Today Is the Day*
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Scriptures: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 and 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
When I was young and life was fraught with family drama and trauma, I used to dream of the day when I was older, and everything would be better because I would be on my own. I was certain that happiness and clarity in all things would be waiting for me just around the next corner. Then that corner came and went and while things were different, they were still not without drama and some trauma.
Sometimes we go through life wishing for tomorrow, thinking that somehow it will be better than today. The funny thing is that when you get there, it’s never really all you thought it would be – so you set your sights on the next milestone. From graduation from high school, to graduation from college, starting a career, getting married, having children, and then waiting for them to be grown, and then longing for retirement; each stage of life is not without difficulties – but also comes with gifts.
If we had not lived through those experiences, learned the lessons and embraced the gifts they contained, we could not hope for the maturity and wisdom that comes with life experience, both positive and negative. Always waiting for tomorrow to bring a final level of clarity and happiness is useless, because it doesn’t work that way. Life is a process of growth, and it begins wherever we find ourselves in a particular moment. Focusing on today is important, lest we miss the gift it brings.
I wonder if we aren’t sometimes guilty of that same thinking regarding the life of faith. We find ourselves falling into that same trap as we evaluate our walk with God. We reason: When things around me settle down, my faith will be stronger. When I reach this age, I know I’ll be more disciplined in my prayer life. When our church hits this milestone, then we can begin this ministry. When I retire, I will do more service projects. The list goes on and on. It’s easy to set our eyes on the future and believe that transformation will take place later on in life. Yet, by doing so, we miss the gifts and the opportunities that are available in the present. Growth in the life of faith should never be postponed to a later or more ideal time. God calls us to begin anew each day.
Ash Wednesday is an important day in the life of the church. It presents a unique opportunity for us because through words and actions, it invites us to ponder our mortality and to focus on the now. We are reminded of the truth that none of us are promised tomorrow. We are encouraged to take a snapshot in time, and to look at our relationship with God in the light of today. It is a clarion call to self-examination, and an invitation to respond to God’s call in the present.
The apostle Paul understood the need for our reconciliation with God, and he communicated it with a sense of urgency. Paul calls for those in the church at Corinth to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul recognized the need of his congregation to receive the good news of forgiveness in Christ, and to let it take root in their hearts. He knew the difference that this reconciliation could make in their lives. The good news of the gospel was that they would not only be put in right relationship with God, but they would also be in right relationship with one another. The apostle Paul says to those that he loves, don’t wait! “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (6:2).
We have often heard this passage used as a means of sharing the gospel with those who have not yet responded to the grace of God made known in Christ. It can be used as an initial call to receive salvation, but it is also a call for those of us who have been seeking to follow Christ for days, months, years, or even most of a lifetime. We are indeed save by God when we first receive God’s gift of love and forgiveness, but God is also saving us each day that we seek to follow Christ. This word is not only for potential believers, but also for those who are currently living the life of a believer. Now is the day of our salvation! If we spend our lives waiting to understand it all or to be more certain, we will never come to embrace the good news of the gospel. If we wait until life settles down into a certain predictable pattern so that we can be more obedient or more faithful, we will be waiting for the day that might never come. The life of faith is a journey, not a destination. We have to begin here. We are offered the opportunity to embrace God’s offer of reconciliation today. We are called to embrace the good news of Jesus’ death on the cross, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21).
Are there things in our life that we need to be dealing with openly and honestly, yet we keep putting them off? Is God calling us to service, but we persist in thinking that it will wait until a later chapter in our lives? Do we think that we will repair a broken family relationship sometime in the future, rather than taking a risk and working toward forgiveness now? Are we waiting for certainty, failing to remember that “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12)?
The invitation of Ash Wednesday is simple. We are invited to contemplate what we can do today to welcome God’s reconciling power into our lives. May we know that this is the acceptable time. Amen.
*adapted from Wendy Joyner, used with permission, 2013 Abingdon Press