- March 6, 2019
- 12:00 PM
Sermon for Ash Wednesday 2019
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Hebrews 12.1-7,11-14; Psalm 103; Luke 18.9-14.
Title: Our Struggle Against Sin
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
Dear friends, what is our struggle against sin? How often do you think of your life – your entire life from birth until death – as one long struggle against sin?
I’m afraid that this way of thinking is not too popular nowadays, is it?
Everything in our society is now inclined toward building up one’s self-esteem, toward praising the uniqueness of each person, toward never criticizing the actions of another – except, of course, when it comes to the realm of politics. THAT is an entirely different story.
But it is so rare now to hear of someone convicted by the depth of sin in their lives. Or to meet with someone who is engaged in a real struggle against sin.
So let this day be a reminder to us all: the struggle is real. Sin leads to death. Every sin committed is a step toward death. And the way out of this mess is the steep path of humility.
The great Abba Antony of Egypt once had a vision of the world as a great desert and all the temptations and snares of sin were scattered throughout the desert like mines in a minefield. And the people of the world needed to walk across this desert.
So in despair, Antony sighed and said, “Who can possibly pass through this?”
A voice came to him and said, “Humble-mindedness.” Humility alone can make it through the minefields of this world.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Do you agree with that? With what our Lord Jesus calls us to? To beating our breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”
Do you want to walk this path of humility with God?
But, be careful what you wish for. A wise saint once said that anyone who asks for humility needs to be very clear about what they are asking. For they are asking God to send someone who will insult them and humiliate them.
And the job of the God-lover who is insulted and humiliated is to receive all of that as an answer to prayer! As a precious gift of the God who loves us and guides us into abundant life!
Can you do that?
What was it we heard in our first reading? “For the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” The Lord chastises every child whom he accepts.
It reminds me of the process of being accepted into the military. You pass all of the tests. You make the oath of enlistment. Your family celebrates. They are so proud of you. Congratulations! You have been accepted into the military!
And then – boom! Immediately, your hair is shaved off. All of the comforts of life are stripped away from you. You are yelled at and insulted and humiliated.
Wait, why is this happening? Didn’t they just say that they accepted you? That they WANTED you?
Oh, they DO want you. They want you to become more. And the only way to get there is to endure and to persevere.
My friends, you and I have been accepted into the church of Jesus Christ so that we can learn how to be insulted and humiliated without losing our cool.
So that we can fast and eat simply and go without fancy foods without becoming mean and nasty.
So that we can see all of the beautiful things in the mall or on TV and to walk right by without the craving need to buy them.
So that we can become people who are free from all of the compulsions that are destroying this beautiful creation.
We can do this because we are learning to know who we really are. We are growing in complete self-awareness. And we know that we are sinners.
This is the truth! Because we know that we are entirely complicit in sin – not only in our own thoughts and words and deeds, but in our relationships with others and in our relationship with the earth and the other creatures of the earth.
We are inextricably woven into this entire web of humanity that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God.
And the only way out is to become something more. To grow into something more. Into a person who is beyond the reach of sin – no longer affected by pride or greed or hatred or jealousy or the cravings that drive people to do stupid things.
THAT is why we are here – to grow into something more! To struggle against sin and to never, ever quit!
To run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter, the one who struggled against sin – and won.
My friends, we must become something more. There is no other solution to the problems facing our lives and our world.
After all, God wants us and loves us far too much to let us stay just as we are.
And the doorway to become something more is the way of humility. Humble-mindedness.
So we are ready to say over and over again: God, be merciful to me a sinner. Amen.