"There's nothing wrong with me," the man told the paramedic.
"But sir, you've just been in a pretty bad crash. Why don't you let us take you in to the hospital and check you out?"
"There's nothing wrong with me," he said again.
"But sir, you've got some cuts and some pretty deep bruises. There may be some internal damage. Please let us check you out," the EMT pleaded.
"That's enough," the man said. "I told you there's nothing wrong with me."
So he had his wife drive him home, where later that night, he died of internal bleeding.
"There's nothing wrong with me" can be one of the most dangerous phrases in the world, because it just ain't so. And it's even more dangerous when applied spiritually. That is why we in the church observe the season of Lent.
Some people give something up for Lent; others put ashes on the forehead on the day it starts (Ash Wednesday), but the point of the whole season is to fight against that natural urge to say, "There's nothing wrong with me."
Our reading for today, 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2, drives that home. In it, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to beg us to see that. In the verse just before our text, Paul had written that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, but now he opens our text with that plea - "We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God."
Be reconciled to God. Are you familiar with that term "reconcile"? It's where you try to take two things that are different and bring them together. When your checkbook says you've got $1,500 in your account, but the bank says there's only $3, some reconciling is in order.
When mom wants a new van and dad wants a boat and there's only enough money for one, some reconciling needs to take place.
And when two sisters haven't spoken in 10 years, reconciling needs to happen.
So when we are told to be reconciled with God - that means there's a separation there. That means there's hostility there. That means there's something wrong.
And trying to convince ourselves that in that equation: "There's nothing wrong with me" is not the answer.
All the wrong rests on me. It's important to see that, to see the stain of our sins. Think of the ways the stain of sin (any imperfection) is described in Scripture: as crimson on a white cloth, or as dung, fecal matter, or old used menstrual rags, or death, decay...think of the long-dead hunk of meat by the side of the road covered with flies and torn apart by the birds, the thing that makes you gag a little when you breathe in the air affected by it.
That is not something you or I want to hang out with - much less does a holy God. In fact, the gulf between us and God was so vast that it is physically and spiritually impossible for the Holy God to have such stench as us in his presence.
I know that's harsh, but when you come to grips with that you won't be able to say, "There is nothing wrong with me." When you come to grips with the stain, the death, the revulsion of sin that you and I carry around, you'll get why Paul begs us to be reconciled. We need it.
And the thing is - the work of that reconciliation has already happened. Look at our text: "God made him who had no sin..."
Literally, it says that he made him who did not know sin, who did not have any experience with sin, he made him sin for us.
He didn't make him a sinner that did some good things and some bad. He made him sin. Righteous God looked at his holy Son and instead saw the vile, nauseating, disgusting totality of sin, that sin that is such an offence to God's holiness that it triggers God's infinite holy wrath that must destroy it. And he did. Jesus was crucified in our place.
The verse continues: "So that in him, we might become the righteousness of God."
That is what we view in Lent, the wrath of God poured out on his Son, the full punishment and vindication, every natural urge you've had to get back at someone who's wronged you, to punish the murderers and rapists and scum, every urge of justice in you combined and magnified to a divine level, all of that was focused in like a laser and isolated on Christ, to get rid of everything that separates us from God.
So let's never forget how much we need God's forgiveness, so that we can truly appreciate how high and deep and long and wide is the love of God for us.
In Christ, Amen.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.