Just As I Am – Marked in Love 

Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Intern Teleen Saunders 

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that throu bidd’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

If there is any day of the year where we confess the limitations of our humanity, it is on Ash Wednesday.  So, as a fellow human being, I’d like to confess something.  I like to sing.  I’ll sing in my kitchen.  I’ll sing in my car.  I’ll sing to children all day long.  But pulling out a solo in front of a congregation, especially a musical congregation like Augustana, is way out of my comfort zone.  Pastor Aune asked me if I can sing only after I had accepted my position here.  My response was, “Just as I am without one plea…”  because I am perfectly aware of my limitations.  I’m perfectly aware of my humanness.  But I’m willing to sing at Augustana because God knows that I’m no Whitney Houston and called me here anyway.  God made my thin straight hair, my hazel eyes, and my squeaky little voice and if that’s good enough for God, then it’s good enough for me.

Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, a time associated with introspection – a time of darkness, a time of quiet where we confront the truth of our human limitations.  Today we prepare for the penitence of Lent.  But we also anticipate God’s goodness that as we stand before our Creator with all of our human limitations, we know that God loves us anyway.  There is evil, but there is also goodness. Or as Martin Luther famously said, “Simul Justus et Peccator” we are both sinner and saint.

For many of us, it’s hard to talk about our own limitations.  It’s hard to admit that we fail, that we’re wrong, that we’re selfish or short sided.  It’s hard to admit that we need help or that we hurt.  In a world where “winner takes all”, it’s hard to admit that we are often afraid or vulnerable.  For some, it’s easier to take God out of the equation all together and simply claim our own invincibility thinking that if we simply don’t talk about suffering, then it will all just go away.

But the truth is, there is sin, there is suffering and there is death in this world.   Just this week I have walked with people who are suffering from heart disease, terminal cancer, and debilitating depression.  There have been house fires, car accidents, and hungry children.  The truth of our humanity is terrifying.

But here we are – a gathering of Christ followers who are not afraid to confront reality, who are not afraid to confess the truth of our humanity!  And that takes courage.

In a few minutes we will have the imposition of ashes placed on our foreheads.  This is a public declaration that we are participants of a fallen world.  We are mortal human beings in need of a savior.

But we also anticipate God’s goodness.

Our God of the Trinity sent Jesus of Nazareth – a human who intimately and viscerally knows our shortcomings.  Our God of the Trinity knows what it is to be mocked, to be rejected, to thirst, to cry out, to suffer and to die.  God became human, because we are human.  When we receive our ashes, it is a bold act of our mortality.  A stain of death upon our face and the truth of our condition.

But with it is also a symbol of the divine.  A symbol of promise as we anticipate God’s goodness.  The ashes are not just smeared haphazardly across our foreheads.  The ashes are given in the shape of the cross.  In receiving the ashes, we remember that our Lord Jesus took on the fullness of our humanity.  He who was sinless became our sin.  And only the humanity of Christ could do this for the world.  It’s a hand-over where Christ exchanges his divine status for our sinful nature.  The cross of Christ will be the last word as we are reconciled into His glory.

This Lenten journey is a walk with Jesus Christ, our savior and Lord who is at once both fully human and fully divine with the power to redeem.  Two truths mysteriously intertwined with reality.  Two truths symbolized through an ash cross.

Anticipating God’s goodness, even in the midst of chaos, helps and empowers us to tell the truth about who we are and what God is doing in our lives.  When we receive our ashes, we come in complete understanding that we are of this world.  We live and we will die.  There is a sorrow to the truth.  But there is also a joy because God takes us just as we are.  As the apostle Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  Anticipate God’s goodness!  It’s new life from the ashes.  A goodness that we anticipate and a goodness to share.

When we anticipate God’s goodness, we fully admit our human limitations because the divinity of Christ takes us as we are.  God knows us and loves us anyway.  Let us, as Paul writes, be ambassadors for Christ as we embrace our humanity and live into the promise of a new creation.   On this Ash Wednesday, let us be marked in anticipation of God’s goodness.  Let us be marked in love.

Thanks be to God!

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