Ash Wednesday
February 26, 2020

The Prayer of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent.  Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen           

 Readings
Isaiah 58: 1-12
Psalm 103
I Corinthians 15:20-28, 45-49
John 5:24-29

Sermon
Title:  Start Journey with a Death

Ten days ago, I was in a church in Ft. Lauderdale.  I had arrived early, so I was sitting, thinking, praying, reading the bulletin.  As I sat, a man and woman came and set in the same row as me.  As they looked through the bulletin, a flyer caught the man’s eye that offered a serious of announcements regarding how this parish would be observing Lent.  He said out loud, somewhat surprised.  “Lent is starting soon.”  The woman, whose first language was not English, looked at him confused by the word Lent.  He tried to explain.  “It’s going to be Lent in the church.”  He said.  This did not help her.  “Lent.  He said again, as if repeating it would finally explain it.  “The beginning of Easter.”  He added.  Well, I was about to jump in, not to explain it to her.  But to disagree with him.  I disagreed with both his statements, at first.  But then I realized in one he was correct.

The first one – It’s going to be Lent in the church.  While it is certainly true, but it is much too limiting.  Limiting in a most concerning way.  Yes, there will be 5 Sundays in Lent coming up and then there will be Holy Week.  But Lent is not and cannot be just a liturgical season in the church.  It can’t just be something we do inside these four walls and at worship.  Hear God commanding Isaiah (in that first reading) to Shout out.  To lift up his voice.  God is calling Isaiah to speak truth to the people about their wrongdoing.  And it is not just personal matters or spiritual matters that has God upset.  The community itself has great faults.  There is need for civic confession.  God wants them to examine themselves.  To look at justice issues, economic justice, oppression and character assassination.  Only when the do this can there be restoration and hope for renewal.

The voice of Isaiah is shouting out loud enough to echo down to our time, to our nation.  Just as the people of Judah were, we are being called to a national Lenten observance.  To take a good look at ourselves, to examine, to speak the truth about ourselves and to seek God’s forgiveness, mercy, and guidance.  We would do well to do some soul-searching and confessing in the spirit of Lent.  Look around and see how injustice, racism, sexism, classism, and ageism continue to plague us and to oppress and divide, demean and limit.  In a world of alternative facts and accusations of fake news, we certainly need to do some serious truth telling about our life together as a society and as a nation.  A Lenten type journey is needed way beyond the church.  Way beyond issues of spiritual examination on an individual basis.

At first, hearing that man say Lent is the beginning of Easter, got me going and wanting to respond with a corrective – No, Lent is a season of preparation for Easter.  It is its own liturgical season.  Has its own color.  We will have Lent.  It ends on Wednesday of Holy Week.  Then will come the three great days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  And then will come Easter and it will go on for 50 days. I wanted to say that, but thankfully I didn’t.  Because as I sat there and thought about it more.  I realized he was right in a big way.  In a way, this is the beginning of Easter because in order to have a resurrection, you have to have a death.  And while we remember Jesus’ death on Good Friday, we are called to focus on our own death today.  We will hear the words – Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Words that echo our funeral liturgy – Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Today we are reminded that think about that thing that no one wants to think about.  How much we do in attempts to deny, delay, ignore, and escape death.  But only by facing the truth about ourselves are mortality, by admitting our sins that seek to separate us from God, only by dying can we be resurrected to new life in Christ.

St. Paul reminds us that our sinfulness, our death sentence, is part of our human legacy.  But God in Christ gives us a new legacy, a new identity, a new hope, a new life.  We can speak the truth, we can face our mortality, we can admit that we are dead because of sin, we can hear it all – because we know that this is not the end of the story.  God is writing a new story for us, and only by dying to self, can we rise up to live that new life.

In fact, we are called to die daily, so that we might live this new life.  We must be emptied in order to be filled with all that God wants to give us.

In baptism, we die, we are drowned in those life-giving waters, and we can do it joyfully, because our hope is in the one who conquered death – Jesus, our resurrected Savior.

So, journey forward from this day of death, knowing that it is our God of life that walks with us.  Journey into the truth about yourself and our community, knowing that it is our God of mercy and grace, who is forgiving us and washing us clean through Jesus Christ.  Journey into hope, knowing that we are being made new in the resurrection of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Even on this day of ashes and confession, the Easter promise is there bringing us joy and peace, light and love, liberation and life.

Do not hold back.  Let your Lenten journey take you wherever you need to go for reflection and examination.  Walk your Lenten journey knowing who waits for you at the shining Easter end.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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