We're not as strong as we think we are

Texts: Jes 58: 1-12; Mt 6: 1-6,16-21 

nospurota virveIs it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD? Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD?  (Is 58:5)

Sin ruins everything. Did you hear what I said? Do you understand? Sin ruins everything! Not a small part. Not a little. But everything! There is a saying that a small drop of tar destroys a whole barrel of honey. Similarly, a little sin destroys whole lives. My life, your life, the lives of others. Remember, all it took to lose paradise was one little bite. One bite of the banned fruit and puff!, everything was lost. Man was separated from his Creator. Man was separated from his wife and from the other people. Man was separeated from himself. Sin is so deadly!

Have you ever seen a burned branch in an oven or fire, or a burned log that hasn't lost its shape? It's completely burned, but for some reason it still stands there, a piece of wood, and yet dust. It looks relatively normal. But internally it's dust. One touch and it collapses. That's what we are. As soon as sin or misfortune hits us, we collapse. It doesn't take much to get from a normal life to a state where everything is going to go bust. We're act as if we're strong, but we're actually much weaker than we'd like.

Today we heard the words from the First Book of Moses that describe our situation so accurately, when God warned Adam, and therefore warns us, “Remember, o man, that you have been taken from the dust, you have to dust you will return” (1Moz 3:19). Like a burned-out branch that by grace keeps its form, at any moment, with a little touch of sin, you break down and become what you really are - dust. You look strong and great, but you're very weak and fragile. One light touch and we collapse. If all that was needed was one little bite, what a little lie, one little sin to separatre us from God and one from another, then we're not as strong and mighty as we think we are. [Rich Mullins]

The question is, do we think about it in our daily lives? I don't think so. Personally, I don't think about it, at least I don't think about it all the time. I think of it somethings when it's time to recite the confession of sins. How many people, I included, just “recite” the confession instead of speaking those familiar words from the heart? I have and you have generalized thoughts about ourselves as sinners, as a violaters of The Law. Our brains theoretically agree with the idea that we are the perpetrators of the Commandments, but if it we are serious, neither I nor you think of your sin and weakness every day.

Maybe it would be too hard for us to think about sin all the time, too paralyzing. In the Middle Ages, people, especially monks, beat themselves with whips, etc., to make satifaction for their sins. But is that what God wants from us?

If we find time to think about it, we remember that we are weak and incapable, especially when we're tempted. As I said, one touch and we collapse. Dust returns into dust.

We can only wonder what was so tempting that Eve was so keen to take a bite of the fruit? What was so innocent about the situation that Adam did not alert or even stop his wife, not knowing what huge, universal and far-reaching consequences it would have. He's as guilty as she is. Each in its own way. But both to blame. As their children, we have inherited this guilt, even if everyone's sin is different.

When we think of ourselves, how guilty do we feel? What are those forbidden fruits we're longing at with a savoring mouth to eat? I think of it now as if Christ hadn't saved us. It's easy to run to Christ, and we have to run to Christ as our saviour. Without him, we would have really fall apart. But if he hadn't? What then?

My job as a pastor is not to show sin. If I pointed my finger at each of you, how many fingers would I point back to me? My father taught me that. It's easy to show a splinter, but do we see the log? (Mt 7: 3) To reveal sin is the work of the Holy Spirit. I preach Law and Gospel. If the Holy Spirit uses my words to reveal and convict you of sin, then it is His prerogative and work. He does it with intent. To bring us to Christ. Like in the song in a song:

 “Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.' [2]

 But my question tonight is not, what do I feel now, but how much and to what extent do we feel our sinfulness moment by moment? The less we feel like sinners, the less we feel the need for a savior. The more and deeper we feel it, the more and deeper we will understand the need for someone to save us. Similarly, when Jesus was told about the debtors, the one who was forgiven for little loved little. The one who was forgiven a lot loved a lot. (Lk 7:47)

This day – Ash Wednesday has gained its name from an ancient practice, when people, feeling the weight of sin, stripped off their casual fine clothes and put on a rough bag, sitting in the ashes to understand their sins. We've been taken from the dust, and we'll return to the dust again.

We have been given this time in the year of the Church to rethink our sins and feel them, some or some of them, to understand who we are by nature. So we read ten commandments. Which one of them have we violated in thoughts, words, and deeds? Christ has and remains with us on this journey. If he wasn't with us, then we'd really collapse.

In antiquity, during the early church, to prepare for their baptisms, to turn their backs on everything that speaks against Christ, the congregations joined the daily confession of sin. They spent forty days purging themselves, remembering everything that separates them from God, with prayer, meditation and the teachings of the Bible, remembering everything God had done for them, rescuing them from their unclean works. God through Isaiah says about our sins, though they be small or grandiose, are like a filthy rags (Jes 64:6). This is how we are. All dirty. And it doesn't matter whether we think of great offenses – vices, theft, murder (albeit in thought), or small sins – to gossip about your neighbor, to judge your brother or sister in Christs, to put ourselves in the first place, not the last, or to sin with your attitude or behaviour thats expressly stated in the Bible, as unclean or disgusting in his eyes. Lent is the time to think about such things and repent from them.

We fasting does nothing for ourselves, because we are not savied by works (Ef 2: 8). Fasting is a means to remember how weak we are. What's the difficulty in it? Give up some food, some sweets, some fun or pleasurefor forty days? Moses did it! Elijah did it! And our Lord and Savior did it! Fasting, praying, confessionas of sin and biblical reading, donating and love or neighbor: all this shows how weak we are in our power, and how weak our commitment is, how difficult it is for us to do these relatively easy things, thereby revealing how dependent we are on the mercy of God.

I had a friend who determined to fast from food for forty days, as our Lord did in the desert. He refrained from all food, only drinking tea and water for six weeks, and continued to work hard in the warehouse. All his christian friends watched him to help if, in case, anything with health went wrong. But he went on, and forty days later everybody wanted to know what “revelation” he had received, what “mountain-summit experience” he had, what a special “word” he had heard from the Lord. With a smile on his lips he replied – I learned that we were entirely dependent on the mercy of God. Such was the “big” revelation. Without God's grace, we would collapse like an purned up stick of wood.

Through Isaiah's lips, God asks us rhetorically,

"Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul? 
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, 
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? 
Would you call this a fast, 
And an acceptable day to the LORD?I
Is it a fast that I have chosen, 
A day for a man to afflict his soul? 
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? 
Would you call this a fast, 
And an acceptable day to the LORD?  (Is 58:5)

 It is not time to simply hang your head and feel guilty for your sins. Guilt in itself does not do anything without light at the end of the tunnel – Easter. Guilt, without confessions and forgiveness, led Judah to hang himself. But guilt with confession of sin and getting forgiveness led Peter to become the First Apostle among equals. Lent is the time to become aware of your true state. Guilt is only the first part of the repentance. The most important step in repenting  (i.e. turning from sin and evil in your life) is admitting guilt and with God's grace to believe and follow Christ.

May God give us the kind of fast he likes. Let us understand who we are and what we are, let us and God's grace allow us to repent and believe the gospel for real. Amen.

[2] ELCL Song Book (© 2015, Ihtis, Riga) Song 197, “Kāds esmu, tāds atnāku” (Here I am, without one plea. 3rd verse)

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