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Ash Wednesday: A Call to Return

Joel 2.12-13
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  

Matthew 6.1-6
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  

Matthew 6.16-21
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season known throughout Christendom as Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday received its name because of the popular custom passed down throughout church history where the clergy and congregation would receive ashes on their heads. This customary day is meant to mark the beginning of mourning, fasting, and repentance for a 40-day fast. It’s meant to be a time set aside for returning to the Lord.

As Joel 2.12-13 proclaims, “’Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

As we consider our time here in 2021, we too are in need of returning and repenting of our sins. Collectively as a nation, as well as individually, we are in need of repentance. How long has it been since you repented of your sins? Have you found your life adrift from God? Like a boat that is no longer anchored to shore, have you found yourself drifting away from God? Has this COVID-19 pandemic caused apathy to set in for you? Waiting on a vaccine to arrive, have you spent the past year away from the fellowship of God and His people? Has that caused you to experience distance from God and His people? Could the timing of Lent be a natural way for you to return?

I want to encourage you today to return. Return to your first Love. Return to the One who first loved you, even before you were born. Return from the distractions and worry of 2020. For truly God waits with His arms open wide for all of us to return to Him. May this Lenten season be a marker for you to return to Him.

In Christ’s Service,
Cody Ragland
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