Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ash Wednesday 2016

This day beings a journey, the long march towards Easter, the long and hard road of discipline, self-reflection, and hopefully, personal transformation.  But this journey serves another purpose.  You, dear brothers and sisters, can become the most powerful witness to the reality of a loving and forgiving God, but only if you truly give yourselves over to this day, this season of confession, repentance, and discipline.  Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, `Where is their God?' By our willingness to mark our foreheads with ash, and receive the words ‘Remember that you are dust’, we say to the world that there is something beyond ourselves, and by embracing our human finitude we encounter this mystery anew.  By our willingness to engage in disciplines that may challenge the very fabric of our everyday lives, we witness to the world that what results from confession and repentance is worth far more than what we have left behind.  By our willingness to sit with our own sinfulness, admitting our faults, embracing our brokenness, we witness to the hope that God can use such broken vessels as our lives for something good and beautiful.  By keeping a holy Lent, and being raised with Christ come Easter Day, we become an answer to the prophet Joel’s question, “Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’

Our God is found in the midst of our sinfulness and brokenness.  Our God is found in the barely whispered confessions, and the failed attempts to kick start a life of prayer. Our God is found in our struggles against addiction, and in our moments of doubt and uncertainty.  Our God is the God who will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God, to quote the prophet once again. Our God is the one who meets us in our brokenness and contrition, and shows us a path to wholeness.

But it is not an easy path.  It is not necessarily a joyful path.  But it is the path set before us, whether we like it or not. Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. This journey of repentance, of discipleship, the journey towards Easter Day’s victory begins with an admission of our own defeat.  A prayer which says, “Lord Jesus Christ, I am powerless to save myself.  I need you.”  I need you.  I need your healing touch to restore the brokenness I engage in, and the brokenness I inflict upon others.  I need you.  And, by grace, our prayers are heard by the God of ultimate love, compassion, and forgiveness. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

To close, I offer you this poem, as a way of entering into this holy season of Lent.  May its images remain with you, even as the words themselves fall away:

A soft voice
Carried by the North wind…
He beckoned me unto Him.

"Sweetheart," He called me.
"Where have you wandered?"
"Far away, I guess."
"Well," He said, "I want you back."

His hand rested on my head,
Gently lifting it
'Till my eyes met His.

"Be clean again."

Tonight, I'm done crying wolf.
Peel back this skin
To find the heart of a child
Who aches to love You.

*A sermon preached at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM on February 10, 2016.  The texts were Joel 2:1-2,12-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, and Matthew 6:1-6,16-21.

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