Dust and Ashes

Kenora                  Ash Wednesday

Year B

17 February 2021

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 103:8-18

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

O God, you delight not in pomp and show, but in a humble and contrite heart. Overturn our love of worldly possessions and fix our hearts more firmly on you, so that, having nothing, we may yet possess everything, a treasure stored up for us in heaven. Amen.

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There are a lot of different things we could talk about, tonight as we once again enter the season of Lent. Different ways to look at things, different approaches to the Season that lies before us.

Yet, as we do, we once more, deliberately, change gears, as we seek to acknowledge the cross upon which our Lord and Saviour died so that we might live lives that are free of the burden of sin that is able to separate us from the love of God.

During this season of the church, we are invited to take an intentional step back from the busy patterns of our lives and to re-evaluate how we’re currently living out our faith and maybe how we are able to live out our lives of faith perhaps in a different way.

Both Isaiah and Matthew’s passages, this evening, talk about this ability, this need to step back from the pressures of the world that pull us away from lives of faith, and see how and where things could be a little different.

Then there’s the emphasis of the cross and the actions that took place there. During this season we’ll remember and relive the passion that leads to the cross, Jesus’ crucifixion, and death; and on Easter morning, the joyous resurrection from the tomb.

At St. Alban’s our chancel window gives us an image of the crucifixion and if we look closely we’ll also see the coming of New Jerusalem, but one is contingent upon the other.

New Jerusalem, life lived in the presence of God isn’t possible without the crucifixion, without the journey to the cross, without the season of Lent.

And this brings us back to the readings for this evening, to the emphasis on fasting, on almsgiving (aka donations to charity), on a life of prayer, and seeking out God’s absolution to our own repentance.

Yes, humanity wanders away from love of God and following the ways God sets before us to follow the ways of the world, instead.

Yes, Jesus dies on the cross for you and for me.

Yes, God sees and knows absolutely every aspect of our lives, and this brings us to Paul’s message.

Paul tells us: “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:20b-21)

Paul assures us that God’s work is not only complete but it’s ongoing.

Because of what God has done through the cross, through the life, and the teachings of Jesus we have “become the righteousness of God.” And, as humanity, we need the season of Lent to remind each one of us that Jesus walks this path to, and through, the cross for each one of us.

God tells us, in Isaiah’s voice:

“Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.” (Isa 58:2)

In our busy lives, we need the reminders of Isaiah to bring us back to who we know in our hearts that we are – the children of God, and in the actions and deeds of our lives Isaiah reminds us of the need to set down our errors and our sins, to physically, emotionally, and spiritually return to the love of God.

And at the same time, Matthew reminds us that no part of our lives is outside of God’s sight, yet Jesus continues to encourage us to act with sincerity rather than for show.

He tells us: ““Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. … 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, … 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:5, 19-21)

And once again, this brings us back to Ash Wednesday, and to Lent.

This brings us back to the season of Lent, to the return of practices that remind us of the depth of God’s love, found in the way of the cross and in the teachings of Jesus.

This brings us back to tonight, to the Rite of Confession and Forgiveness that reminds us that we are the children of God, and that we are loved.

You may not know it but I enjoy doing yoga, and meditation, and I do it online.

One thing that the online instructors in both disciplines tells us over and over is that when one falls out of a yoga pose, or is distracted in the midst of meditating, that the work is to come back into the moment, to come back into the pose, each and every time.

That when we fall out of a yoga pose, or when our muscles quiver from the exertion of holding the pose, they’re learning to be stronger.

Although it’s difficult in such situations, with practice we learn the pose, we learn to stay in the pose, and to move into the next with greater ease and grace than we’ve experienced in the past.

In the same sense, distractions and clutter arise when we meditate, and meditation asks us to ‘be here; be here now.’

Each time you leave the moment is an opportunity to return and each time you return you get stronger and with practice we’re able to stay longer each time.

Likewise, in our lives of faith, we fall away, we fall out of practice; we sin and we create errors, yet we have the rite of confession and forgiveness that has the ability to bring us back into right relationship with God, our creator, and our Father, each and every time.

It brings us back to the imposition of ashes that we use on this night to remind us that God created each one of us, and loves us so much that Jesus dies to break the bonds of sin and death for absolutely everyone who believes.

One day the New Jerusalem will come and we will live forever in the presence of God and of the Lamb in peace and in harmony with all of creation and with each other. But until that day comes, we fall down and we get up.

Until that day, we confess and we are forgiven, we remember who we are and whose we are, and to do this we walk the path of Lent, the Via Dolorosa, the way of Jesus’ passion to the cross because Jesus walked there first.

Paul reminds us of the love God when he tells us:

“we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.””

(2 Cor 6:1b-2)

Paul knows that life isn’t easy and that there are temptations on all sides but that doesn’t stop God from loving us. Rather it makes us forget, in the busyness of life, of God’s love.

So, here we face the season of Lent, once more, here in this place, as well as in our rounds of errands in the world, and in our homes, we are once again encouraged to step back from everything that pulls us away from God’s love, from Jesus teaching.

We are encouraged to remember that God’s love surrounds us and that we are urged to repent and return to the Lord, so that each time we are able to remain in the righteousness of God a moment longer than the time before.

People seem to think that once we are Christians then we are not able to err, that we don’t fall down, fall out of practice, but this just isn’t the case.

Instead, we fall down, we fall out, we get up, we repent and ask God’s forgiveness, and we begin once more.

On this night we remember that we are created by God, that we are guided and loved by God, and that God does everything conceivable to take down the barriers in our lives and in our hearts so that one day the New Jerusalem will be a reality and we will live in the light of God, in the presence of the Lamb, forever.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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