Ash Wednesday and the sacred Season of Lent call you to examine yourself, your heart, and your life, in the light of God’s Word; to repent of your sins, and to live in faith toward God and in love for your neighbors in the world; to be turned away from evil, and to begin doing what is good and right. Not for the sake of any fame or fortune, but from a heart full of faith and love in Christ.
To examine yourself rightly, then, is to ask yourself, not only what you are doing or how you are doing, but, Why do you do whatever it is that you do? And why do you not do what you should?
What is it that motivates and drives you? What is it that you dream about at night, and what is it that gets you up and out of bed in the morning? What are you after? And what is that you love? That is to say, where do you invest yourself in the hopes of finding life and peace and happiness? Where do you spend your money, your time, and your energy? What occupies your attention?
The truth is that your only true and lasting life — your only real hope for genuine life and peace and happiness, now and forever — is found not with man on earth but only with God in heaven.
Only with God do you have life forever: Not by your own reason and strength, and not by your own works or efforts, but solely by His grace, by His divine charity in Jesus Christ, your Savior.
Of course, you know that to be true. For so you have been taught by the preaching of God’s Word, and so do you confess by His Holy Spirit. But what does it mean for you? What does it look like to live by grace through faith in Christ? And how shall you not receive this grace of God in vain?
St. Paul the Apostle has admonished you not to receive this grace of God in vain. But what does that entail? How do you receive, embrace, and exercise the grace of God according to His will?
The starting point and the bottom line is this: The Lord is after your heart. That is what He wants. That is what He requires from you. He doesn’t need your stuff; it’s already His to begin with. And He doesn’t need your help, either; for all that you are and all that you have comes from Him and depends upon Him. No, He’s after your heart — that you should fear, love, and trust in Him above everything else; and that you should live by faith in Him, in His Word, in His Gospel, in His Gifts.
Now, when the Lord thus has your heart — and you thus have divine, eternal Life in Him — then He also has your body and soul, your reason and all your senses, your time, treasures, and talents, your home and family, and all your stuff besides. It is already His to begin with, but He gives it to you in love. He entrusts all these things to you because He loves you, and He delights to care for you. And as you receive His good gifts, He would have you serve your neighbors with them.
When God has your heart, then your entire body and life are also offered up to Him as a living sacrifice of holy faith and love. But that is exercised and offered to God chiefly by way of loving service to your neighbor. You thereby practice the righteousness of faith in your heart in the presence of God at all times, while outwardly you pour yourself out in love for your neighbors — for your family and friends, and also for your foes, for all your neighbors. You do not hold their sins against them, but you forgive them because the Lord forgives you. You serve your neighbor without any expectation of reward or even thanks. You do it out of love for the Lord your God.
So, that is how you live your life by faith. You entrust yourself entirely to your God and Father. Everything that you are and all that you have, you place into His hands, and you trust Him truly for everything that you need, body and soul, now and forever. And trusting Him, you give yourself generously for others without counting the cost and without considering what’s in it for you.
It is in this way that you live with your heart already with God in heaven, by faith in Christ Jesus. And hereafter your body and soul will follow, forever and ever. For where your treasure is, there your heart is also; and where your heart is, there your body and soul shall likewise be, as well.
By contrast, when your heart, soul, mind, and strength are spent upon this world — and I mean that in terms of your time, in terms of your energy, and, yes, also in terms of your cash — when your heart, soul, mind, and strength are thus spent upon this world, invested in your mortal life on earth, and motivated by the kingdoms and the treasures of man, then your body and soul will perish, finally and forever, along with all the false gods and idols that you so highly prize and worship.
You may stockpile a real treasure trove here and now, but it will not last forever. It will not survive. If you’re honest with yourself, you already know that. But what does your life confess? What do your words and actions actually reveal about your heart and the treasures it clings to?
Yet, again, all of your false gods and idols — all of those things that you fear, love, and trust, other than the one true God — none of them will help you in the big picture and final outcome. None of them can save you. None of them are yours for very long, and you sure can’t take it with you.
Therefore, let go your heart of that which is not God.
Give up your adulterous love affair with all the idols of this world (for that is exactly what it is).
Repent of all your misplaced love and affection, and return with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength to the Lord your God, to your first Love, to your true and heavenly Bridegroom.
Stop stuffing your mouth and your stomach with that which will ultimately end up in the sewer. And stop pampering your body with creature comforts as finite and as frail as you yourself are. Labor not for the food that perishes, but avail yourself of the Food that endures unto eternal Life.
In short, do not look for life and love anywhere else but the Lord Jesus Christ, who is here with you in His Church on earth, in His Ministry of the Gospel, in His free forgiveness of all your sins.
It is sure and certain that He has reconciled Himself and His Father to you and all the world — by the way and means of His Cross, by His fulfillment of the whole Law in perfect faith and holy love. All that you have failed to do, He has done for you, both in your stead and for your benefit. And all that you have done wrong, He has paid the price for it. He has made amends, and He has made Atonement for all your sins, by His suffering of the punishment that you and all have deserved.
He has reconciled Himself and His Father to you. He has reconciled the whole world to Himself. You, therefore, be reconciled to Him by faith. Hear and trust His Word. Rely upon His Gifts. And live in the confidence of His Cross and Resurrection, His forgiveness, and His righteousness.
As you fear, love, and trust in Him, and as you rest yourself in the Sabbath Rest of His Gospel, you are set free from the bondage of your sins, from your debilitating fear and avoidance of death, and from all your desperate and futile attempts to justify and save yourself. You are pulled out of your own head and heart, and turned toward the Lord your God in peace and joy and confidence. And you are free and able, in Him, to be courageous and generous in love and care for your neighbors.
You have such freedom and certainty in the presence of God, your Father in heaven, because your standing before Him, your relationship with Him, and your place within His home and family, do not depend on you but entirely on Christ Jesus. It is by His prayer, by His faith and by His fasting, by His agony and bloody sweat, by His holy Cross and Passion, and by His divine charity toward you, that you are presented to the Father in righteousness and holiness, even for Life everlasting.
And to that end, that you should ever live and abide with God in Him, behold, He has come to live and abide with you within His Church on earth. Here among His own He has left behind a Grain Offering and a Drink Offering for you and all: the Bread and Wine which are His Body and Blood. These are the acceptable Sacrifice which He has offered to the Father on your behalf, with which He now feeds you for the forgiveness of all your sins and for the nourishment of your faith and life.
Eat, therefore; and drink. Here is your real Treasure. Here is the Heart of Christ for you. Here is your Foretaste of heaven, which shall never perish, and which shall not be taken away from you.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.