Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ash Wednesday

March 1, 2017

Joel  2.1-2,12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6.1-6,16-21


+ Most of us, when we think of Ash Wednesday and Lent, think of a time of…dare I say, dread. This is, for most of us, a season of lamenting.  A season of giving up something dear to us. Of being confronted with unpleasant things, like sin and our own mortality.

And that’s true.  Yup. That’s exactly what it’s all about. That is exactly what we do tonight and for these next 40 days. We will be hearing about sin. We will be hearing about repentance. We will be reminded of the fact that, yes, we have fallen short in our lives.

And tonight especially, we will be reminded that one day, each of here tonight will one day stop breathing and die.  We are reminded tonight in very harsh terms that we are, ultimately, dust. And that we will, one day, return to dust.

Yup. Unpleasant. But…

…sometimes we need to be reminded of these things. Because, let’s face it. We spend most of our lives avoiding these things. We spend a good portion of our lives avoiding hearing these things. We go about for the most part with our fingers in our ears. We go about pretending we are going to live forever.  We go about thinking we’re not really like everyone else.  We think: I’m just a little bit more special than everyone else. Maybe…maybe…I’m the exception.

Of course we do that. Because, for each of us, the mighty ME is the center of our universe.  We as individuals are the center of our own personal universe.

So, when we are confronted during Lent with the fact that, ultimately, the mighty ME is not the center of the universe, is not even the center of the universe of maybe the person who is closest to me, it can be sobering.

And there we go. Lent is about sobering up. It is about being sober. About looking long and hard at the might ME and being realistic about ME. And my relationship with the God who is, actually, the center of the universe and creation and everything that is.  It’s hard, I know, to come to that realization.

It’s hard to hear these things. It’s hard to have hear the words we hear tonight as those ashes are placed on our foreheads, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

You are dust. We are dust. We are ashes. And we are going to return to dust. Yes. It’s hard. But…

Lent is also about moving forward. It is about living our lives fully and completely within the limitations of the fact that are dust.

Our lives are like jazz to some extent. For people who do not know jazz, they think it is just free-form music. There are no limits to it. But that’s not true. There is a framework for jazz. Very clearly defined boundaries. But, within that framework there is freedom.

Our lives are like that as well.  Our mortality is the framework of our lives. We have boundaries. We have limits.   But within those limits, we have lots of freedom. And we have the potential to do a lot of good and a lot of bad.

Lent is the time for us to stop doing the bad and start doing the good.  It is time for us to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven, as we hear Jesus tell us tonight in our Gospel reading.  It is time for work on improving ourselves. And sometimes, to do that, we need to shed some things.

It is good to give up things for Lent. Look at me. I gave up something even before Lent started: The brown pigments in my hair.

No, it is good to give up things for Lent. But let me just say this about that. If we give up something for Lent, let it be something that changes us for the better. Let it be things that improve us. Let us not only give up things in ourselves, but also things around us.

Yes, we can give up nagging, but maybe we should also give up those voices around us that nag. Or maybe confront those voices that nag too much at us. Maybe Lent should be a time to give up not only anger in ourselves, but those angry voices around us.

Lent is a time to look at the big picture of our lives and ask: what is my legacy? How am I going to be remembered? Are people going to say of our legacies what we heard this evening from the prophet Joel?

“Do not make your heritage a mockery…”

Am I going to be known as the nag? As that angry, bitter person? Am I going to be known as a controlling, manipulative person who always had to get my way? Am I going to be known as a gossip, as a backbiter, as a person who professed my faith in Christ on my lips, but certainly did not live it out in my life? If so, then there is no better time than Lent to change our legacy.

In these last few months, one of the best rallying cries I have heard is this:

choose to be on the right side of history.

That is our rallying cry during Lent as well. Choose to be on the right side of history. Choose to be a good, compassionate, humble, love-filled follower of Christ. That is the legacy we should choose during this season, and from now on.

After all, we ARE ashes. We are dust. We are temporary. We are not immortal. But our legacies will outlive us. In fact, in many ways, they are, outside of our salvation, ultimately, the most important thing about our future.

Live in to the legacy that will outlive us. This is probably the best Lenten discipline we can do. Most importantly, let this holy season Lent be a time of reflection and self-assessment.  Let it be a time of growth—both in our self-awareness and in our awareness of God’s presence in the goodness in our life.
As St. Paul says in our reading from this evening: “Now is the acceptable time.”
“Now is the day of salvation.”

It is the acceptable time. It is the day of salvation. 

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