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03.06.19 The Blessing of God’s Judgment, Ash Wednesday Lectionary

by on March 12, 2019

In Reformed worship it is customary to read and interpret scripture. But during such heavy lectionary days as Ash Wednesday, there are simply too many scriptures to interpret. The hope on these days is that the festival theme provides enough context to guide interpretation. Or we pray that the Spirit picks up something from all this scripture for everyone who listens. Or we trust the surrounding ritual helps interpret the passages.

Some things we’ve heard in the assigned lectionary reading for Ash Wednesday include: Our reconciliation with God through Christ; the nature of true and false fasting and the consequences of these for the nation; and Jesus’ instructions on giving alms, praying, and fasting. Tonight I want to share some thoughts on God’s judgment, and the blessing of it.

The Bible teaches that God is a judge and that judgment occurs all the time, and that there is a final judgment. But just because it’s in the Bible—and it’s in there a lot—doesn’t mean we understand it correctly. God’s judgment might be the second most misunderstood teaching in the Bible. God’s grace being the first.

Our propensity to self-justification and our popular imagination have combined to really confuse us on God’s judgment. We think it’s about punishing those who are sinful—and we look forward to it happening to someone else. We think it’s reserved for those who reject Christ, even though we reject Christ all the time.

We think it’s about God venting his anger, and there is some truth to this, because God is angry. God is angry about sin. Sin was never God’s intention for the world. Sin hurts the world God created. It hurts us who are created in God’s image. And it hurts the rest of God’s creation, created out of God’s artistic imagination.

So God is angry like you would be angry if some force hurt your beloved or something you created to express yourself.

God is angry, but not with US. God is angry FOR us. Because before we participated in any wrongdoing, before we committed any sin, we were first victims of sin. God’s judgment is best understood not simply as judgment upon sin, and a rejection of sin. God’s judgment is best understood as God’s redemption of sin, as God’s triumph over sin.

This changes how we hear the first words of judgment. After sin entered the Paradise God created, the last thing God says to the human before expelling them from the Garden of Eden is, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It’s a reminder really, that all things NOT the Creator, all created things, have a beginning and an end. We were never anything more than dust, never anything more than creatures; creatures originally and ultimately dependent upon our Creator. We are absolutely dependent upon God.

Our existence depends on God . . . and so does the existence of sin. THIS is the good news of God’s judgment. Because even though God tolerates sin now, God’s judgment in the biblical sense is that God’s creatures will endure, but sin will not.

Sin has been atoned for in Christ. Everything lost will be found. Everyone enslaved to a debtor will be redeemed. Every injustice will be made right. Everything returns to dust. And whatever God raises FROM the dust will be restored and no longer subject to sin.

So I invite you to come and receive ashes on your forehead. On your way, touch the waters of baptism and remember your union with Christ in death and resurrection. After receiving the ashes, go to one of the posters on the back windows. There take the chalk and write the name of someone who has returned to dust. Their struggle with sin is over.

Or write the name of something we wait to return to dust—cancer, perhaps. Or injustice. For God has promised these too will come to an end. We can entrust all things to God’s care.

Then let us rejoin one another around the communion table where we will begin our Lenten journey with Christ in us, the hope of glory.

 

 

 

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