Now is the moment to act. A sermon for ash Wednesday with a call to repent and treat the world differently.

Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

There is nothing like the words of a prophet to remind us of our own sinful nature. To remind us of our sinful mortality and to demand us to change. To shake us to the very core and make us look up and see what is going on around us. 

16 year old Greta Thunberg is one such voice. A voice calling us to repent and change. In one of her speeches she says:

‘I want you to panic. I want you to act as if your house was on fire. I have said those words before… I agree. To panic unless you have to is a terrible idea. But when your house is on fire and you want to keep your house from burning to the ground then that does require some level of panic.’ 

I think one of the hardest voices to hear is the voice of the prophet. The voice of the person who reminds us of our mistake and calls us to repent and turn from our evil ways. 

Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. 

Greta Thunberg finishes her speech with this:

‘Our house is falling apart. The future as well as what we have achieved in the past is literally in your hands now. But it is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision. It will take courage. It will take fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations when we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. … To do your best is no longer good enough. We must all do the seemingly impossible.’ 

Joel had a similar message for the people of Israel, their best was no longer good enough, they needed to do the seemingly impossible, turn to God and repent. Otherwise they were likely to face death and destruction. 

Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Theologically, one of the most prominent messages that our passage from Joel places in front of any reader is a need to lament and turn back to God. But in the midst of their lament Joel promises them hope. Joel is not simply calling Israel back to God because it is the right thing to do but because God is where their hope is found. Joel is calling the people back to God so that their shame can be removed and their honour restored.

Joel does not just offer hope for the restoration of a sinful humanity but also offers hope for the restoration of creation as well . In verse 14, Joel makes reference to God’s blessing not just being upon the people but also upon the land. Here, Joel insinuates that God will leave a blessing behind him and that this blessing will restore the land as well as the people. This would have been important for the people of Israel who, at this time, would have been living in a land of desolation, and it is an important message for us to hear as well. 

In light of flash flooding and forest fires. In the words of Greta Thunberg and extinction rebellion we are being challenged to repent of our sinful treatment of the planet and amend our ways. We can see before our very eyes places of desolation and we must lament and, like the people of Israel, return to our God of hope.

Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Our current situation calls for us to repent. To turn back to God and put our trust in Him. For Israel this call to repentance was through acts of “fasting,” “weeping,” and “mourning” (2:12), which were linked to lament. Lent could be such a moment for us. Lent could be a time where we assess our sinful ways and mourn. It could be a moment, in the words of Pope Francis in On Care for our Common Home, that we weep and mourn for the state of “creation.” It could be the moment that we return to the Lord through worshi. There has been a moment like this. A moment which demands us to mourn, repent and turn to Christ.

Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

It is important to respond to the needs of “creation” in our worship; both liturgically and missionally. This, on the one hand, involves lament and repentance, it can involve mourning, but, above all, it must involve action. General synod made the bold promise of making the Church of England carbon neutral by 2030. This is impossible if we do not act. If we do not repent, turn from our previous ways, and act. 

We, the congregation of the parish of Norbury, need to be bold in our actions. We need to think about things differently. We need to be willing to change our ways and rethink how we care for creation. We need to move away from a model of apathy to a care which is deep and compassionate. We need to think bigger than recycling, bolder than turning of a light. We need to start rebuilding the foundations, even if we have no idea what the ceiling will look like. We need to reimagine what it means to live in a way which cares for one another, our homes, and the planet. This may take time, and it won’t be easy, but it is what we must do. For our house in on fire but it is still not too late to act.

Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Our passage from Joel reminds us that our salvation does not simply come from our repentance, but from God’s compassion. Therefore, in all our lament and repentance it is important to remember that it is not our action that redeems us but God’s grace. So, although we are called to care for creation and to repent communally, we are also reminded that it is God who saves us and it is God who redeems us. In the end our salvation does not come from our actions but from God’s love. 

When we come to the altar and receive ashes we are reminded not of our failed humanity, but of God’s redeeming love. We are reminded that there is a better path. There is a more worthy path. One which offers redemption for both us and the planet. We just need to be prepared to hear that call. What Joel reminds us is that our actions alone can never save us. It is only God’s grace that can do that.

Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. 

Greta Thunberg. 2019. No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.

Pope Francis. 2015. Laurdato si’ – On Care for our Common Home.

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