Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Rattle the door latch of my slumbering heart

Come, O Life-giving Creator,
and rattle the door latch
of my slumbering heart.

So begins a prayer—Lenten Psalm of Awakening—
written by Catholic priest and writer Edward Hays.

Today is Ash Wednesday.
This day marks our gateway into Lent.
Lent is the season in our church year
when we are called to take back our time.
We are called to take back the time we so generously give away
to things that matter so little,
to activities and habits that are destructive or empty.
Lent calls us to return that time to God.

Awaken me as you breathe upon
a winter-wrapped earth,
gently calling to life virgin Spring.

Even though our winter weather offers us warm days on occasion,
there is no forgetting this cold season that wraps the earth--
the dry rustling leaves on the ground,
the grass which is more brown than green,
coats and hats and gloves that dress our daily errands.

Yet spring is just over the horizon.
The word lent
comes from the Middle English word lente
which means springtime.
We have this season to give us hope that spring will come.

We have this season in our church year to remind us
that we must pass through this season of self-examination--
self-examination that can chill us to the bone if we are honest--
We must go through the desert wilderness of Lent
before we arrive at Easter resurrection.

Awaken in these fortified days
of Lenten prayer and discipline
my youthful dream of holiness

Lent calls us to take back our time
so that we have time to offer to God,
so that we have time to remember not only who we are
but whose we are.

Call me forth from the prison camp
of my numerous past defeats
and my narrow patterns of being
to make my ordinary life extra-ordinarily alive,
through the passion of my love.

We all live in some type of prison
God longs for us to be free.
Yet repeatedly we too often choose death over life.
God calls us to step beyond our past defeats,
our past failures,
and turn our faces not just towards Jerusalem,
but far beyond.

Denial and fear
do not kindle love or life.
Lent calls us to stare down our defeats, our failures, our weaknesses,
to let go of the past
and to act in ways that shout out:
Yes, love IS stronger than death!

Show me during these Lenten days
how to take the daily things of life
and by submerging them in the sacred,
to infuse them with a great love
for you, O God, and for others.

Lent is a time of prayer and self-discipline for a reason.
We will not get from here to where we long to be,
to whom we long to become
if we just wander aimlessly in the desert
or kneel on our pew cushion and wait for God to make it happen.
God gives us free will.
God gives us choices.
WE make the choices.

Change, especially changing ourselves--
which is indeed the only hope of change we can make--
change is hard work.
There is nothing magical or instant about it.

Self-examination and repentance.
Prayer, fasting, self-denial.
Reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

Hard work. There are always obstacles.
Yet if the mountain was smooth, we couldn’t climb it at all.
But climb we can—if we choose.

Guide me to perform simple acts of love and prayer,
the real works of reform and renewal
of this overture to the spring of the Spirit.

Lenten self-examination and self-discipline
leads us to see the great and gaping whole in our lives, in our world.
Those God-shaped holes that can only be filled with love.

Ash Wednesday says to us: What are you waiting for?
Ash Wednesday reminds us: You don’t have all the time in the world.
Ash Wednesday urges us: Now. Right now. Now is the time
To change, to repent,
to turn our life around.

O Father of Jesus, Mother of Christ,
help me not to waste these precious Lenten days
of my soul’s spiritual springtime.

Lent is about not wasting our precious time.

The ashes placed on our forehead today are an ancient symbol
reminding us of the frailty and uncertainty of human life.

Remember that you are dust
and to dust you shall return.

We pray for forgiveness.
We pray for the strength to change, to turn our lives around.
We pray for the courage to face our personal demons.
We pray for guidance to lead us out of the wilderness.
We pray for love to overwhelm our hearts, our souls, our minds.

Today we pray
that God will rattle the door latches
of our slumbering hearts.

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(This sermon uses verses--in italics in my sermon--from Edward Hays' beautiful LENTEN PSALM OF AWAKENING. I owe Edward Hays many debts for the inspiration of his wisdom words.)

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