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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
March 6, 2019 at 7:00 PM
Ash Wednesday

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: March 6, 2019 – Ash Wednesday

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10




            There’s a proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.” Usually, you hear this quoted when someone expresses regret for not having done something, like “I didn’t take care of my health,” or “I didn’t pay enough attention to my family,” or “I never got back in touch with my friend after I moved away.” It encourages people to set aside their regrets and focus on how they can make a small step toward doing those things today.


            But when it comes to salvation, things are a bit different. In the sixteenth century, Luther wrestled with the question, “How can I live a justified life before God?” No matter what religious disciplines he tried, no matter how often he confessed his sins, he found that he could never measure up to God’s standards. He agonized over his eternal fate. That’s not really our situation today. Very, very few of us are agonizing over our salvation.


            And that is a good thing. Luther re-discovered, and we hold dear, the doctrine that we are saved by God’s grace through our faith alone for Jesus’ sake. But perhaps the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Truth be told, we’re often not very concerned about our relationship with Jesus or how he figures into our everyday lives, much less that of our eternal destiny. Maybe we take a small amount of time each day for prayer, or to read Scripture, or to come to a special worship service like this one, but we often take God’s grace for granted. Our sins are forgiven on Sunday morning and we go back to our normal lives.


            Which is one of the reasons this day – Ash Wednesday – is such a gift to us. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, but it is also a time for another time of beginning. More precisely, it is a day for going back through the human story and our relationship with God; how we have fallen from grace and how God has reconciled us to Godself.


            We all remember the stories of Genesis 1 and 2. God created human beings in God’s male-and-female image to be the pinnacle of God’s creation, to care for the earth and till it, with one single command – don’t eat that tree. Well, our first parents did. And since that first disobedience, our wills have been bound to sin. Even the good we do is never good enough to satisfy God’s law, as Luther found out.


            So we had to die. And at this font or one like it, we did die. The old person in us was drowned by God through the pastor’s hands when we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the font, we died and were buried with Christ in his death, so that we could rise with him in his resurrection.


            And in a provisional, “already-but-not-yet” way, we have been raised from the dead. The new human being has emerged from the ashes of our old nature, we have already put on Christ’s resurrection. Just before our reading in 2nd Corinthians, Paul writes, “…if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ...” We’ve already been reconciled to God, we’ve already been made a new creation.


            And yet, as the theologian Karl Barth once wrote, the “old Adam is an expert swimmer”.[1] We still find ourselves inclined to do the wrong thing, even though we know it’s wrong. We still find ourselves inclined to be self-obsessed and self-possessed, consumed by our own grudges or inordinate desires. We find ourselves in need of forgiveness, re-creation, and renewal.


            Ash Wednesday, then, is the perfect day to remember that today and every day is that day of renewal. As Luther writes in the fourth part of his explanation of Holy Baptism, “[Baptism with water] signifies that the old creature in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily contrition and repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[2] Every single day, we rise from the dead through returning to and remembering our baptism – the “daily contrition and repentance” that Luther talks about. The new man or the new woman in us is renewed today – and every day.


         God indeed planted a tree of faith in each one of you. For some of you, it was many years ago; for others, it was not long at all. But God also renews that tree of faith just as if it was planted yesterday. That’s why Paul can write, “Now is the right time! Now is the day of salvation!” That day is today, as we re-commit to our baptismal vows and the disciplines of Lent – prayer, fasting, and giving. It’s today, as we remember that that though we are dust, we are dust that is loved and transformed through God’s grace. Today is the day in which God reaffirms the “yes” God made to us in baptism, and which we reaffirm the “yes” we make to God by means of God’s grace. Today is the day.


        God help us, then, to remember his irrevocable “yes” to us every day, and to reaffirm our “yes” to him by our Spirit-given faith. God help us to embrace the disciplines of Lent as a way of remembering God’s “yes” to us as we seek to live into that baptismal way of life. And God help to remember that this day – and every day – is the day of salvation.


        Let us pray.


        Guide us, Lord Jesus, into a purposeful Lent, where we remember the “yes” you made to us in our baptism. Strengthen our trust in your unbreakable promise. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.






[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 253.

[2] R. Kolb, T.J. Wengert, & C.P. Arand, The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 200), 360.