Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Who’s to Blame?

Terence Grant writes in his book The Silence of Knowing:

“We want to hold something or somebody else
for our misery,
but unless we choose to be responsible,
we’ll never grow up.

There’s a story about a construction worker.
At lunch time one day on the job, the worker opens his lunch box and says,
“Oh, no, chicken salad again!”

The next day, he has chicken salad again
and reacts in the same way.

The same thing happens on the next day and the next and the next.

Finally a co-worker who has heard these repeated complaints
day after day after day says,
“If you can’t stand chicken salad,
why don’t you get your wife to make you something else for lunch?

The man replies, “I’m not married. I make these lunches myself.”

There’s truth in that story.
We play the victim.
We live as if we’re bruised and battered by this arbitrary world.
We look outside ourselves for the source of our unhappiness,
but we’re looking in the wrong place.

The source, at least for us as adults,
is always within us.”

Who’s to blame?
We don’t have to look far.
The closest mirror usually gives us the truth.
That is one of the great powers of Ash Wednesday.
That startled look
when we see our faces smudged with ash
in the mirror.
Oh! It’s me!
I’m the one with the dirty forehead.

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent.
This day in the church is one of hard truth.
Remember that you are dust
And to dust you shall return.

It does not matter who we are,
what we have accomplished in our life,
how much money we make or don’t make,
where we live or what we drive.
We will all one day be just dust.

What matters to God
(and we hear it over and over and over again
in the scriptures--
Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Apocrypha
and most assuredly in the Gospels)---
what matters to God
is the love we show to one another.

God truly created us for one purpose: to love one another.
One singular purpose: to love one another.
It is through our learning to love one another
that we learn to love God.
There is absolutely no way that we can love God
without learning to love each other.
Yet we spend so much of our time blaming one another,
complaining about the “chicken salad.”

What a waste!
What a waste for this short, short beautiful time we have to be here.

These ashes that will mark your forehead this Ash Wednesday
are a visible reminder
that life is short.
Remember that you are dust
and to dust you shall return.

We gather today to repent of our sins.
In simple non-religious terminology
we gather and kneel to say,
it IS my fault, God.

I have not respected the dignity of every human being.
I have not resisted evil.
I have thought terrible thoughts about others.
I have said horrid things about others.
I have sat or stood absolutely mute
when others were saying or doing things
I knew were dead wrong.
It’s me.
It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of your mercy
and your forgiveness.
It’s my own chicken salad that is making me sick.

It is easy to love those we see as our equals—
friends, family, those who love us as much as we love them.

The love for those less fortunate than us also has a certain beauty to it—
to love those who are poor or sick or unlovely.
This is the love of compassion.

To love those who are MORE fortunate than us is more of a challenge.
Some say it takes almost a saint to love in this way.

But the most difficult love of all
is to find in our hearts a way to love those who do not love us,
those who mock us, those who threaten us,
those who talk behind our backs,
even those who hurt us.
But that love is God’s love.

The love for those who love us not
is the love that will truly conquer the darkness.

We are one in the Spirit
We are one in the Lord.
You will know we are Christians
by our love,
by our love.

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This sermon was inspired by Terence Grant (thanks to the Church of the Savior and their INWARD/OUTWARD emails and also my Frederick Buechner's The Magnificent Defeat.

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