Thursday, February 23, 2012

Turning Over the Rocks........Ash Wednesday 2012

Turning Over the Rocks

Today is the day we begin our journey into Holy Lent.
Ash Wednesday.

There was a wonderful video posted on Facebook this week.

If we had some high tech equipment here at St. John’s,
I could show you that YouTube video
and we’d be done in--well, two minutes.
But you’re going to have to endure the low tech version--
which is my sermon
and we won’t be done in two minutes.

First the basic facts.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.
It begins about 40 days before Easter.
I say ABOUT 40 days because we don’t count Sundays.
Sundays are always feast days.
Days of celebration.
Every Sunday is a day when we celebrate the resurrection.
That’s right.
We don’t just do that on Easter--
we are celebrating resurrection every single Sunday of the year.
So get your joy on for Sundays--even during Lent!

And yes,
that does mean that if you give up something for Lent
or take on something for Lent
you can have a break on Sunday---
but then back at it on Monday!

So Lent has 6 full weeks.
6 weeks x 7 days is 42 days.
Minus 6 (those 6 Sundays, remember)
and that means 36 days.

But we need 40 days.

Because it mimics Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness.
And also the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert
after their exodus from Egypt.

So the way we go from 36 days to 40 days
is by starting on the Wednesday before the first full week of Lent.
That would be Ash Wednesday.
We then add Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week.
So 36 days plus 4 days is 40 days.

That’s why we begin Lent on a Wednesday--
so we can legitimately come up with the 40 days.

Those are the numbers.
Those are the facts.

But facts keep us in our heads
and this day, Ash Wednesday,
the portal into Lent,
calls us to engage with our heart and our spirit.
With apologies to Dragnet and Sergeant Joe Friday,
“just the facts, m’am” is not going to cut it on this Lenten journey.

We live in a world where too often “it is all about me.”
We are obsessed with ourselves.
Our desires, our achievements, our physical appearance, our opinions.
Spiritually, this is a dangerous and destructive way to live.
But it’s hard to remember that
because “all about me” is the norm.

Ash Wednesday is a day when we shine a spotlight
on our “all about me” thinking
so we might notice the cracks,
if not the total fracture of our egocentric thinking and living.
Ash Wednesday is an uncomfortable day.

It is hard to think we have everything under our control,
when we hear the words,
Remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Remember that you will die.
Remember that life is short and we do not have much time.
Remember that we waste so much time and energy
seeking to be right, to be first, to be better than others.
to get our own way.

We don’t wear ashes on our foreheads to show others how holy we are.
We wear ashes as a symbol of our deep, deep desire for repentance--
our painful awareness
that we need to make some changes in our lives.

Lent is not a season for glorified New Year’s resolutions.

I once heard Lent described as the season of the year
when we turn over the rocks in our lives
and see what crawls out from underneath, from the darkness.
We turn over those rocks and face up
to what has been hiding underneath.

That’s a pretty frightening image.
But Lent is a time for serious self examination.

We can often fool ourselves.
We can sometimes fool others (thought probably not as much as we think).
But we cannot fool God.
Lent is the season to own up to that.

In our scripture readings today we hear the prophet Joel’s trumpet sound--
and it is sounding for us--
calling us to repent, to change.

We hear Paul’s anguish
as he pleads with us to reconcile our lives with God.

We hear Jesus warn us
of how even our fasting
can slip into the “it’s all about me” mode.
Look at me! I’m fasting! Don’t I do it so very very well.
Jesus says please...please don’t embark on this holy journey
to try to win a blue ribbon for keeping the most holy Lent.
Pay attention to where your heart is.

This season of Lent is really not a punitive season.
Is it serious, somewhat somber?
We don’t even put flowers in the church
during Lent.

Is Lent about looking under those rocks in our lives?
Because as long as we try to keep secrets
and hide a part of ourselves,
we are trapped.
There is not any part of our lives--of us--that God does not already know.
No secrets are hid, no desires unknown.

Lent is about letting go
and trusting those words we hear in today’s opening prayer:
God, you hate nothing you have made...

Take home that scripture insert
and mark those words with a neon yellow highlighter:
God, you hate nothing you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.

No matter how flawed we are,
no matter what ugly, horrible events
may be hidden under those rocks of our lives,
God loves us.
Go figure!
God created us and it is impossible for God to hate us.

But God does call us to a spiritual journey.
Our journey is to move towards repentance, change and accountability.

Not just to utter words that so glibly flow from our lips
and then are quickly forgotten--
God asks us to repent--
that’s a major action verb--
to change the things we know we need to change--
not so we can be perfect
but so we can become the person God created us to be.

So that we can be in a deep and honest relationship with God
and in a deep and honest relationship with other people.

Because it is about community.
It’s NOT all about me. It’s NOT all about you.
And it certainly is NOT about “divide and conquer.”

God tells us over and over and over again,
Old Testament, New Testament, Apocrypha, Gnostic gospels--
God tells us
the purpose of being alive is to
to be in full communion with one another and with God.
Loving God and loving one another.
This is how we are called to live as God’s people.
It’s not easy but I’m not sure God cares an iota about easy or hard.
It’s just true.

Showing up for ashes on Ash Wednesday
is how we say okay.
Okay, God, at least for today--I get it.

Today is the day
we start to move the rocks.
Today is the day
we start to face all that we have so desperately tried to hide
or ignore or deny
about ourselves.
Today is the day
we start to believe--to really believe--that God loves us,
that God forgives us, that God is merciful,
that God desires only what is wonderful for us.

The singer Keb Mo might put it this way:
Get out of the way and let your light shine.

As Episcopalians we put it this way:
Remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

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