Ash Wednesday – Pr Smith

Msg for Ash Weds 2024, 2 Cor 5:20b-6:10

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth with a plea, begging, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” It’s a good text for Ash Wednesday, this annual day of reconciliation for Christians. For us to be reconciled to God, sure, but also for us to be reconciled with one another as well. Like the line in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” there is not one without the other.

Reconciliation can happen at all levels between people, from one on one, which is probably the way we most readily think about reconciliation, but also between peoples. Perhaps most well-known are the efforts in South Africa, after the apartheid regime lost power, the new leader, President Nelson Mandella and Bishop Desmond Tutu worked through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The idea was not meant to be some magical kumbaya moment, but the idea “at its most basic level is forgoing revenge: We can live together and beyond this, but we’re not going to seek retribution for the wrongs that you have done, and we’re not going to try to do what you have done to us.”1

On the border between Argentina and Chile stands the statue of The Christ of the Andes, a symbol of perpetual peace erected there to remind both countries that it is in their mutual best interest to live in peace. Overlooking the border between the two countries high in the mountains Jesus has one hand raised in blessing and in the other hand a large staff-like cross. And engraved at the feet of Jesus in Spanish are the words, “Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust than Chileans and Argentines break the peace which at the feet of Christ, the Redeemer, they have sworn to maintain.”

The idea of reconciliation, at least as we have it in its Greek origins, has something to do with an exchange, an exchange of a hostile relationship with a friendly one. In the case of Chile and Argentina, it was an exchange of hostile intent for one another for a mutual recognition of one another’s well-being. Maybe reconciliation is an aspect of the Gospel we don’t hear as often as we should.

If there is a truth and reconciliation moment between each of us and God, it starts with confession driven by the change of mind worked by the Holy Spirit to see things as God sees them for our sake. When God looks at humans, He does not look at us according to our sins but rather, He looks at us in Christ. Paul writes, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We can take the first goal of the truth and reconciliation commissions and apply it to ourselves. Looking at us in Christ, God is assuring us He has given up getting revenge for our sins. He wants us to live together with Him and He isn’t waiting for the day to get even with us. God has not foregone justice. All of that has been worked out in the mystery of the cross of Jesus. “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That has to be the next verse every Christian has ready to mind. It is as if there is engraved at the base of Jesus’ cross, “Sooner shall this Mount Calvary crumble into dust than people loved by Jesus break the peace won for them by the pierced hands and feet of Christ.” The cross of Jesus is the basis for our reconciliation with God.

The cross is also the basis for our reconciliation with one another. For if we truly recognize our opponent as one for whom Jesus died and has reconciled to the Father, how much more should we be at peace with one another?

And this is my role today to you, to beg you to be reconciled to God, for you to know, as you leave here tonight, that God has reunited you to Himself on account of Christ. We hold preachers in high regard in our church body because God uses them to deliver the goods, to deliver the Good Word of the Gospel of the cross of Jesus. Preachers today, in the best apostolic tradition of the NT deliver the Good News that God is not seeking His revenge. Instead, God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. Luther called this the “happy exchange.”

I know that we have marked our heads with ashes and remembered we are only dust. This is not so much a memento mori event, but rather a day to remember what God did for us in Jesus. That’s Paul’s point here at the beginning of chapter 6 quoting Isaiah, 49, one of the servant songs of Isaiah. I know it doesn’t leap off the page like “stricken, smitten, and afflicted,” from Isaiah 53, but in chapter 49, “The Lord is speaking to His servant,

In a time of favor I have answered you;

in a day of salvation I have helped you;

I will keep you and give you

as a covenant to the people,

to establish the land,

to apportion the desolate heritages,

9  saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’

to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’

They shall feed along the ways;

on all bare heights shall be their pasture;

10  they shall not hunger or thirst,

neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,

for he who has pity on them will lead them,

and by springs of water will guide them.

This is the Lord’s promise of restoration to a people separated from Him, separated from the Promised Land, separated from the temple and the sacrificial system, but not separated from His Word, not separated from His everlasting grace and mercy.

It’s appropriate for us to hear preaching from Paul to the Corinthians on Ash Wednesday. Corinth, as you will remember was a mess of a place for the believers there. There were factions and divisions and manifest sins that make us blush today. Their conduct around the Lord’s Supper was a travesty and they were not much more than 20 years or so removed from the life and ministry of Jesus. How had things fallen so far in so short a time? Paul suggests his ministry to them is not unlike the ministry of the Servant in Isaiah, sent to deliver God’s message to His people. Paul even commends himself to them by way of his own sufferings for the sake of his message, as though it would have to be true if he continued to preach it after undergoing such hardships.

Literature is filled with this kind of thing. Epictetus says, “Difficulties show a man who he is.” Bacon says that “Adversity helps a person discover virtue.” But Paul is not advocating a Chrisitan stoicism. He’s going further to say that there is not just goodness of a kind to be found in struggling with hardships but righteousness to be found in the one who came to relieve us of them in the profoundest sense.

No. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to something far greater. I’ll admit that I went looking for a story like this for this message. There’s a story about a gun amnesty program in a California town. A woman brought in a loaded pistol she had bought 20 years before, planning to kill her husband with it. She never shot him, but think about it—she kept the gun loaded. All too often, our reconciliation with one another is like the woman choosing not to kill her husband. Someone does us wrong and we don’t really do anything. We don’t “shoot them,” but we keep our emotional guns loaded, just in case.2

How much greater the Christ of the Andes who watches over us reminding us of His cross, blessing us with His grace and mercy.

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,

and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.


The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.



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