ASH WEDNESDAY 2013

Susanna Petroysan heard her daughter cry out, “Mommy, I’m thirsty. I want a drink.” She and four-year-old Gayaney were stuck in a basement beneath tons of collapsed concrete and steel. It was December 7, 1988, and an earthquake in Armenia had just killed 55,000 people.

“Mommy, I’m so thirsty. I want a drink.” After feeling around in the darkness of their basement, Susanna found some shattered glass. She used it to cut her finger and then gave the finger to Gayaney to suck her blood. Days passed. Susanna had no idea how many times she cut herself. She only knew that if she stopped, her daughter would die. Her flesh was cut, her blood was shed, and her child was saved.

The book of Amos is our focus during Lent this year. I encourage you to read through it. His prophecy begins and ends with earthquakes. In Amos 1:1 he dates his ministry to “two years before the earthquake.” This particular earthquake must have been a terrible one, for he calls it the earthquake. Everyone knew which one it was. Most scholars date it to an earthquake that struck the area around 760 BC.

Amos says God is a mighty lion whose roar will shake the earth like an earthquake. “The Lord roars from Zion and from Jerusalem He utters His voice. The shepherds’ pastures mourn, and the peak of Carmel withers.” The entire Promised Land wilts and withers when the Lord roars and unleashes His shaking judgment against His people.

Why did He roar against His people and shake their lives? Because they had turned His wonderful promises into empty slogans that no longer had any impact upon them. Oh, they worshiped God regularly; but their worship didn’t change them. Self-rule and selfishness marked their lives, and the nation began to fall apart. Oblivious to this and callous to God’s Word, Israel’s leaders became intoxicated with violence, bloodshed, and economic exploitation. But, the nation was prosperous, so the people ignored their sickness and continued to turn a deaf ear to God’s Word.

The Lord used the Assyrian Empire to carry out his earthshaking judgment upon them. Just a few decades after Amos’ prophecy, the Assyrians destroyed Israel’s capital city of Samaria, and thousands of people were exiled (2 Kings 17:1–6). God’s earthquake of divine judgment changed everything.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced an earthquake. I haven’t. But, we all face God’s earthquakes every day. Tremors rumble when we say, “Just one more drink. Just one more lie. Just one more bet. Just one more glance. I know I sin, but I’ll change tomorrow.” But one more leads to one more, and then just one more. And then a massive earthquake hits. We’re caught in our sin, and in its aftershocks we find ourselves trapped in a basement and surrounded by brokenness. Sure, being obsessed with gambling, or pornography, or money, or gossip, or people’s approval, or work is not what we intend. It’s crushing when this happens, and hopes collapse and dreams are shattered. But in time we can become accustomed to living in destruction and death.

God wants to change this. On Ash Wednesday He invites us to confess the sins that keep us stuck on things that kill and steal and destroy. He invites us to admit that all too often we are living in a mess largely of our own making. Our God wants us to confess our willful disobedience, that we might not remain trapped and tormented with guilt and shame. We confess that we are dust, sinful and broken and living in the shadow of death. But, we confess to a God who receives and forgives the sinful. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps. 51) He will bring life out of death.

On May 12, 2008, in mid-afternoon in central China, all hell suddenly broke loose. An 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit. Concrete panels, crumpled steel, and crushed tile buried tens of thousands of people. They groped in the darkness, gasping for air, wondering how long they would live.

Five days after the earthquake, a group of rescue workers found the body of a young woman. She was kneeling, her back arched, supporting a crumbled ceiling; her arms were stretched forward, hands thrust firmly into the muddy earth. The team leader reached underneath her body, and there, in the tiny shelter that the woman created by using her body as a protective shield, was a baby. He was about three months old, alive, unhurt, and sleeping soundly. Inside the baby’s clothing was a cell phone. On it was this message. “My dear child, remember I love you.”

When our world crumbles all around us, when the sins we continually struggle with shatter our confidence, when all our dreams become our worst nightmares, Amos promises that we have a God who will come into the rubble to rescue us. The Lord still says, “My dear child, remember I love you!” His love will rebuild what the earthquake has destroyed. God promises in Amos 9:11 to repair and rebuild our lives: “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old.”

These sure and certain promises to the house of David are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is a Savior who reaches into our wreckage to pull us free; and He does it with hands pierced and pouring forth His life-giving blood. He gave His hands to be cut for us and His blood to be shed for us, and we are saved. For, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin,” Holy Scripture promises (1 John 1:7).

The blood of Jesus is what you need. It is God’s gift of rescue and life. In the Holy Supper given you this day Jesus reaches into your rubble here and now. His body and blood rescues, redeems, restores, and repairs everything that has been so broken. Receiving it, we are forgiven and raised up as children of God.

And how should we respond? David, in Ps. 51:14-15, tells us: “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”