February 22, 2012, Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, 2012 “ February 22

Joel 2:1-2,12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.

 

            I don’t know what to say. What do you want from me? I said I was sorry. What more is there to say?

A young husband sat with his wife after being caught in a fairly significant act of deceit. That’s a tough situation to be in. It’s one thing to come to yourself and realize you need to apologize for something. It’s quite another to be caught and then have to respond. It’s hard not to get defensive.

I can’t do this for you, the wife responded. It’s your apology and I can’t tell you how to do it. I don’t know who you are anymore and you’ve got to tell me if we’re going to get out of this mess.

Apologies are pretty personal. We usually approach them trying to get by with as little admission as possible. We don’t want to tell the whole story. We’re embarrassed, ashamed, frightened that the person we’re apologizing to will cut us off. Plus we’re lazy and like to avoid pain. Apologies are mighty hard work. We have to face things ourselves and we have to tell the other person who we really are. Who enjoys doing that when there are things we have done which are wrong?

I can’t do this for you. It’s your apology.

 

¦the day of the Lord is coming, it is near “ a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. The prophet Joel, speaking to the people of Judah after they have been rescued from their exile in Babylon and brought back home, warns them that an impending doom is upon them because they have been deceitful with God. A powerful army is closing in on them and they need to repent and turn to God. The powerful army is a horde of locusts which threatens to destroy all the crops. There will be no food for the people or their animals they depend on. All will be lost. But renewed faithfulness will turn the tide.

That actually doesn’t stand up to reason too well, does it. An apology doesn’t turn around a hundred million locusts. They will eat until there isn’t anything else to eat. But the locusts are used by Joel as a symbol for what happens when we stray from God. There is a price to pay. Eventually everything we hold dear is lost. Apologies and renewed faithfulness to God might not turn a hoard of locusts around but it opens a huge window of grace. It’s really amazing what a heartfelt apology can accomplish. Even with humans, apologies are remarkably effective. The hardest of humans usually find it within themselves to forgive when they hear an honest admission of guilt and a desire to make things right. Always, apologies are effective in our spiritual lives. God forgives the sins of all who are penitent, our collect for Ash Wednesday reminds us. God even forgives the sins of the impenitent, I might add. Our apologies don’t cause forgiveness. We don’t do anything to convince God to forgive. God just forgives because that is God’s nature. Even when humans forgive, we don’t purchase that with an apology. We just do our part. We take responsibility for ourselves and, until we do  that, the whole system is stuck. We confess to God with the promise that the system isn’t stuck. God forgives sinners. Simple gospel truth.

And our apology is important, even more for us than for God. Have you ever known someone who just can’t apologize? It’s impossible to have an intimate relationship with someone who just can’t do that apology kind of work. You can’t get to them because you never can know exactly who they are. They don’t know who they are. They can’t admit who they are because it’s too uncomfortable and the relationship can’t go anywhere.

 

I’m not sure I want to leave you with the image of Ash Wednesday as you being caught in a lie and God sending a horde of locusts to destroy everything you own unless you come clean and tell him you’re sorry.  But, in some ways, that’s the way it is. We must apologize. We don’t do it on our own. The very grace of God moves within us to help us know what we are to do. God stirs us with his spirit to bring us to admit who we are and to say we are sorry. But today a significant work is handed to us.

I can’t do this for you. It’s your apology. You can’t do mine for me. We all need to repent and return to the Lord. I assure you he is waiting with open arms and everything you fear will be transformed. So do your work. You can take all forty days of Lent to do it if you need that long. Dig deep. Tell God who you are and watch life change. A well-played Lent brings a glorious Easter.