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Summary: Ash Wednesday (B). Too often we focus on our outward behavior, our sins. But the root of our problem is not sins, but sin, our sinful nature. Joel urges us to "Turn to God and live."

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J. J.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,

O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

“Give up giving up”

What are you giving up for Lent? Anything? Some people give up something for lent. Not with the purpose of earning merits or favor or pity from God. But to serve as a reminder that we are in a different season, a time devoted to reflection on our mortality, and to turn our attention to Christ’s suffering and passion for us and in our stead.

So what are you giving up? Soda, desserts, chocolate? Some people give up cigarettes. Of course, that doesn’t count if you don’t smoke. TV is another one. Giving that up may be harder than quitting chocolate.

But after the six weeks of Lent, when Easter is here, then the giving up stops. The chocolate, the TV, and the cigarettes are back. And we wonder whether we accomplished anything or not.

This “giving up” exercise is a good exercise. We can learn and grow from it. But, too often, it’s focus is on us, and our outside behavior. On what we do and what we don’t do.

The prophet Joel turns us another way. He has a different focus. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” he instructs. Joel is not focused on the outside, on what we do. He is focused in the inside, on who we are. He knows that the root of the problem is in us. In fact, the problem is not just in us, the problem is us. Giving up for Lent draws attention to our sins. And well it should. But the fundamental problem is not our sins, but our sin. Even were we able to give up all our sins, not just of deed, but of words and thought too, we would still be left in our sin.

We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.

King David writes in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (verse 5) The problem is sin, S-I-N. Sin. Sin which makes us dead in soul, and which one day will bring us to our grave. Everybody is a sinner. Every last one. And sin leads to death. Sin is death. One out of one people die. A very clever man might escape taxes, but no one escapes death. Us, Sin, Death, together forever, it would seem. What shall we do to rid ourselves of our sin? Where shall we turn?

We can try to quit sinning. Quit this, give up that, whittling sins down bit by bit. But it does not rid us of sin. It does not work. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. We can stop sinning on the outside all we can. Yet sin itself remains in our hearts. So what shall we do? Where shall we turn?

Joel tell us. Turn to God. Turn to God and live. Why? Because He is gracious and merciful. And in His great mercy, He has sent Jesus Christ, His Son, to die for us and instead of us, thereby to free us from sin.

We render our hearts apart in despair over our sorry sinful state. He binds up the broken hearted. What do we say Sunday after Sunday? “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10).


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