3-9-11 "Examination"

Joel 2:1-3, 10-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. 3 Fire devours in front of them, and behind them a flame burns. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.

The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 11 The Lord utters his voice at the head of his army; how vast is his host! Numberless are those who obey his command. Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed—who can endure it? 12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ “

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Ash Wednesday is a very unique worship service for a Christian. It is a time of confronting two things that most Christians try to avoid at all costs: Death and Sin. Ash Wednesday although uncomfortable for many is ultimately I believe a healthy thing in our spiritual walks to participate in. It is a time of some self-reflection and a period of examination. As we all know Ash Wednesday is just the beginning of a season of the church called Lent, where we as a community purposefully embrace spiritual disciplines to allow ourselves to be ready to relive and re-experience the suffering undergone by our Savior Jesus for our very sins. This examination of oneself is often not a pleasant time. I know recently I was checking my mailbox out at the seminary and sure enough placed in my box was the exam schedule for this coming April. Hoping that it may just disappear altogether, I took the exam schedule, saw what it was, and put it back in my mailbox to find later. Exams have never been fun. I have never met anyone that is excited when it comes time to an exam. I have met quite a few that become rather anxious, but excited, No. School exams are often put in place for the teachers to assess whether or not the student has learned the material, however, they’re other types of exams as well. There is a physical exam where a doctor comes in to check up on your level of health. There is a driving exam where one is observed driving to determine whether or not one knows/follows the rules of the road. And then the type of examination that I am more so alluding to during this time of Ash Wednesday and Lent is a personal reflection type of exam. It is in specifically this special time of the year that Christians will self-examine their spiritual walk with God. Ultimately, I suppose one could say that we are assessing for how righteous we are living our lives. A doctor does not come in to assess how ill you are, but rather how healthy you are. Thus in the same way, if we compare righteousness to health, then we are to reflect on how righteous our lives are. This ultimately begs the question though, What sins are in your life? In order to attain a clean bill of health, the doctors check for what illnesses may be present. The natural motion of our lives tends to produce mire and dirt. We call this dirt Sin, and there is not special effort for us to produce this.[1] Even our own will power will not overcome the sins that are so ingrained into us. So then how do we break out of this routine in our lives and break the bondage of Sin.

First we must recognize is that we cannot, but God can. God not only gave us his Son to overcome Sin and death, but also gave us disciplines to use in our lives to guide us in how to live righteous lives. Some of these disciplines include fasting, repentance, prayer, self-denial, reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word, Acts of Mercy alongside the poor, simplicity, solitude, Worship. The very first thing that some of these disciplines may do is exactly what a physical examination does, identifies problem areas. These disciplines may be a way of testing where our heart is, where our minds are, where our time and strength is. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (6:8). And so it does matter in our lives of how we live out our lives, and there are going to be those who are more spiritually healthier than others. God has given us the ability to respond to his love, but how we respond is different depending on each individuals’ own choice. The Gospel reading this evening is back upon the Sermon on the Mount. Remember over the last few weeks this sermon has the underlying message of God’s Kingdom. This past Sunday on Transfiguration Sunday we had seen a glimpse, a preview of that Kingdom. This is our ultimate goal of living into this light, but at times to get there we must look and see where the dark spots are. God never intended for us to remain in this sinful state, but rather desires for us to enter into glory with Him. Thus this was one purpose of Christ’s existence in becoming human. God has shown us his mighty love and desire through shedding the blood of His very own Son, for what? For you, For me, For the generations that have passed through this world. This season of Lent, we will be starting a new sermon series based out of a book from Rev. Adam Hamilton called “24 Hours that Changed the World”. We, as a faith community in preparation for Easter will look at these last 24 hours of Jesus’ life to truly come to a reckoning of what it meant for God to save us. This sermon series will be named, “One Day, Multiple Events, Eternally Significant”.

[1] Celebration of Discipline. Richard Foster, p 4.

Other parts of this sermon were also inspired from the Foster Book as well. I would highly suggest this book for anyone searching for a deeper relationship with God, especially during this time of Lent.

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