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DO I FEEL AS GOD FEELS?

AN ASH WEDNESDAY SERMON

ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE REFORMED CHURCH

ATHENS, NEW YORK

AS PART OF THE 
ECUMENICAL LENTEN SEASON SERVICES

24 FEBRUARY 1993

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Joel 2:12-17
Matthew 6:16-18

Last weekend I was sitting in the office of a very caring Christian person, when she sprang an unexpected question upon me.

It was not the type of question I would have expected from a fellow Christian, so I knew she wasn't looking for a technical answer, but a spiritual one.

She asked me, "What is your perception of God?"

And I responded, "God is all Spirit. He is also all love and compassion."

"And from the depths of His love, in the formation of the heavens and the earth, He created the most beautiful things He could."

"But love that is not shared is not really love; thus God, who is pure love, created the angels and other heavenly beings to enjoy His love with Him."

"But the angels, too, were spirit, and part of God's love gift of creation was physical; thus, He began to create the physical beings of our world."

"And God created all of His fellow beings with a free will, for to do otherwise would not be love."

"For love to be love, it must be freely given, without any strings or constraints; and it also must be freely received."

"God did not even consider that His created beings would not receive and enjoy His love gifts to them, as He gave them. He thought they would want to love as He Himself loves: unconditionally."

"But we didn't! A third of the angels and the human race rejected His love."

"And by our collective action, we have hurt God more than I believe any of us could know or understand in a lifetime, or perhaps in all eternity."

"For the sake of those who truly received His love, God tried over and over again to show us the truth, but we still rejected His love."

"When this rejection began, I believe even our perfect God began to question Himself, to see if He perhaps had made a mistake, as is the case with those who possesses unconditional love: they look to themselves first."

"Two-thirds of the angels understood, but very few of us humans did. I believe this is why God decided that a purely spiritual being, as He is, could not fully understand what it was like to be physical."

"In His unconditional love and compassion, He decided that He, too, must experience what it was like to be human, so that He would fully understand us."

"Thus God Himself came to us in the form and being of a man: His Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; so that through our relationship with Him, we would receive God's love and share it."

"But, as a whole, we have continued to reject both God and His love."

This brings us to the reason we are gathered here tonight.

Ash Wednesday is a day to remind us of our need for repentance, and to pray for God's forgiveness for the way we have behaved before Him.

But for our prayer to be real and believable, we must also be able to at least feel some of the pain we have caused the Lord our God.

We can't just play at repentance.

We must mean it.

We must mean it, not only for the next forty days, but also for every day for the rest of our lives.

We make the mistake of using Lent as a season of show, and not for really changing our lives.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:16-18,

16. "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

17. "But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face

18. so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Mary and I don't fast as a way of seeking God's intervention in our lives.

But because we don't eat any animals or animal products, my mother-in-law says we are on a continual monastic fast. Since she is a religious person, this is meant as a very positive comment.

But to us, what we are doing is no more of a fast than if all of us here would consider ourselves fasting, just because we didn't eat each other.

We don't eat animals because we feel their pain and suffering, and refuse to contribute to it.

To us, this is part of living God's love and compassion.

I know that He has touched each of you in similar or differing ways, designed to sensitize you to feel as He feels.

Stop fighting these feelings and give into them.

The kind of fasting God really wants is for us not to partake of the evil things that surround us.

The world in Joel's day was crazy like it is today.

It was a time when it was hard to tell the believers from the non-believers, for they all behaved the same, even if they pretended to act differently at certain times.

Listen to what Joel tells us for the Lord in 2:12-17.

12. "Yet even now," declares the Lord,

"Return to Me with all your heart,

And with fasting, weeping, and mourning;

Now remember, these are not to be outward signs only, but leading to real changes in our lives.

It’s to be as we are told next:

13. And rend your heart and not your garments."

Now return to the Lord your God,

For He is gracious and compassionate,

Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness,

And relenting of evil.

No matter how bad the world is around us, or what problems we have, there is always hope; thus, we are to do what is right.

14. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,

And leave a blessing behind Him,

Even a grain offering and a libation

For the Lord your God?

And tonight, just such a grain offering and libation, in the form of the Lord's Supper, are here for us to celebrate.

15. Blow a trumpet in Zion,

Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly,

16. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,

Assemble the elders,

Gather the children and the nursing infants.

Let the bridegroom come out of his room

And the bride out of her bridal chamber.

Remember, God has already sent the bridegroom, His Son Jesus Christ.

Now it’s time for us, the Church, the bride, to leave the chamber of our sin upon the earth, and move heavenward.

17. Let the priests, the Lord's ministers,

Weep between the porch and the altar,

And let them say, "Spare Thy people, O Lord,

And do not make Thine inheritance a reproach,

A byword among the nations.

Why should they among the people say,

‘Where is their God?’ "

People talk about the hypocrisy of believers because believers don't live changed lives.

We don't live changed lives because we don't allow ourselves to feel as God feels.

There isn't one here tonight that couldn't open him or herself up even more to really feel with the same love and compassion that God does and, similarly, to feel some of the same pain He has felt.

And if we do open ourselves to feel this way, then we have also lent some real meaning to tonight's celebration.

Feel as God feels!

Amen.

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