“Say You’re Sorry”
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Imagine this scene: two children are playing in the backyard. Their father is close by working in his garden. All of a sudden there is shouting and screaming coming from the children. As the father looks up, the older child pushes the younger one to the ground.
As the father comes to where the children were playing, each stars blaming the other for the trouble. The father knows each child has contributed to the conflict. Both children said hurtful words to the other. There was shouting and pushing on both sides.
The father said to each of them, “Say You’re Sorry.” At first there is no response. The father said it again, “Say You’re Sorry.” Finally each child grudgingly said the words but there was no real repentance from either of them.
How Many Times
How many times have you been there, said you were sorry because it was expected of you not because you were truly sorry. How many times have you asked for forgiveness even though you didn’t think it was your fault?
How many times have you prayed “father forgive me” just out of habit and not because you thought you needed forgiveness or were truly sorry? It is easy to say the words. It did not take much effort to [come forward and] receive a cross of ashes on your forehead. It is easy to show outward signs that you are sorry for your sins. It easy to say, “I’ll do better.”
Return To Me
Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Through the prophet Joel, we again hear our heavenly Father say to us, “Say You’re Sorry.” “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart.”
If we are to return to the Lord, it means we must have been somewhere else. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way.” We have wandered away from the Lord. We do it every day. Most days we may not even recognize that we have gone our own way and left God behind.
We don’t daily rob banks, engage in brawls, destroy property, or sell drugs on the street. But we are still condemned sinners. We are prejudice against those who are not like us – racially, ethnically, economically, and politically; we gossip about those who are out of site; we make promises we don’t keep, and we seek to be the center of attention.
We fear pneumonia, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. We love our homes, furniture, cars, clothing, jewelry, and entertainment centers. We trust in lottery tickets, horoscope predictions, and government programs. We fear, love, and trust all these things all week long and then on Sunday morning we tell God we fear, love, and trust in him above all things.
In these and many other ways we turn away from the Lord. The word for wandering away from God is sin. We were born with a sinful nature. From infancy on we have wandered away from the Lord.
Lent is a time set aside by the church to remind us that we are sinners and as sinners, we sin. We are sinners not just in the season of Lent but all year along. Lent is one way the church brings us to the truth.
As Joel warned the people of Israel that they deserved God’s wrath and punishment for their sins, their chasing after other gods in so many ways, he wrote that the Lord wanted them to “return to him with all their heart.”
The prophet Joel had preached to the people of Israel that they were somewhere else in their lives beside with the Lord. The good news that Joel was privileged to delivered was that God wanted them back. He wanted them to return beginning with their hearts.
“Rend your hearts” the Lord said to them. Sackcloth and ashes are outward signs of repentance, but it is the heart that must say it is sorry. [In the psalm that we spoke earlier,] King David wrote, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” A heart that is rent is a heart that is torn open so that all its sins can be seen, a heart that hides nothing from God.
A broken and contrite heart is a heart that calls out “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” a heart that says, “I have made such a mess of it all. I have hurt so many people and failed so often to show your love. You know my terrible thoughts and my selfish desires O God. Have mercy on me, O Lord! Have mercy!”
“Yet even now,” the Lord speaks to you. He wants you to return to him. He wants you to “Say You’re Sorry.” He wants you to rend your hearts, to confess your sins and to turn to him for his mercy. You would think that if you have sinned against him, turned away from him that he would simply let you go. You might expect him to say, “Good riddance.”
But God is like no other, “for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” The season of Lent is not just about God calling you to return and you saying you’re sorry. In this season of Lent you are given the good news that God wants YOU back. In his mercy, he sent his Son into the world not to condemn you but to save YOU.
Lent is an invitation by God to return to him. He invites us to return and see his Son, a Son who took on human flesh. God’s Son, Jesus, is the One who knew that we, on our own, could not come to him, return to him, or find him, so he came to us, to find us.
Lent is a time when we marvel at how far Jesus went to find us. When we see Jesus, we see that in him there is no sin, so that in him there could be no death. But as Saint Paul writes in Second Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” 2 Cor. 5:21
Because Jesus took upon himself our sin, he also took upon himself the wages of our sin, death. Lent is a time when we think about the reasons why Jesus had to die. Lent is a time when we ponder a Son whose sacred head was wounded for our transgression, a head that wore a crown of thorns.
Jesus not only died, but he also died as the greatest sinner of all time, with the sin of the whole world upon him, all of it – yours, mine, and everyone’s. Lent is a time when God reveals to us that he is indeed merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Lent focuses us on the cross where we see that Jesus received the death that we deserve. When we see Jesus on the cross we see that he bore our sin so that neither sin nor death might be the end of us. This is the measure of God’s love for us.
The Church Call Us
During Lent, when the Church call us to return, she is calling us to return to Christ, to draw near to this Savior who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquity, upon whom was the punishment that brought us peace, and in whose wounds we find healing.
The church reminds us that the only real life that we have in this world is a life of fellowship with Jesus, communion with him. Every time we have settled for anything less, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived and cheated of the great gift we received at our Baptism, the gift of being made his brothers and sisters.
As often as the church sets the Lord’s Table, the church is calling God’s children to return, to come to this wounded Savior who bore our wounds in his own flesh, spilling his blood for us, so that his flesh might be our living bread from heaven and his blood the blotting out of every sin.
Dust we are, and to dust we shall return, and so we wear the ashes today. But the ashes on our forehead are in the shape of the cross. The cross recalls for us that we have a Savior who became dust for us, whose sacred head was wounded for us so that the wounds of our sin might be healed with the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.