Ash Wednesday, Year C

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Easter 7, Year C May 29, 2022 Easter 7, Year C John 17:20-26
Easter 6, Year C May 22, 2022 Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C John 14:23-29
Easter 5, Year C May 15, 2022 Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C John 13:31-35, Revelation 21:1-6, Acts 11:1-18
Easter 4, Year C May 8, 2022 Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C John 10:22-30, Acts 9:36-43, Revelation 7:9-17
Easter 3, Year C May 1, 2022 The Third Sunday of Easter, Year C John 21:1-19
Easter 2, Year C April 24, 2022 Easter 2, Year C John 20:19-31
Easter Sunday, Year C April 17, 2022 Easter, Year C John 20:1-18
Good Friday, Year C April 15, 2022 Good Friday, Year C John 18:1-19:42
Palm Sunday sermon April 10, 2022 April 10, 2022 Palm Sunday Luke 22:14-23:56
Lent 5 April 3, 2022 Lent 5, Year C John 12:1-8
Lent 4, Year C March 27, 2022 Lent 4, Year C Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Lent 3 March 20, 2022 Third Sunday in Lent, 2022 Luke 13:1-9
Lent 2 March 13, 2022 Lent 2, Year C Luke 13:31-35
Ash Wednesday, Year C March 2, 2022 Ash Wednesday, Year C Genesis, chapter 4
Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C February 27, 2022 Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]


Ash Wednesday, Year C

Sermon Date:March 2, 2022

Scripture: Genesis, chapter 4

Liturgy Calendar: Ash Wednesday, Year C

Tonight I’d like to go back to nearly the beginning, to Genesis, Chapter 4.  In this chapter, Eve brings her first son into the world, Cain.  And then she and Adam have a second son, Abel.  Cain is a tiller of the ground, and Abel tends the sheep.  Both of these sons bring offerings to God. 

God is pleased with Abel’s offering, but God has no regard for Cain’s offering.  “So Cain was very angry,” scripture tells us, “and his countenance fell.” 

And then the Lord says to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 

Cain, ignoring the Lord’s words, invites Abel to go out into the field with him. There, Cain kills Abel. 

God asks Cain where Abel is and Cain gives that famous answer, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 

But God knows what has happened, and so Cain must take the consequences of his action. 

God says that when Cain tills the ground, it will no long yield its strength. 

And Cain will be fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. 

Cain is horrified.  “But Lord, this punishment is greater than I can bear!  Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face.  I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” 

Now Cain is left with nothing, and he believes that he no longer has God’s protection.  No wonder all that anger has drained out of him and has left only fear in its wake.  Sin has won out, and now Cain is seemingly doomed. 

So here we are. 

Sin is lurking at the door, and its desire is for us. 

That one statement sums up the predicament in which we human beings find ourselves. 

For in this world, sin, in its various guises, lurks at our doors, and desires to take us far away from God, and from one another, and to consume us.  

As God tells Cain, we must master sin. 

And therein lies the problem, for we are seemingly  incapable  of mastering sin.

We need this season of Lent to remind us that sin is a major problem.   In this day and age of self satisfied righteousness, the danger of sin gets short shrift.  We are good people, our sins are small, we’ve never murdered anyone, and this season isn’t really and truly about us, but more about the hot shot sinners who have guns and bombs at their disposal.   

In her essay, “A Look Inside,” Edna Hong, A Lutheran poet, writes that “the purpose of Lent is…to create a healthy hatred for evil, a heartfelt contrition for sin, and a passionately felt need for grace…the true purpose of Lent is not to starve one’s sin, but to get rid of it.”  

Hong goes on to say that “the purpose of Lent is to arouse. 

To arouse the sense of sin. 

To arouse a sense of guilt for sin. 

To arouse the humble contrition for the guilt of sin that makes forgiveness possible. 

To arouse the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins. 

To arouse or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.”  

“In other words,” she says, “a guilty suffering spirit is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul.  Therefore, an age without a sense of sin, in which people are not ever sorry for not being sorry for their sins, is in rather a serious predicament.  Likewise an age with a Christianity so eager to forgive that it denies the need for forgiveness.  For such an age, therefore, Lent can scarcely be too long!” 

The first challenge of Lent, then, is to realize that we are just as susceptible to sin as Cain was, to admit that to ourselves.

The second challenge of Lent is  to work to master the sin waiting to destroy us.  As Hong says, not just to starve sin, but to get rid of sin. 

We cannot get rid of sin on our own.  We need God’s help. 

When Cain says that he no longer has any protection, God has this to say. 

“Not so!  Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.”  And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him.” 

Cain receives the Lord’s mark, and then, scripture tells us that Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, East of Eden.  What a sorrowful ending—Cain, a marked man, went away from the presence of the Lord. 

But we, sinners that we are, know that we do not need to go away from the presence of the Lord. 

The ashes that we will receive on our foreheads tonight are the mark of the Lord. These ashes hold the truth that we are dust, and to dust we will return.  We have no power over death. We all will die, and be separated from this life. 

And these ashes also remind us that we are, whether we want to admit it or not, people who have opened our doors to sin and let it come in and have its way. 

God would have us know the truth about ourselves, because knowing the truth about ourselves will set us free.  Jesus said in the gospel according to John that anyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not have a permanent place in in the household; the son has a place there forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”  The love of Jesus Christ for each one of us, will set us free from sin, if we are willing to receive that love.  And then we will have a place in God’s household forever. 

The ashes we receive tonight remind us that God is placing God’s mark on each one of us—the cross of love, the protection, the grace, and the love of God that brings us into life out of death, as seeds, dropped into the ground and dying to themselves, spring up into plants that bear their good fruit in due season.  Jesus died on the cross, spent three days in the earth, and God raised him into new resurrection life.  The cross that we will receive on our foreheads reminds us that we too, through the cross, will be recipients of everlasting life with God. 

Yes, we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  But we are marked as Christ’s own forever. 

So as the Apostle Paul entreats the Corinthians, I entreat you on this Ash Wednesday. 

On behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God, and do not accept the grace of God in vain. 

For it is only through God’s grace that we know that sin is lurking at the door, and that it desires us, and that we must master it, with God’s help.