+Lord, grant me humility as I turn to you.
22/02/2023 A sermon given by Rev’d Dr Joan Riley during the Ash Wednesday service at St Barnabas College.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent. We mark the beginning of the season in ashes, recalling our human nature, our mortality, and our fallibility. It is good to be reminded of these things, to pause in our busy lifestyle, reflect, and commit anew to our Lord.
Lent is the season when we have an opportunity to recall the cost of our freedom as we turn to God.
It’s a paradox that the freedom we have to practice our faith without fear of persecution, from our comparatively comfortable places in Australia, makes us less likely to worship than if we lived in a dangerous and fearful context. Christianity in our time is soft. There is no cutting edge of desperation to compel us to fall to our knees and plead with the Lord to save us. Sometimes comfort serves to hinder our faith.
It is all too easy to think we don’t need God.
St Paul reminds us that the early followers of Jesus endured great hardships to enable others to hear the word of the Lord and to turn to God. He appeals to the Corinthian church, and he appeals to we also, the time is now. Now is the day of salvation. All we need to do is open our hearts and accept our discipleship.
Yet is easy to let bits of our faith slip away.
Being a disciple does require discipline, to take the risk of encountering hardship voluntarily. Soft Christianity is as German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes as ‘cheap grace.’ This is when we give away the sacraments without due care and instruction, when we require less of ourselves and each other as we practice the faith. It is when we cheapen our faith to encourage more people to come to church, it is when we bicker and carry on for petty reasons, when we forget how great a privilege it is to be here, to gather and recall the greatness of God in Christ, to praise him, to worship, pray, give thanks, share the blessed sacrament.
The impact of Christ’s divine-human death on the cross must never lose its grip on us.
We must never forget at what great cost our salvation has been won. Recall the great flood, when God sorrowed at the creation that was marred by human sin and error, the failure to love and honour God. May we never forget that God has the capacity to take away what has been freely given.
As Paul urges, do not accept the grace of God in vain.
Today is the day to turn to God, not tomorrow or the next day, or when we are suddenly facing difficult circumstances. Today is the day to turn to God. As the prophet Joel says, ‘Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.’
Return to the Lord your God and keep a holy Lent.