Ash Wednesday: Now is the acceptable time!, 2 Corinthians 5:20-6.10

Sermon:        Now is the acceptable time!
Scripture:     2 Corinthians 5.20-6.10
Preacher:      Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date:             March 6, 2019, Ash Wednesday

 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1

20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6.1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For the prophet says (Isaiah 49:8):

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.[1]

This evening commemorates each of our willingness to step into a forty-day spiritual gymnasium.  Ash Wednesday as the beginning of Lent is the time we publicly commit to saying ‘no’ to ourselves and shout a declarative ‘yes’ to God. It’s a time when we enter the spiritual gymnasium to reclaim discipline, to exercise spiritual muscles we have let atrophy through neglect, and to reorient our lives to the grace-full, salvific acts of Jesus Christ.

I personally hate the gym. I know that when I leave my body will ache and hurt. I’ll be all sweaty and tired and I know that even after I shower, my heart will still be racing and shall continue to cause me to sweat in this south Florida humidity. The next day I will awake and be rudely reminded how the total knee replacement I had four years ago didn’t take and I will have to pop a few Advil and get on with the day. There’s a cost to being healthy, whether it’s physically healthy, emotionally healthy, or even spiritually healthy.  The benefits of health are directly related to the cost invested in gaining those benefits.

But a spiritual gym?  I thought we Christians were governed by God’s grace in Jesus and all?  Hasn’t Jesus done all the work for our sins and salvation already? Why must I do any hard work?  This feels, well…all too “Catholic” to me! What gives with this forty-day spiritual gymnasium?

Well, let me give you some good news!  First, the Season of Lent actually has 46 days in it and we only do our spiritual gym work on 40 of them!  That’s right! Sundays are considered our rest day from the gym because it’s the Lord’s Day and what do we do on the Lord’s Day? We celebrate the Lord!  Second, the other piece of good news is that what we do in our spiritual gymnasium has no bearing on our salvation and wholeness in God. Our wholeness and salvation is a result of God’s graceful work in Jesus Christ; there’s nothing we can do or not do to earn our merit and favor with God when it comes to eternal things. God pursues us first.

So, then why do we enter the Lenten gymnasium in the first place?  Because it’s a time we show our passion for God and pursue him.  As we follow Jesus’ steps through Palestine and Judea, as he climbs the hill of Golgotha, Lent is our chance to run and meet him there.  Lent is our time to walk along with him and like Simon of Cyrene, we get to carry his cross for a little while.  Do we have to carry the cross of his? If we love him we will want to do it. We want to follow in his steps through the glad places and through the shadowy darkness. Lent is our time we tell Jesus, “I choose to follow you and will go wherever you go!”

Sadly, we are not equipped to do it.  We need to go to the gym.  We have to learn again the stress of stretching our little minds so they can be filled with God’s gracious, large and sometimes uncomfortable and challenging thoughts and ways. We have to learn the discipline of saying “yes” to new ways of living and “no” to ways of living that suck the life out of us. Lent is the gymnasium where we build up endurance for those times when life gets hard or mean; it’s a time we cultivate patience as we will have to wait and see at Easter whether there was any overall effect to our spiritual growth during Lent. Lent is the time we push ourselves to be more like Jesus.  But even here is a challenge:

Our human tendency is to acknowledge the need before us to hit the gym but then we tell ourselves, “I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll wait for a more opportune time to begin.”

We want to train on our terms and conditions.  We want to do it when it’s convenient.  Problem is, there’s no good time to start training because it will always be a challenge and stress us.  So, Paul says, “Church, get on it with it.”  He says in our scripture this evening that now is the acceptable time. “Church, now is the day of your salvation!”  In other words, it means we have to move it and get active.  Use it or lose it. Why? Because it’s what Jesus did for you and me and this whole crazy cosmos!  We are to follow in Jesus’ steps.

When we follow in Jesus’ steps, we show him we love him.  When we follow in Jesus’ steps, we are able, like Paul to build endurance, suffer afflictions, hardships and calamities; we are able to endure beatings, imprisonments, discrimination, riots, sleepless night and hunger.  Following in Jesus’ steps makes us pure and distinct from the world; it gives us knowledge, patience, kindness, and holiness of spirit. It’s only in the spiritual gymnasium of Lent we can learn how to intentionally, inconveniently willfully love those around us – even those we find hard to love.  Beloved, it’s only in the forty-day school of Lent we can truly encounter and experience the power of God and help make others rich in the faith that is ours in Christ Jesus.

When is the acceptable time?  Now is the acceptable time.  Let’s join together in committing ourselves to follow in Jesus’ footsteps these next forty days so that when Easter morning arrives, we will know that we know that we know he truly lives!  And all of God’s people said, Amen!

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15thAvenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.  All rights reserved.

[1]New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Mystic Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a husband, father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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