Ash Wednesday 2008

 

Over the past week or so we have had some pretty scary thunderstorms.  You can see them building up in the distance.  You know they are coming.  The rumbles, the flashes of lightening and the growing darkness announce the coming wrath of nature.  We go into hiding, go under cove to protect ourselves from facing the elements and the dangers.  We stay in doors, locked away until the darkness passes.  To illustrate the coming of something to fear, Joel uses the imagery of an Army coming to attack.  The trumpets announce the coming wrath and warn the people to take cover; to go into hiding for fear of being killed.

This imagery of a thunderstorm; the darkness, the flashes of lightening or the imagery of the fierce army coming and the fear it produces in us, is literally how you and I feel when caught in sin.  I don’t mean being actually caught doing something wrong, and the fear and darkness we experience when we know the consequences.  No, I mean the darkness and fear we experience when our guilty conscience is pricked.  Perhaps someone says some thing as innocent as ‘It terrible how people could lie like that’ or ‘fancy Johno being a violent abuser’ and instantly, bang, like a clamp of thunder our conscience darkens, and guilt, like lightening strikes us to the heart.  We ourselves have done just that, or are still doing just that, or similar.

Our feelings of guilt make us act as if a severe storm is coming.  We want to hide to protect ourselves; we want to hide our secret, lock ourselves away with it for fear that if we were to be found out we would be struck down.

To hide means to be a captive, stuck, locked up in one place.  Guilt produces shame and shame holds us in a state of captivity, like we were enduring a storm in a tiny cellar. The only difference is, storms eventually move on, whereas, guilt always remains and so we remain locked up by the shame.  Feelings of unworthiness, or anger at ourselves that we let others down, or even anger that we let ourself down, stop us from coming out of hiding.

So how do we get of this?  Do we find comfort inside ourselves, not daring to mention to anyone our secret?  No, secrets make us prisoners in our own body.  What about lying, could we lie to others or even to ourself?  No, lies also lock us up; Do we act like a doctor and explore ways to cure the pain that is in us?  Drink, medication, sleeping tablets. No, the cause of the pain is not physical, though there are physical symptoms, sudden weight loss or gain, depression, or a weak immune system, but to fix the symptoms is pointless, the pain is originated in our actions.

So how do we get out of our hiding place?  Can we even?

When a thunderstorm comes, we fear, and with good reason; the lightning strikes the ground and the thunder crashes all around. But then, have you noticed what happens next?  After the storm cell has passed, it begins to rain.  Everything we fear has moved on, and we are left with rain; rain that renews, restores and refreshes the earth; rain that is life giving.  We had to face the storm, but after the storm we have the rain.

Guilt and shame over sin is our storm, its the army approaching to attack us, and it’s the thunder bolts of guilt that continue to strike us; it hangs around as long as we remain in hiding; but if we come out and confess our sins, admit our guilt, then the storm goes, and the healing rains come pouring down.  The prophet Joel puts it this way ‘The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? That’s the storm, but then he goes on.  ‘Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.’  That’s the rain after the storm.

To stop hiding is to return to the Lord, to the one who is the storm, but is also the rain; the one who destroys, but also the one who heals.  Return to the Lord is to recognise his wrath and anger against sin; our sin and to admit our guilt and ask to stand in the rain of his grace.  For in him is washing; cleansing and healing; renewal and restoration.  This is the incredible focus and emphasis of the Lenten season, the two actions of God; his anger against sin, which in fear, holds us in hiding, and then his raining grace of forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus, which frees us from our hiding places.

So let us take up his offer this Lent.  Let us admit we are under his storm of anger and that in guilt and shame we are hiding from him.  Let us confess our sins and ask for his grace; the grace that rains down upon us from the cross.  Let us cry out to Jesus and receive his forgiveness.

How can we do this?  Well, a good way is to go without something we like, that way, as we crave for it we are reminded of our sinful desires and our need for Christ.  It is an ancient custom to go without something and it is a good spiritual exercise.  When we crave, we can confess our sins by even just saying the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps this is some thing you could do.

Yes, what an opportunity we have! An opportunity that far too few have or even know about.  So make this lent your time; your time to weather the storm and come out of hiding and into the rain of God’s grace in Jesus.

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