Return to Me

Return to Me

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and
from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Brothers and sisters, we look at the Old Testament reading
for this evening's contemplation as we began our journey to the Cross and the
empty tomb. We find our identity is very, very tied to our family. And families
do lots of different things together that bind them as family. For example,
families play games together. They go on hikes together. They see and
experience something new together as a group.

But some of the things that bind them together the most are
when they gather together for a meal to share with one another. Hence, why we
have those family meals at Christmas, and at Easter, at Thanksgiving, and at
other great holidays, birthdays, and so on. When we gather together and we
experience something together as a group, it is far more profound than to do
something or experience something by ourselves as individuals.

That is why God gave family to begin with, with Adam and Eve
and their children. That was family. That is how it all began, and that is how
you and I find our identity.

We come to problems though when we begin to see our family
as the end, and we forget that we're really part of a bigger family. Now, in an
earthly family, meaning with husband, wife, or mother and father and with
children, there has been a lot of things that have come upon families that
cause division. Fathers aren't faithful. Mothers aren't faithful. Husbands and
wives aren't faithful. Children aren't faithful. And the family unity is
splintered, and in splintering that cohesive unit there is great pain within

It is no different than here. When you walk out of here, if
you go anywhere outside of going home, people will look at you with this canted
head as to "What is that on your forehead? You have a dirt there or
something." What happens tonight, how we set ourselves apart as family, we
went through an experience as family to mark ourselves as set apart, different,
not of the world. And we experience that as family. It is the powerful thing
known as the Church of which you and I are a part, and we are family who gather
around this central focus point where God gathers us and calls us. And it is
among this shared experience and shared journey of which you and I are a part
that defines us as family.

What is a family all about? Your family at home is about
nurture and encouragement and love and support, but it is also a place of pain
because brokenness has come into your and my family. Arguments and
disagreements and unresolved conflicts of our past between spouses and between
parents and children. How ironic that no matter how many gray hairs we have,
we're still somebody's child until that somebody goes on to glory before us,
and there is still all that history that is behind us that has shaped us for
better or for worse.

It is no different than this communion of saints of which
you and I are a part. We come here with great amount of baggage, no different
than any family. And in this family known as this communion of saints here at
St. Paul there is all kinds of baggage. What are we a part of? That is the
interesting thing about family.

Looking at your own family, there are some of your siblings
who kind of skirt along the outside of the family perimeter either because of
some past or because of some present that keeps them at arm's length, or they
don't really want to involve themselves. Or maybe it's because of the rest of the
family is highly dysfunctional! Who knows?

This is where dysfunctional people gather, isn't it? This is
where dysfunctional families gather. This is where imperfect husbands come for
repentance and forgiveness and imperfect wives come for repentance and forgiveness.
This is where children who did not fulfill their parents' expectation come for
repentance and forgiveness. And parents who laid such high and lofty goals and
expectations come for repentance and forgiveness. This is where brothers who
have not always put the best construction on things with other brothers or
sisters come for repentance and forgiveness, and sisters as well.

In the Old Testament text, Joel was exhorted by God to
consecrate the congregation to assemble the elders, those with gray hairs and
older, to gather the children, anybody less than gray hairs, and even nursing
infants. No one is to be excluded from this gathering, this family get
together, no different than it is at your home. You want everybody there from
grandpa and grandma to the newborn gathered around that table to rejoice, and
to sometimes talk and discuss, to give blessing and to receive blessing.

It is the same here. In coming here, we come here as people
set apart from the world of which we are merely pilgrims and wanderers and are
not, though the temptation is great, setting roots in this world. Our Lord
Jesus in the Gospel lesson made that very clear, "Where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also." He exhorted us to lay up treasures for
ourselves in heaven, but is that exhortation only for you and Jesus, or is that
exhortation for you as a brother to someone else to encourage, as a sister to
someone else, as a father or mother in the faith to someone else? And it is.

