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Upholding the Faith and Order of the Church
Tuesday October 17th 2017

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Make a Right Beginning of Lent

CoverAsh Wednesday is a new beginning – a new beginning in our relationship with the Living God as followers of Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday is a new beginning, as it is the first day of Lent – sometimes called the “spring-time of the soul.” It is a solemn day of fasting and penitence, when every member of the Church is called to repent of his or her sins and turn again to God. To begin afresh with God, to make a right beginning of Lent, we must first repent of our sins.

But remember that real repentance is not just feeling guilty for what we’ve done. It is not just feeling sorry for our sins – though that is certainly a good place to start. Repentance is more than feelings of regret or remorse. Repentance is a change of life, a re-orientation and a re-submission of our lives to God that is seen in our behavior. It is something we do, not something we feel.

To make a right beginning of Lent – to take advantage of this invitation to begin anew – we must repent of our sins. In classical Christian theology, there are three steps in true repentance.

First is a recognition of my sins. This requires self-examination. We cannot confess our sins until we name them, first to ourselves and then to God. What things have I done that I ought not to have done, and what things have I left undone that I ought to have done? Where have I been resentful, envious, proud, selfish, and so on? What Commandments have I broken? Have I lied, cheated or gossiped? Take time today for self-examination.

Look upon your heart – as God surely does – and recount those thoughts and actions that are contrary for His will for you. We have not loved God with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Second is contrition. Here we express sorrow for our sins and say to God that we are truly sorry for what we have done and not done. We are sorry that we have offended against His holy laws. But if we are honest about it, the truth is that we may not feel very contrite at all. We suffer from hardness of heart and do not feel genuine remorse for our sins. So for many of us we must start by may asking God to make us contrite – to create is us a sense of regret for our alienation from Him – to wound our hearts for having offended Him or others in various ways. We have turned from God’s love for us by clinging to self-indulgence, hypocrisy, and pride. But now it is time to make a new beginning – a fresh start in our walk with the Lord. We must not stop with a burden of guilt for our great sinfulness. We must confess our sins and then move on to the next step, which is to firmly resolve amendment of life – a change in behavior.

This third step in making this new beginning is to promise we will try to do better, with the help and grace that God promises to give to repentant sinners. To turn from our sins requires a change of heart and a change of direction. It means cultivating the four cardinal virtues (justice, prudence, courage, and moderation) and asking God to nurture within us the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23). It means a new commitment to Bible study and daily prayer – to faithfulness in worship every Sunday. It means a discipline of the tongue – to refrain from belittling and criticizing others – from gossiping and spreading pessimism. It means to use our lips to build up and encourage and share our faith with others – not to complain and grumble. It means to show forth God’s praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to His service, and by walking before Him in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.

Let us make a right beginning of Lent today. Let us make a new beginning in our walk with the Lord. As you are marked with ashes today on your forehead, remember that the ashes represent our mortality: “remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” Remember that it is sin that leads to death and eternal separation from God. But don’t stop there; take heart and be encouraged. For the ashes are imposed on you in the form of the cross, a sign of our redemption – our eternal salvation – and perfect gift of God’s forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. Ash Wednesday celebrates our deliverance from sin and death – it gives us a new beginning and a fresh start, in a new life – that is eternal.

“Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth

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