, the first thing, I mean the first thing he says is “Father, forgive them.”

5.     Jesus came up with this on his own.

6.     Nobody was standing at the foot of the cross pleading, “Jesus, forgive me.”

7.     Jesus asked God the Father to forgive before any of us ever asked for that forgiveness.

8.     We definitely need it but Jesus asked on our behalf before we ever thought of asking for ourselves.

9.     Isn’t that something?!

10.             As Bishop Willimon writes, “Nobody said, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘Oops, I guess we’re executing the wrong rabbi. Forgive us.’” (Willimon, Happy Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013)

F.     One way to understand what is going on here is to think in the context of a new beginning.

1.     Remember Genesis, the beginning story?

2.     God spoke saying, “Let there be light” and there was light and there was life.

3.     In essence through the cross the word is spoken “Let there be forgiveness” and there was forgiveness and there was life.

4.     That’s amazing as in amazing grace.

5.     Forgiven before we ask and before we die.

G.    I mean here is Jesus dying on the cross forgiving us so that he can draw closer to those of us who are killing him.

1.     That’s really strange.

2.     Willimon tells of a woman he knew who once told her “My ex husband had done everything he can to make my life miserable – before and after the divorce. I am so eaten up with anger and resentment that the doctor says it has affected my health. Can’t sleep. Can’t eat. I’ve tried everything. Now, there’s nothing left for me to do but to forgive and forget him and hope to God that I’ll be done with him forever and he’ll forever be done with me.” (Willimon, Happy Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013)

3.     That seems like a good strategy on her part but then again, what does Jesus do?

4.     Jesus forgives, not to get away from us, those of us who have injured him and are killing him, but instead he forgives in order to get close to us.

5.     He did that in order to save us.

6.     You could say that he imposes forgiveness and new life and salvation on us.

7.     Wow!

8.     So in your sinfulness and mortality remember tonight that while on the cross, before he asked anything for himself Jesus asked something for us before we asked or before we died: “Father, forgive them.”

9.     I pray that that is imposed upon us all.