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(Part 21)


Ash Wednesday
February 10, 2016

Today’s readings:
Joel 2:12-18
Psalm 51:3-17
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6:1-18

Our world is in darkness and sin. That is the really bad news. The only way out is repentance and turning back to God. “Yet even now­oracle of the Lord­return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (Jl 2:12-13a). Now the really good news: God is merciful. If we repent and return to Him, He forgives and accepts us back. “For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.” (Jl 2:13b).

God is both merciful and gracious. Though these two virtues often go together, they have different meanings. With mercy, God relents and withholds the punishment due us for our sins. With grace, God blesses us and imparts to us what we do not deserve. “Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind a blessing” (Jl 2:14a). Not perhaps, but rather surely.

What is the ultimate proof of God’s mercy? It is the Father sending His own Son to the world to suffer and die for us on the cross. The icon of mercy is the crucifix. “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin” (2 Cor 5:21a). On the cross Jesus won for us our salvation, opening up God’s mercy and grace into our lives.

God’s mercy is unilateral, unconditional and freely given. We just need to recognize and take hold of it. First we recognize our need for mercy and forgiveness. “For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me.” (Ps 51:5). Then we confidently but humbly look to God’s mercy. “Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me.” (Ps 51:3-4).

Now it does not end there, with our having been forgiven and restored to God. We need to proclaim and share that mercy to others. As we have received, we are to give. And so Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12). This is very important. God’s mercy is unilateral and unconditional and is poured out upon us, but for us to fully experience such mercy, we must extend His mercy and forgiveness to others. “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Mt 6:14-15).

Here we see what our task is. We are to be God’s instruments of mercy. We represent God, and God imparts His blessings through us. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” (2 Cor 5:20a). To be fitting instruments, we both have to return to God, and to lead others to return to God. “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20b). The more we enter deeply into a new and restored life in Christ, the more we will be able instruments of God’s mercy. We must desire and strive to live sinless lives. “A clean heart create for me, God” (Ps 51:12a). This is “so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5:21b). We should strive to be pure and holy. “Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Ps 51:9).

God’s mercy is what the world needs to experience. As people redeemed by God, we must do our part and be instruments of mercy to others. We must proclaim God’s mercy and salvation to all. “Blow the horn in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly! Gather the people, sanctify the congregation” (Jl 2:15-16a). We need to help bring sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus. “I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” (Ps 51:15). Then we go before God and say, “Spare your people, Lord!” (Jl 2:17b).

What will be God’s response? God has already shown Himself to be a God of mercy. We must be fully confident in that. “Then the Lord grew jealous for his land and took pity on his people.” (Jl 2:18).

The task is urgent. People continue to die in their sins, unknowing of the bountiful mercy of God. We must tell the world of His love, mercy and salvation. That time is now. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2b).

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