This meditation was preached on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021 by Rev. KJ Norris, based on Ephesians 2:1-10. See the entire Ash Wednesday Service.
Tonight we are returning to the Book of Ephesians. I say returning because we actually started studying this Book of the Bible at Homecoming. Ephesians 1 was the lectionary passage and then we didn’t get to read the rest of the book.
I, however, fell in love with Ephesians at Homecoming and wanted to study it more. So we are going to step away from the regular lectionary and return to Ephesians for Lent. As you will soon see, Ephesians is a wonderful book to lead us through the Lenten wilderness because it reminds us who God is, it teaches us who we are, and then it invites us walk with God more and more each day in prayer and in good works, according to the power of the Holy Spirit.
And tonight the Scripture begins by telling us something about ourselves which might surprise us. The Scripture says we were dead.
You can take a second and maybe pinch yourself. Did you feel that? Yeah, if you can feel, if you can think, if you can listen to these words and look around the room, if you ate something today, you probably think that you are alive.
But the Bible tells us that we are dead.
Read VS 1-2.
In another place in Scripture, we are told that the wages of sin are death. And so when we sin against God—when we turn from God and walk in ways in which God doesn’t intend—then we earn death. And all of us, even if we are kids, have sinned. We’ve all done things that we know we should not do or said things that we know we shouldn’t say.
Or sometimes, we sin in another way, sometimes we commit sins of omission instead of commission—in other words we sin by not doing things we know we should do. Or by not saying things we know we are called to say.
And in fact, all humans have been born into sin and death. The world itself has become corrupt by sin and so the Bible teaches we are born dead. That sounds strange, but right from the moment of our birth we are heading towards death because of sin.
Some of us who have been around a while have seen this at work in our lives in very strong ways. We look back on our lives, and we know that we chose to run away from God as fast and as hard as we could. We allowed things of this world: maybe money, maybe power, maybe drugs, maybe lust or gluttony or any of the seven deadly sins that come to mind—we allowed these things to control our lives. We chose them over God.
And then there came a point in our lives which we can name and remember. A point where God got a hold of us. We were leading a life-style which we could only name as death and then God pulled us out of it. God freed us from the things of the world and gave us a new life, new joy, new hope. When we hear this reading from Ephesians, we look back at our life and say, “yes,” I was dead, and now I am alive!
Some of us may have a harder time thinking about ways that we have chosen sin and death. For some of us, we grew up in the church, and we never really had a rebellious period. We have strived to live our lives in accordance with God’s plan for as long as we can remember. That’s how it was for the Apostle Paul. He spent his whole life trying to please God.
And yet, Paul knew that even he was born bound to sin and death.
All of us have fallen short of the glory of God and all of us need Jesus to come into our lives and claim us as God’s own.
This is what Jesus did on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross he broke the curse of sin and death. Jesus closed the gap between heaven and earth. Jesus defeated death and when he rose again victoriously on the third day, he gave us power to do the same. Jesus is power over sin and death.
And so Jesus comes into our lives and frees us from death. Jesus calls us members of his family. And shows us “immeasurable riches” as it says in verse 7.
God didn’t have to do this. We didn’t earn forgiveness. We can’t do enough good to outweigh the bad in our lives because we are born into all this sin and death.
But verse 4 tells us that God is rich in mercy and God has great love. So while we were trapped by sin and death, while we were dead, Christ came. Christ died and rose again so that we might have life.
Verse 5 tells us that by grace we have been saved. God’s love has saved us and given us life.
Tonight is Ash Wednesday and that’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. Usually we go into the church building and have time to share with one another and pray with one another and then I invite people up one by one and put ashes on their heads. It’s a way of reminding us all that we were dead but now we are alive in Jesus. And it is a way of reminding us that we should confess our sins. Because although we are alive in Christ, we still sin. We still turn away from God and we need to be reminded to turn back to God.
As verse 10 tells us, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. And so we pray that God will help us to become the people we are created to be.
This year we need to do things a little differently, but we still want to confess our sins and so we are going to do that in three parts tonight.
Last Sunday, Kimberly talked about confession and she reminded us all that confession has three parts. It has repentance—in other words, recognizing that we have sinned. We need to look at our lives and see the ways that we turn from God and hurt other people or creation through our thoughts, words, and deeds. Or ways in which we do not love God or love other people or care for creation as we should.
We need to repent of these things, in other words, pray, telling God what we have done and apologizing to others. We cannot change if we cannot admit what we have done so this is the first step of confession.
And then we want to remember as part of our confession who God is. If we only focus on the bad things we have done in our lives, we may begin to think that we cannot change. But this is not true. We are new creatures! And so we learn to live—to truly live—not a dead life but an abundant life by focusing on God.
And then the third part is asking for a right relationship with God. We ask God to change us so that we can love God and love our neighbors and care for all of creation.
So that is what we are going to do tonight.
[Return to the Ash Wednesday Service to participate in acts of confession].