Ash Wednesday

James 3:3-10

We go through life, not careful about what we say. Not thinking about the power of our words. Not thinking about how, out of the very same mouth, off the very same tongue, we thank and praise God and ask for forgiveness and then turn around and curse, and speak ill of others, repeat rumors, say hurtful things, belittle others, speak words of revenge and hate.

And do you know what the really sad part is? Most folks don't really care that they do that. They think they can fool God by asking forgiveness, yet really have no intention of changing anything they do. It's sad. Sad, not because God stops loving them, but sad because such foolishness blocks them from receiving that love. They're living their life in a void; empty of the fullness of God's love. And at the same time they go on hurting others and not caring.

There once was a little girl who had a bad temper, and in those fits of temper she would say hurtful things and she would spread rumors, not knowing if they were true or not. She wanted to control the actions of others, make them do what she wanted; but the thing she most couldn't control was her tongue.

Her mother gave her a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper and spoke hurtful words, she must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the girl had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the girl didn't lose her temper at all. She told her mother about it and the mother suggested that the girl now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper and control her tongue so as not to hurt anyone or try to control them by speaking ill of them to others.

The days passed and the young girl was finally able to tell her mother that all the nails were gone. The mother took her daughter by the hand and led her to the fence.

She said, "You've done well, my daughter, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, when you speak words of hurt, when you carelessly pass on negative stories about others whether you know them to be true or not, they leave a scar just like this one."

My friends, you can put a knife in a person and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry,' the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

Lent is a time to focus on relationships. You can't focus on your relationship with God, asking God for forgiveness, if you haven't begun to work on your relationship with others whom God has created.

Lent, the next 40 days, is a time to focus on asking for forgiveness from those whom you have hurt. And after that, focus on forgiving those who have hurt you.

Those are the first steps you must take in asking God to forgive you. You can't possibly be truly asking God for forgiveness if you haven't taken those steps. You mock God if you think God is that foolish to not know what is truly in your heart.

In the Gospel of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a model for prayer, in which we pray, "forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sin against us." And immediately following the last line of the model prayer that we know as the "Lord's Prayer" he says, "for if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive those who sin against you, neither will your father forgive you your sins."

Oh how we love to pray that Lord's Prayer. But oh how we love to overlook the 2 verses of guidance he gives at the end of it.

Lent is your 40 day time of discipline. It was Jesus' 40 days of being tempted and taunted by the Devil in the desert. Every time you open your mouth the devil is waiting to take control of your tongue.

Let your Lenten discipline be one where you thank and praise God, where you ask forgiveness of those whom you have knowingly hurt or offended, where you forgive those who have hurt or offended you, and where you THEN ask God to forgive you. It is THEN that God will know you're serious about strengthening your relationship with Jesus and opening your life to the fullness of that wonderful, merciful love.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie