Ash Wednesday+B 2015 The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
There is no day like Ash Wednesday. Here we are all for the moment on the same level, acknowledging things we had rather not think about much less speak of, and yet here we are! ARemember you are dust, and to dust you shall return?@ I don=t know about you, but that=s not very uplifting or complimentary and yet...it is true. Today, the powerful and the weak, the meek, the arrogant and the humbleBthe rich and the poor, all must ultimately acknowledge the pretense that many spend their whole lives protecting: we A..are dust and to dust we will return.@
This liturgy is very moving even under the best of circumstances, but for some of us who have experienced a life-threatening illness or a near death experience, it can be abruptly disturbing. Ash Wednesday is not about comfort. It is about startling reality. Today we acknowledge that life is both the good and happy times as well as the not so good and difficult times. We liturgically observe what psychiatrist Scott Peck wrote: Alife is difficult@. A corollary to that statement made a wonderful bumper stickerBAlife is difficult, handle with prayer.@
That is what we are here today to doBto prayBfor ourselves, our families, our nation and our world. It is all too evident in those arenas that we are dust. But in the acknowledgment of today=s pain and difficulty, there is a word of hope...especially on Ash Wednesday. It comes from the apostle Paul who wrote, speaking from the Lord=s Divine inspiration: Abehold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.@ABehold,.. now is the day of salvation. Notice that this day is not about the sweet bye and bye, but about the here and now of our lives. Ash Wednesday and indeed Lent itself is a voyage into self-discovery. It's existence is first recorded in a seventh century document. In the last several decades the concept of Adiscovering who I am@ has been very popular in the secular culture. Fo r the Christian, the season of Lent is just such an offering of opportunity. We offer a structureBan opportunity to covenant with God on the journey to Awho we are@ and "who we are becoming.".
I don=t know how some of you regard your spiritual histories, but when I begin to reflect on the present, it sometimes draws me to the pastBto what made me come to love Jesus Christ, to what forged the relationship that I have enjoyed, sometimes taken for granted and have grown to depend upon since Jesus Christ first entered my life.
This opportunity afforded us each Lent may be easily brushed off. Somehow, we may think that development of the interior lifeBwhich by the way is the basis for the whole issue of self-esteemBcan wait until later. Right now, our jobs demand attention. Our spouses and children demand our attention. Our bills, our maintenance of our own private worlds demand our immediate attention, but have we been in error in our priorities? God=s call to us is very specific in Lent. We veil our beautiful things to remind us that God=s glory is veiled from our eyes. We fast from enjoyingBtaking for grantedBGod=s self-giving. Out of time we enter timelessness in the eternal cycle of God=s redemption.
We may actually allow ourselves to be redeemed this Lent. Lent may be about self-help with God=s help. Who could ask for more? One writer noted that Lent, penitence and abstinence are not for God's sake but for our own! It reminds us of who we are. The same writer called repentance the foundation of our joy. Lent is an invitation to return to our first love for God. It is an invitation to discover the living God perhaps for the first time. Lent recalls us to our roots as Christians.
We place a mark on our foreheads. Let us look at this as a reiteration of the cross of oil placed on our foreheads at baptism, a cross of ashes that is a visible "birth mark". I have been born into Jesus Christ. But it is our own sign of mortality, we know that life is limited, our time is short, our actions are limited. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Lent is modeled after Jesus= forty days in the wilderness. That means it is an exercise in endurance and spiritual growth. You mean Jesus had to grow spiritually? Yes, according to the Bible and according to His full humanity, he did develop spiritually. (Luke 2:52) Lent is an invitation to a way of living and being. Christianity was first called Athe Way@. Sometimes we replace Athe Way@ with a religion that does not give a way but a religious observance that is a substitute for Jesus= Away@. This has never been the intent of the Church, but sometimes it happens.
We are challenged to Atake on@ in Lent. ATake on!@ you may say, I=ve got so much going now, I can=t get it all done! Then Lent may be calling you to Alet go@. Take on what matters. Let go of what on your death bed, will not matter at all.
Today we make real the baptismal covenant promise that we have made over and over again in public services: Awill you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?A If you are like most of us, you have somewhat mindlessly read the words, AI will with God=s help.@ Today is the opportunity to make a choice. The choice is to choose or not to choose. Either we will take God and his Word seriously or not. The prophet Joel exhorts the people of his time to urgency. The time is short. Do we indeed know how much time we have? Have not the last two years taught us that there are no guarantees. If we would enter more deeply into that which will endure, we are urged to do it now! If you will, we are urged to take advantage of the salvation living that Jesus Christ offers. How sad that so many Christians live outside the life of God until their own self-sufficiency proves inadequate. Lent saysBAsh Wednesday says, choose sufficiency in God. God is not dust. God will not return to dust. God makes our dust Divine through Jesus Christ our Lord. May God make for you a deeper, fuller experience of living His live in you this Lent and may you come forth strengthened and renewed for Divine purpose.