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Homily for Ash Wednesday March 9, 2011

posted Mar 13, 2011, 10:43 AM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

Ash Wednesday

St.  Mary's, Huntingburg

March 9, 2011

 

 

            On July 8, in the year 1741, the famous Protestant preacher, Jonathan Edwards, preached one of the most famous sermons ever preached in the English language.

It was a sermon popularly called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

As its title suggests, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is one of the best examples of  "hell-fire and brimstone" preaching ever preached on these American shores.

 

            And maybe as we begin this Lenten season, we might do well to hear some selections from this famous sermon:

Early on, Edwards says that hell is like a dreadful pit,  full of God's wrath into which you and I are in danger of falling:  That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

Then, later, Edwards solemnly warns us that God's wrath is like a "dreadful storm" just waiting to break upon us. More, he says that God's anger is like rising flood waters waiting to engulf us, rising more and more, being withheld ... for now ... only by God's forbearance.

In fact, according to Edwards, our sins have made us loathsome to God: The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire;  ... you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

Finally, Edwards works himself up toward a fiery conclusion: O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder  ...

Now, that is some hell-fire and brimstone preaching ...

            Now, having heard all that, I want to say clearly that:

The Catholic Church believes in hell.

I believe in hell.

I think that you should believe in hell.

And if a sermon like "Sinners in the Hands of Angry God" moves you to look at your life, repent of your sin, set you on the course of conversion  ... then I say "go with it."

 

            But, still, at the same time, I don't think that "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is really the message of Lent.

Yes ... Lent is about repenting of our sins ... but not so much because God's terrible wrath is on the verge of engulfing us.

In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Lent is about a God who loves sinners with an immense and tender and incredible love.

Lent is about the God whom we glimpse in these 14 snapshots around us here in this church ... in these "Stations of the Cross" ...

...  there, we see the innocent Son of God condemned for our sins ...

... we see the Son of Almighty God who fell three times under the weight of our sins that he freely chose to take on himself ....

... there, in those 14 snapshots, we glimpse a God of infinite, compassionate, tender love ... for sinners ... humiliated, hanging on the Cross, laid in the tomb.

 

            This Season of Lent invites us ...

... it challenges us ...

Lent compels us to ponder the love of an All Powerful, All Knowing, All Holy God.

And if we could really see, in the smallest measure, the love of a God who would give his Only Son for people who regularly ignore him ... people who can barely find time for him  ... who are oblivious to the blessings that he has showered upon us ...

... if we could glimpse the tiniest part of his love for people who live most of their daily lives as if he doesn't even exist ...

... if we could get some small sense of the incredible, awesome, unimaginable love of God ... for sinners ...

... well, it would stop us dead in our tracks ... and our mouths would fall open with utter amazement  ... and we would filled with an incredible wonder.

 

            Compared to God's love .. manifest in Jesus ... manifest in these snapshots ... manifest on the Holy Cross of our Savior ...  our lack of love ... our lack of forgiveness ... our lack of generosity ... our lack of care and compassion and  concern for others would smack us in the face ... l

At last, not comparing ourselves to the next sinner over ... not judging ourselves by the standards of this world ... not judging ourselves to be "not so bad"  because we haven't committed any really heinous crimes ...

... but comparing ourselves instead to the love of God in the Cross of His Beloved Son, dying and dead for our sins ... in that true light, our sins should make us blush for shame ... they should make us weep for our ingratitude ... our sins would make us beg for the infinite mercy of God ...

 

            And, then, finally facing the reality of our sins ... we would wonder all the more at the love of a God who sees these very sins better than we do ourselves ... sees the depth of their roots in our hearts ... and loves us nonetheless ... and calls us to better ... calls us to be saints.

 

 

            During this Season of Lent, like never before, we must acknowledge our sins ... repent of our sins ... confess our sins ... NOT because we are "sinners in the hands of an angry God ..." but rather because we are "sinners in the arms of a God who so undeservedly loves sinners .... sinners like you and like me ... who failed to love him as we ought ...

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