In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tamar, daughter of David, put ashes on her head after being deceived and violated by her brother.
We put them on because we have been deceived and violated by our father the devil. He led us down terrible paths, promising things he could never give. Then after violating us, then he filled us with shame at what we had done, at our small part, at our defiling. We are not clean. We will never again be what we once were. We dare not show our faces or look our mothers in the eye. We mark ourselves with ashes to show our mourning, our shame, our death.
Mordecai and all the Jews put ashes on in response to the cruelty of the Persians.
We also have a cruel master. We have enslaved ourselves to sin, given in to passions, to good desires corrupted. They control us like animals, rutting in heat, without shame or knowledge.
Sin ruins the good things of God. It causes us to be dissatisfied with what He has given. We compare reality to sit-coms, romance novels, adventure stories, television commercials, and even political and theological rhetoric, and our lives pale in comparison. Our friendships are as lively as those on television. Our wives aren’t as exciting as the characters in movies. Our careers are boring and sickly compared to the hype of human resources and recruiting. Not even our pastors are as profound, dedicated, or faithful as those on Issues, Etc.
We are emotionally flat, looking for joy, excitement, entertainment, refusing to believe that God may have called us to a dull existence on purpose, that dull is safe, and that there is joy, good things all around us. We reject the good as not good enough, not exciting enough, too old hat. Repent. You are not too important to be bored.
Job sat among the ashes for his owns sins. So did the king of Nineveh. Jeremiah says that we must cower in ashes. It is not just the devil’s fault. We are victims to be sure. But it is also our fault, our own fault, our own, most grievous fault.
Yet the Psalmist says, “God lifts the needy from the ash heap.’ and “He gives to those who mourn a garland instead of ashes.’ The forgives the sins of the penitent. He clothes Adam and Eve. He re-establishes David’s throne.
The opposite of covetousness is being content. People who are content are thankful. The first step in turning yourself from sin is to name your sin, to confess it, to admit it. Part of that admission is that the sin is evil, that what you desire is evil, that you do not need it, are not served by it, and so forth. The next step is thankfulness in what you have. We need to learn to confess that what the Lord has given is good. If He has made you single, God be praised, that is good. If He has provided a wife, that is good, God be praised. We need to search out and confess the good of His providence and give thanks for it. We confess not only our sin. We also confess the goodness of the Lord in His gifts.
This is the famous lesson of St. Francis in his sermon to the birds so easily lost in the cuteness of the rhetoric. His point is that the goodness of the Lord is all around us, in creation. Our response should not be dissatisfaction, but thanks and praise. Thanks and praise, an honest appraisal of the Lord’s providence, creates joy and satisfaction, contentment. It is an attitude shift. Instead of trying to make your children be what you want them to be, you accept that the Lord has given them gifts and you marvel and delight in them. Instead of trying to bend your wife to your will, you rejoice in her faithfulness and loyalty, in her gentleness and piety. Instead of trying to get your own way, you submit and serve as one unworthy of the many good things in your life.
Your ashes are smeared tonight. There is no beauty in them. The world cannot see anything in them but dirt and death. But for those with the eyes of faith, they are in the form of a cross, that most lovely and dear of all symbols, that emblem of our hope.
We set our faces toward Jerusalem tonight. We turn our backs on sin. We look through the gallows on Golgotha and see the glory of the cross enlightening the empty tomb. He has been lifted up from the earth to draw us to Him, to drain the Law’s accusing power, to empty Hell’s claim, to crush the devil’s head, to bestow peace upon the meek.
You are a holy people and you belong to the Lord. His mark and Name are upon you. This is what it is to be sanctified, to be holy. You are forgiven, to be sure. But there is more than that. You are not only forgiven, just made even with God, as though you never did anything wrong, and that is that. It more than that. Not only has your debt been wiped out but there is credit in your account. You are holy. You belong to Him. You have the superabundance of His Good Works counting as your own and the earth is your in heritance.
So remember that you are dust and that you will return to dust. But remember also that God is a man, dust like you, joined to your temptations and sorrow, welded to your death, who was torched in the Father’s wrath, reduced to ashes and laid to rest in God’s good acre as a ransom, a whole burnt offering. And that that Man is risen again
Pastor David Petersen