Ash Wednesday
March 6, 2019

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

Psalm 51
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-14
I Corinthians 15:20-28, 45-49
John 5:24-29

Title:  Unpacking for the Journey

It’s a strange way to start a journey really.  Quite out of the norm.  Typically, when starting out on a journey, a trip, an excursion, there is a lot of planning involved.

There is the packing.  Making sure that you are bringing what you will need.  Stocking up from your storehouse, be it food, or clothing, equipment, or accessories.  You gather what you have, perhaps the best of what you have.  Gather it up and pack it so that you can be prepared for whatever may come your way.

When preparing for a journey, you need to make sure you enough money.  Make sure you have credit cards that will be accepted in the places you are going.

And there is the itinerary planning.  You need to know where you are going and how you will get there.  Tickets need to be purchased, vehicles need to be prepared or rented.

But today we begin a journey where all that is either unnecessary or impossible.  Today we start our Lenten journey.  And there is really no way to pack for it.  In fact, this journey will be best taken if we empty rather than pack.  We are wise to look not at our wealth, taking what we value; but rather to look at our poverty, our need, and realize that anything we have, that we possess, that we treasure, cannot and will not satisfy us on any part of this Lenten journey that we are beginning.

If fact today is all about starting from that empty place.  That place where we hear that we have nothing.  That we are dust, and that, left to our selves and all we possess, in the end it will all add up to nothing but dust.  If we do try to pack up our stuff, cling to that which comforts and that we think we need, it will only get in the way, bog us down, hinder us, and we will only miss out by being so weighed down.

The people that God is goading through the words of the prophet Isaiah in the first reading have gathered up their best religious practices, they figure their journey will be very impressive and secure by doing these rituals and practices that will certainly impress God.  And when God isn’t impressed, they start asking, “Hey, God, why don’t you notice our wonderful fasting or our sincere humility.”  You can just imagine God giving the biggest eye roll possible and laughing that pathetic laugh that is the response to all such self-promoting nonsense.  God’s response to them is “Not impressed.”  What God would rather see is that they empty themselves of the injustice that they inflict on others, that they stop with the oppression that they think they must impose in order to hold on to power, that they share their wealth with those who truly are empty due to the class-based society.  When the people empty themselves, then, God says, their light will shine.  They will move forward on their journey as God’s people.

We are made God’s people in the waters of baptism.  Raised up to journey from the font of new life.  Empowered to let our light shine through the power of the Holy Spirit.

But moving forward is not just a matter of emptying, it also requires trust.  Because, just as we can’t pack for journeying with God, neither can we plan an itinerary.  The path is God’s, the following is ours.  Left to ourselves, the destination is death.  Paul lays it out clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians.  We are human.  As humans we are born into a legacy of sin and death.  There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves.  We are dust and to dust we shall return.  But God in Jesus Christ has given us the gift of life.  New life to replace that which is dead.  New life now, for the living of our daily journey.  New life that has no end.  This journey of faith is not about getting to a destination, but about living this new life as the image of Christ in this world.  Receiving God’s mercy and grace so that we might share mercy and grace each and every step of the way.  No amount of money can buy it.  No amount of planning can bring us to it.  This new life is a gift from God.  The challenge for the planners among us is to trust and let God lead as we journey into this new life.

Hear Jesus’ invitation to the journey.  Yes, perhaps it is intensified in this Lenten season.  But it is a journey that is for every day, every season.  He is calling us out of our graves.  He is inviting us to new life.  With ashy foreheads that speak our truth, let us hear Jesus speak our new truth.  Having admitted you have nothing, come to the table where Jesus gives us everything.  Even his own self.  We are strengthened for the journey.

Our Lenten journey will culminate in the great festival of life Easter.  Our life long journey will culminate with that great feast of life eternal.  So, unpack, do no planning, and live the journey.  God is leading, Jesus is accompanying, and the Spirit is giving us the strength we need.  Let us journey on together

The Rev. Mark Erson,

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