The Season with Ashes

by The Rev. Rick Sawyer

2 Peter 1:2-11

Dear Christian, you have nothing to prove - not to me, not to yourselves, not to anyone. Not even to God. What I mean is this: Your life is already guaranteed in Jesus. Now - with nothing to prove - begin the season with ashes, with fasting and praying and rending your hearts.

You have nothing to prove by that. That's why you are the only ones who can do them freely - without drawing attention to yourselves, without the selfishness of those who think they have something to prove.

The world's religions talk about good works as if they are necessary to salvation, instead of its fruit. I have many conversations with Christians who are bothered that we Lutherans say that works contribute nothing to salvation, that heaven depends entirely on Jesus. Apparently, many think they still have something to prove.

Tonight, Our Savior says to practice your righteousness, but not so as to be seen by men. He says, give to the needy, but don't even let yourself take too much notice. It's your NEIGHBOR who needs your works. Do them for YOU and they aren't good any more!

Give as people have need. Give as the Gospel requires - so the Gospel is always preached and the Gifts of Christ are readily available - here and all over the world. Then, forget you ever gave.

Pray also, even in church, but not to be seen. Not for a show. Not so people are impressed by your faithfulness. If you come to be seen, you have your reward, says Jesus. Still, come and pray. Beyond this, pray in private, where no one can see but God. You have nothing to prove.

The same is true when you fast . . . Our Lord doesn't seem to think we shouldn't fast. We need self-discipline. We need to learn that man does not live from bread alone, but from every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So, fast. Give up the food you crave and learn some hunger for the Word of God. How will your neighbor be served if YOU don't learn to live completely from God's Word?

You have nothing to prove by any of this, dear Christian. Do these to PROVE something - so people see and believe you are Christian - so God is convinced you are His - and you have done NOTHING. Our works are only good for something when we have nothing to prove.

St. Peter tells us why this is. He says . . . "May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us ALL THINGS that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him . . ."

You already HAVE ALL THINGS, dear Christian. So, what's there to prove? GOD is not waiting to see something in you. He has ALL that pertains to your life in Him. He has Jesus, His Son. He has all things that pertain to your life and godliness. He has the innocent suffering and death of His Son in your place. THAT'S the only proof and evidence God needs to say: "Your sins have been forgiven. You will live and not die. You are godly and holy - because of Christ Jesus."

HIS fasting - HIS prayers - HIS giving of Himself in behalf of the needy. THAT has granted to you ALL things that you need.

Then, WHY do any of these things, dear Christian? If they aren't needed to MAKE you a Christian, to PROVE things with God or with men - why do them? Why fast? Why pray? Why give to the needy? Why show up on a night like this and receive ashes on your foreheads? Why commit yourselves to the Faith as outlined in the Catechism? Why come on Sundays and Wednesdays? Why devote yourselves as families and as individuals to the things of God every day?

St. Peter tells us. Because, "through His precious and very great promises, you become partakers of His divine nature!"

What does THIS mean?

It means the Life of Christ is YOURS, dear Christian. It was laid over you in Holy Baptism. You were grafted into it, clothed with it, crucified, died, buried and raised anew in it. The Life of Christ is YOUR life now. And Jesus - with nothing to prove before God or men - freely went to His Father in prayer. He fasted and prayed, as we will hear in the Gospel this Sunday. He gave gifts to the poor. He is Jesus. And your life is hid in Him. In fact, it is no longer you but HE Who lives!

How can you NOT be about the things that Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading for tonight? Through Baptism, you have become partakers of His divine nature. Here - at this altar - you become partakers of the same. You eat and drink His Flesh and Blood in bread and wine. These are the Body and the Blood of Christ, Our Savior; true Man, true GOD. The Flesh and Blood that fasted so that YOU'D be saved, that prayed so YOU would not be subject to the devil anymore . . . The Flesh and Blood that gave to the needy - not only for this life but for eternity - The Flesh and Blood that stretched out on a cross and died  . . . THAT Flesh and Blood is placed into your mouths this evening.

By them, you ARE partakers of His divine nature!

How can you NOT fast and pray and give to the needy? How can you NOT rend your hearts over all the ways you fail at that? How can you NOT think more about each other than you do about yourselves? How can you NOT devote yourselves to the things of God?

You are partakers of His divine nature!

Rend your hearts, dear Christian, for losing sight of this. You don't wear ashes on your foreheads to prove anything. Take them as reminders that you're heading back to dust, but you are partakers of His divine nature, so if you die with Him, how shall you not also be raised in Him? "Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood HAS eternal life, and I WILL raise him up at the Last Day!"

What gets in the way this? YOU do! Your hearts. Your sinful, fallen natures. Your Old Adam, who only wants you forgetting that you've been cleansed from your former sins and the world's corruption.

Fast? You mean, give up my food and drink? To pray?

Give alms to the poor? You mean, devote a tenth of what I make to GOD and to the help and service of my neighbor?

Pray? You mean, DAILY? You mean, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Our Father, and other portions of the Scriptures? DAILY?

We show ourselves to be such sinners! If we DON'T have to do these things, we think: "Why do them?" If we DO these things, we think: "Somehow, someone ought to see, take notice. Commend me for trying!"

Be careful, dear Christian. St. Peter tells you that through God's promises in Jesus, you are now partakers of His divine nature. You have "escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." Then he says, "make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love."

Why do these things - if our salvation is completely guaranteed in Jesus? Why do these things - if we have nothing to prove to God?

The Life of Christ included all these things, dear Christian. Read the Holy Gospels this Lent. None of what He did MADE Jesus the Son of God. He did them anyway. Because WE needed Him to do them!

There's your repentance and faith this season. You do these things - freely - as Jesus did. Not to prove yourselves with God and men, but in praise of God, and in service of others. You do them, not selfishly to be seen, but selflessly to serve! You do them, because even the sinless Son of God fasted and prayed for strength against the devil. What easy targets WE are when we treat our Life in Christ complacently.

Our Lord fasted and prayed for US - that we might be delivered. So that He might have something to give to the needy. To sinners.

He did not rescue you so that you should be ineffective, dear Christian. St. Peter says, "if these qualities (virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love) are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." If you lack these things, if you ignore these things, your forgetting God's forgiveness. Please repent.

Unlike Jesus, you and I are sinners. We have the Old Adam, constantly warring against our life in Christ, and tempting us to be unfruitful, ineffective - that means - to live for no one but ourselves!

You have no reason to do anything to gain something for YOU. You have all things in Jesus. That means you have a Father to call on in prayer; His Words to devote yourselves to and live from like food and drink. You have a life of service and love, by which you rule over your passions and do good for your neighbor. Do all of this in the most Jesus of ways, dear Christian. I mean, FREELY. With NO thought of gaining heaven from God or praises from men, but SERVING, HELPING, living - as if your calling and election are sure because of Jesus. So there is nothing for you to do this side of heaven than this: bear fruit - to the glory of God and for the sake of your neighbor. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

 

Reverend Rick Sawer is Pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, Missssippi.

Created: February 6th, 2008