Summary: The following is a 15 minute homily delivered on Feb. 18, 2015, Ash Wednesday at the Church Without Walls, Houston, TX, in the kickoff observance of Lent.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Rom 12:1 NAU)
I. Reflection: The Christ in Action
Our symptoms revealed it. The diagnosis defined it. From vain thoughts to unkind words, from unthinkable acts of cruelty to the mindless menace of violence, from a cold disregard for humanity, to a casual indifference to God, all of these pointed to the condition of a rebellious heart.
The clinical term for it is sin, and we all suffer from it. It is an involuntary and fatal condition: brutal, indiscriminate, and unforgiving. Those who have tried to control it only found themselves ultimately consumed by it. For you see, it cannot be tamed, because “there is none righteous, no not one”. It does not play favorites, because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” It takes no prisoners, “for the wages of sin is death…”
Less we forget you and I were guilty of this treason. All of us played a part in the evil episodes of our existence, not as mere victims, but as co-conspirators of our own demise. Having been born in sin, and shaped in iniquity, we were the unacceptable creation; wicked, lost, fallen.
On one occasion some member of this is fragile motley crew called humanity cried out of frustration, “Oh wretched man that I am who will deliver me from the body of this death?” Who indeed can deliver us from deception and depravity? Who can save us from sin and from self? Is there one among us who can pay so great a debt?
Time passed on, and when there was none to be found; no champion to be named amongst men, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is what this therefore, is therefore, to remind us of and call us to, a time of reflection. To remember with confidence and gratitude that Jesus has conquered sin and death. It is Jesus who has paid your balance due and your debt on high. Fore where we suffer from sin, Jesus the Christ suffered for us! This was the Christ in action.
II. Repentance: The Cause of Action
Therefore, in light of the Christ in action, we are urged as brethren by the cause of action; something the Apostle calls “the mercies of God”; these unmerited acts of kindness that ought move us to lay down our sword and shield and study war no more. Too move from idol worship to the image of God, from damnation to deliverance, from reflection to repentance, or “what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin…? May it never be; for the death that He died, He died to sin once for all…” Let me be clear, our sin is the cause of this action. And yet, what are these “mercies of God?” Generally speaking, mercy means compassion; pity. It is God beholding our falleness and sympathizing with us. And you do know what it means to sympathize? It is a word with both Greek and Latin origins, and it means to suffer with. And so to that end, God chose to suffer with us. So what then do we make of these mercies? Clearly there are many, because where there is man, much mercy will be needed.
Mercy, it is kind treatment towards the undeserving and unrighteous, mercy. It is God’s compliment to the unattractive, mercy. It is the Samaritan’s deeds to the robbed, the weak, and wounded, mercy. At its best, it is divine intervention making provision for human depravity. For this reason, these mercies are best summarized by two words, ‘loved’, and ‘gave’. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
And this is why the Apostle is so compassionate and urgent with his plea “by the mercies of God”, because in light of what God has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we must show contrition, repent, and turn from our wicked ways.
III. Restoration: The Call to Action
If we are turning from our wicked ways, what then are we turning to? Where we reflect on the Christ in action, and repent for the cause of action, we are then restored, in part, by His call to action: “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.”
This is a call to complete submission. It is you and I tithing ourselves to God, because our lives are now His, and we belong to Him. He has consecrated us in the precious blood of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ. How do you present yourself? You present your bodies “living and holy…”