Evening Lesson: Genesis 3: 17-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tonight, we begin a six-part Lenten sermon series based on the teaching of Luther’s “Catechism”. Tonight, we start with the topic of “confession”.
I want to begin by asking you to picture a particular time in your life. Picture a time that you got in trouble. A time when you did something that you know you shouldn’t have done, and people weren’t going to let you hear the end of it. I want you to keep that moment in your head.
Let me tell a story from my life. When I was about four years old, my Dad bought a new VCR. VCR’s were the latest hip technology at this time. This VCR cost a few hundred bucks. Mom and Dad gave four-year-old me, very concrete instructions, not to go near the VCR. Although as everyone knows when you tell a four-year-old not to do something, this only motivates them to do the exact opposite. So one day after eating a popsicle, I needed to do a little exploring of the VCR. I decided to use the popsicle stick like a Doctor might use a scalpel. The popsicle stick falls in, and no one could fix the VCR. Now my dad was mad!!! Dad is a yeller. Out of fear of punishment, I kept saying “sorry” over and again. Now when I was four years old, I would have done anything or said anything to put an end to my punishment.
Fear of confession was a major issue during Luther’s life. People thought the way that four-year-old me thought during Luther’s day. People weren’t sure how to rightly confess their sins before God. People believed that when you confessed your sin that you needed to confess every single detail or else God couldn't forgive you. The perfect memory standard means remembering every mean and angry thought towards your neighbor; this means remembering every word that you really shouldn’t have said. The burden of confession was thought to be impossible.
For the reason the Roman church required such detail in their confession is because the way that you would make amends for your sins would be to do some type of work (such as saying Hail Marys of writing Bart Simpson like sentences on a chalkboard) as a way of avoiding punishment for your sin. For correcting this understanding of confession was the basis for Luther’s most famous work, his 95 Theses.
Luther realized that remembering every sin a person committed throughout the day or week was impossible. Especially, if you have an understanding of sin as Jesus spoke about throughout the Gospels.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire”.- Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”-Matthew 5:27-28
For Luther recognized that confessing every individual sin was impossible for any mere human being to complete. If the standard at the pearly gate was confessing every particular sin to receive God’s forgiveness then “No one could be forgiven”.
Luther’s issue was that confession had become misunderstood. People feared confession when they should have drawn comfort from it. Confession is a two part act in the Word of Law or judgment followed by the Word of Gospel or forgiveness. Luther wanted people to understand confession as a reminder that no matter how much of a jerk someone might be that no one is outside the possibility of God’s grace.
So in looking at some of Luther’s beliefs about confession we turn to Ash Wednesday tonight. Ash Wednesday is the day of confession within the church.
People often wonder “Why do we use Ashes?”
The reasons are both Biblical and Historic for our Ash Wednesday practice.
The first reference to ashes within the Bible occurs from our lesson tonight right after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis. In words that we speak at every funeral, we are reminded of the curse of death.
“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
For just as the Lord created Adam out of the ground, the Lord would see to it that Adam’s sin brought him back into the ground.
So ashes serve as a reminder that we shall all face death because of our sin.
The second significant mention of Ashes from within the scriptures come from the New Testament where Jesus encourages the city of Bethsaida to confess in sackcloth and ashes as a way of expressing sorrow for their sins.
Within Church History, the first mention of ashes being used in the history of the Church occurs in the third century. When those who were viewed as really bad sinners and had been kicked out of the Church, such as murderers and adulterers would put ashes on their forehead to state their sorrow for their sin, and hope to be let back into the Church.
But during the Middle Ages, the most common time for public sinners to try to get back into the Church was during the season of Lent.
So ashes on the forehead soon took on a different meaning.
In the 12th century, Ash Wednesday became the beginning of the Lenten season. By placing the ashes on the forehead, we give a confession of our sins, and one’s need for forgiveness by the Cross of Christ. When we place Ashes on our forehead tonight, the statement is simple “I Am A Sinner.” Nothing more, nothing less.
So we’re as we might face sorrow for our sins (I still feel bad about the VCR!). We need not leave tonight in a state of despair because a message of hope and forgiveness comes with it.
This world is not the end for us. Because it was on the Cross, Christ experienced our death, so that one day we shall be raised to life eternal. Whereas we sin, Christ endured the Cross so that we may be forgiven of all our sins. So that as we leave tonight we can look to our confession with ashes like Luther looked upon confession as a joyous event that frees us. While assuring us of the victory over sin and death won by Lord and Savior on the Cross.
To close with the words of Luther from the Catechism, “This is most certainly true”. Amen
 Genesis 3:17-20 is the evening lesson.
 A section of Genesis 3:19
 Matthew 11:20-24