A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
Spring Creek Lutheran Church
Ash Wednesday – February 25, 2004
Text: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
A moment comes in virtually every sad story in which the hero is abandoned by someone he or she loves. Some terrible thing has come between them, there is a fight, and suddenly where there were two on the page or screen or stage, now there is only one left behind – eyes wide and tearful, arms stretched out, palms toward the sky. And these words: “Come back. Oh, please…come back.”
These two people were meant to be together, whether they are friends, family or lovers, and we are pulled into the emotion of the moment – will the beloved person return? Will there ever be peace and reconciliation? Can the relationship be patched back together somehow, or is this finally the end?
These scenes have such a powerful hold over us, I think, because they are all too common in our own lives. Think for a moment, and allow for a moment your greatest loss to come to your mind. Search for the time when you found yourself standing alone on life’s stage, eyes wide and tearful, arms stretched out, palms toward the sky, with these words echoing in your heart: “Come back. Oh, please…come back.” The memory that you find, hold onto for this brief moment. Turn over the pain and fear of that loss from the distance of time. Consider it…remember it…but do not relive it. Simply dip your finger back into the pool of those emotions and remember the feel of them.
Even from the distance of time, the loss of a loved one to death, divorce, a fight, or any of the other ways we part company can be deeply painful.
I ask you to remember such a moment so that you might be able to understand the heart of God just a little bit better this Ash Wednesday.
God, you see, has also stood on that stage. God has called out those words, those awful, alone words: “Come back. Oh, please…come back.” God has called them out to you, and God has called them out to me. God’s heart has been rent to see the people he loves with his whole being curse the day they met him, turn their backs to him, and vanish – to the best of their ability – from his life for good. As deeply as the pain of your loss remembered cut through you just a moment ago, imagine for a moment the sound of the divine howl of pain, if only we could hear it, when you and I in our sin have walked out of God’s life. “Come back. Oh, please…come back.”
Or this: “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Come back, people of God. Come back!
Come back from the pride and anger that cause you to wound one another in order to gain advantage or power over your neighbor.
Come back from the selfishness that causes you to horde up the gifts that God has given you, so that you and no one else might enjoy the fruits of his generosity.
Come back from your fear of change that causes you to resist even the Holy Spirit when he calls you.
Come back from your lust for change and newness that causes you to chase after fashions and fads, rather than listening for the true leading of that Spirit.
Come back from the complacency that causes you to focus on your own needs when each of your brothers and sisters in God’s vast creation has a need that you have been equipped to address, if only you would.
Come back from the resentments and grudges of days long since past that cause you to feud and fight amongst yourselves, even within God’s own house, and keep you from moving forward as one body serving your Lord together.
Come back from the gossip and slander that spread so easily among your towns and harden your hearts against your neighbor without ever so much as pausing to look on them as your heavenly Father does.
Come back, people of God! The King of Heaven is crying out to you and your pastor and his whole people in every time and place: Come back!
Come back to the Lord, because it is good to live together in peace and love.
Come back to the Lord, because there is nothing better than life in our with our Father in his house.
Come back to the Lord, for he can heal the things that grieve and hurt you, giving you a new heart and a new mind, a new body and a new soul.
Come back to the Lord, for he is filled to the brim with grace and mercy toward you. He is patient and does not anger quickly at all, and his deep, true, faithful love will shine bright toward you for generations – far beyond the blaze of the strongest star.
People of God, return to the Lord, your God these forty days of Lent. Hear him calling your name, asking you to come back home to him. Come back, for he will not remember the pain you have caused him nor hold it against you in his joy upon your return to him. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love
Come back in bread and wine, palm frond and ash, dark veil and Easter lily, for there is forgiveness in them for you. The way of forgiveness is the way of the Cross and of the Resurrection, the way in which we will walk these forty days, the way in which we must walk when we hear God calling us homeward.
God’s story, when we finally see it through to the end, is a story of forgiveness and reconciliation. And so he calls to you tonight.
Return to the Lord. Come back to him. Come home.