Restoration and Repentance

Ash Wednesday
OT: Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm: Psalm 51:1-17
NT: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Every birth means an impending death. Every vow means a broken heart. Every kindled fire means a pile of soot and ashes. Just a few months ago we lit candles every night as a symbol of warmth and hope. But every candle runs out; every wick burns up. And now more than ever we are aware of the cold and bitter world around us. Now we can see just how desperately wrong things have become.

Or at least we should.

Perhaps the greater problem is that we haven’t noticed or seen just how broken things are. Perhaps we have been blinded to the pain by living our own piety and devotion; our own comfort and ignorance. Yet that is what this season is about. The fast that God calls us to in this season is not one of pious devotion or sackcloth and ash. It is one in which we open our eyes to the pains of the world and offer the healing that his gospel brings. We are to break the chains of injustice and care for the poor. Because it is then that the true light shines. Not from a wreath of candles but from simple and bold acts of love.

In my anticipation of Lent, I have been meditating on two specific things, which are really two edges of the same blade: repentance and restoration. They are the means by which God will put the world right. As I was meditating on these things a few days ago while in a fit of apathy, I wrote some things down in my journal which I will now share with you:

“He’s not done yet.” These words skipped through my mind this morning and, for some reason, lit a bit of a fire in my heart. We live between the cry of “It is finished!” and that final “cry of command” and trumpet blast. The mysterious and frustrating tension of already-but-not-yet. And while it is absolutely frustrating that we are still waiting for all things to be put right, it is actually that unfinished nature of the world we live in that is inspiring; that is motivating. As much as I want God to wave the magic wand of his second coming, it seems that his restoration is much more subtle and subversive than that. You see, we are complicit in this evil that pains us. In joining his kingdom, we repent from our wrongs and are healed from our wounds. And then we join the movement. We undo evil by outdoing it with good.

There are three things I would like to conclude with for today, and continue with through this season:

First, there is restoration for all the evil and wrong that has been done to you. Be it emotional abuse or neglect, physical violence or hunger, financial theft or injustice. Whatever it may be. There is not only permission but a direction to mourn those things and lament the wrongs done to you. In the wonderful and trustworthy hands of Jesus there is healing for these wounds and restoration for these wrongs.

Second, we must repent for the evils and wrongs that we have brought about. Be it hatred or ignorance, violence or theft, promiscuity or unfaithfulness. We have defiled the image of God in ourselves and in others. We must confess our sins and repent of these wrongs. May we find forgiveness from others and from God. And may God cleanse our hearts and renew our spirits.

Finally, we must carry this restoration on to others. Too often our gospel stops there are falls short of God’s great rescue mission for the world. Too often we are content to find healing and stop sinning. This is when we become the pious and the ignorant. But no! This season beckons us to bring the healing that we have found and offer it to the world. This season beckons us to find the injustice in the world and call it to repentance. May the gospel not stop with you or with a few moral dos and don’ts. But may it permeate our lives and transform the world one repentant heart and restored spirit at a time.

Righteous God,
in humility and repentance
we bring our failures in caring, helping, and loving,
we bring the pain we have caused others,
we bring the injustice in society of which we are a part,
to the transforming power of your grace.
Grant us the courage to accept the healing you offer
and to turn again toward the sunrise of your reign,
that we may walk with you in the promise of peace
you have willed for all the children of the earth,
and have made known to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.
(RCL Prayer)

One thought on “Restoration and Repentance

  1. Son, thank you for the encouraging words! In your younger days we would often take road trips, vs flying to a destination. We found that the journey would often allow some great time together as we explored places along the way and that we were much more prepared and appreciated the destination. You will find that the journey of life is much like that, what you will learn on the journey will prepare you for the destination. Also you will find much joy in accomplishing the steps along the way and truly be prepared for your final destination.

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