And we need to repent, for we haven't always put the best
construction on others within this communion of saints. We have not given grace
as much as we've expected it from others within our communion of saints here.
And we have not been willing to step back up and encourage one another as fellow
redeemed in this sacred assembly whom God has called together, whom He has
marked as dust to remind us that we are all the same and that there is only one

Dynamics of a normal household family of which we are all a
part, fascinating indeed aren't they to watch? Moms and dads get stuck in a rut
of viewing their children still as children and not as peers or as adults,
forgetting they have made great strides and accomplishments. They're still seen
as kids. Kids who forget their parents have gone through life and are very
wise, imperfect though they may be, but at least wise in experience. They're
not always easy to listen to them. Sisters and brothers who vie for that
attention and for those accolades from parents and are still seeking it though
we have our own children.

These kinds of things are still dynamics that occur within a
parish family. In any parish family, there are those who have longstanding
status in that parish family and those who are "newbies," and there
is not always a great nurturing of "newbies" by the longstanding
ones. There isn't always a hearkening ear by new individuals within the parish
family to what the longstanding ones have given, sweat, and sacrificed.

Sometimes it can be seen merely as a way station and not an
investment of our heart. No different than in a normal and healthy family, you
have to sacrifice and give of your emotion in order for it to be a healthy
family. You have to do it in a church family as well. And just like you have gotten
burned in your own family, you will get burned in a church family. But that is
the nucleus around which God has deemed us as His children to gather.

We are not…we are not to neglect the communion of saints
unto which we have been called, and yet there are those who have, and our job
is to call them back to the family. Bring them back, encourage them back. And
those who are still licking wounds of years gone by, we are to help them bind
up their wounds, receive forgiveness, and grow forward.

In the same way as a normal nuclear family has obligations, responsibility
to one another, in a much more perfect and profound way do we have such
obligations to one another. I don't pray for you as I should, and I repent of
such, and I wish and desire to pray for you more faithfully. I don't say that
without asking you the same for me, for my family, because we are all a part of
your family.

Satan's desire is to splinter God's family, not only ones in
your own home and house, but in this house. And he wishes to splinter it by
creating individuals and depressing the concept of belonging to something
bigger than individual. And he does that within us the church. Why do people
drift away from the church? Because Satan has got them to thinking that they
don't need this communion of saints, that they're not as holy as they ought to
be, or they're too sinful and hypocritical than they ought to be. Whatever it
is that Satan wishes to splinter you away from this communion of saints is of
Satan, and damnable and diabolical!

You, by virtue of your baptism, have been born into a family
that you didn't choose, but you will spend eternity with, and that is a comfort
because the people with whom we commune we are confessing that we will spend
eternity with them, and we are saying, "This is my family. Dysfunctional,
pock marked, scarred though it may be, this is my family, and I declare my
allegiance to my family, and I will be a good member of my family, faithful and
not on the fringe," of which we love to accuse members of our own
biological families of, for right or for wrong.

But this is profoundly above and beyond that analogy. That
is why Joel was encouraged by God to tell the people to gather together. That
is what we do when we gather here on Ash Wednesday to repent. That is our life,
a life of repentance. And it's not that one needs to repent more than the
other. We all need it the same. Why we all come here and kneel at the same
altar to receive this same body and blood with the bread and wine that we may
feed upon the same thing that binds us as the Body of Christ…the Body of
Christ! How profound that the very thing upon which we feed is the very thing
we are and are knit together in.

That is laying up treasures for yourself in heaven. It's
returning to the only place where you are family, and that which binds you as
family shall not be severed by death, by divorce, by abandonment, by hurt
feelings, and by pains of differences that are on an earthly level and not on a
spiritual plane. Here is where we return to be bound up and unified again in
this family. And just as it is a very big sin within your own earthly family to
miss a big family gathering and meal, and just as it is as affirming and
unifying to be at that meal, so it is here.

Obviously, not everyone is here tonight. That is why we
return to God, as we said in the absolution, to serve as Jesus served us, and
to be a good family member, loving them and encouraging them back to the family
gathering, back to Bible study and Sunday school, back to church where the
assembly is, the assembly, sacred and holy and eternal. Well, we are not apart from
the Church in heaven when we commune with them here as family.

Be reconciled to God. For our sake, He made Him who knew no
sin to be sin in all the broken relationships of family for us that He might receive
the just punishment for those brokenness for us that we might be bound up as
family and be made His children for us.

In Jesus' name, Amen.