This is a day late and is a copy of the message from last night. So it is cheating a little bit I guess but then again we are a people of grace...
Have a great week!
Ash Wednesday is not - for anyone I know of a “favorite” worship service of the year.
Easter, Palm Sunday, Christmas, all the Advent Sundays, and even perhaps Stewardship commitment Sunday services are more popular.
It’s not one where most folks bring a friend. So if you did you are quite brave.
I mean most folks in the Presbyterian church struggle inviting folks to a normal hopefully joyful services. So, the idea of anyone Presbyterian inviting someone to an Ash Wednesday service would be almost out entirely out the question. Because the fact of the matter is the entire issue we confront on this day is depressing because Ash Wednesday makes us look at our own mortality. And the season of Lent which Ash Wednesday Lent calls us to has us recognize our shortcomings and asks us to do better.
Now we really don't like to think about our mortality. We prefer to think about lots of other things like vacations and our next ext Netflix show and where we are going out to eat but certainly not our own death.
And we sure don’t like to think of all that is wrong with us – all of our sins. We would much rather point them out in others.
Want proof about our being ok with our sins and not wanting to consider our own frailty? Well consider this, yesterday in 3 of our neighboring states it was an official state holiday.
They celebrated as Mardi Gras which is sometimes called Shrove or Fat Tuesday. It’s a day where you are encouraged to participate in the sin of excess in prep for the sacrifices of lent. In fact, New Orleans saw about 1.5 million visitors come in to celebrate the festival. Today However was no holiday... though it is I think a far “Holier” Day. And yet only a small percentage of those revelers will participate in an Ash Wednesday service.
Because this Wednesday on the liturgical calendar we are called to confront our own sin. And in so doing we recognize that sin is what led us to separation from God and to death. And we don’t like to think about either our acts of sin or our death.
Even when money is involved, we don't like to think about the fact we will all die. Did you know that 60% or more of Americans do not have a will? I guess those folks assume they will live forever. Or they think they will take it with them. But of course, we know the truth.
And that is that none of us get out of here alive.
Do you remember John D. Rockefeller? When he died, he was one of the richest men in the world.
Not long after his death, someone came up to the accountant of John D. and said, “We know Rockefeller was a very wealthy man. How much did he leave?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the accountant answered, “Everything! He left it all.”
Rockefeller, a man who seemed to have it all was forced to leave it all behind in the end. Just like we all will.
The only things that will go with us from this life to the next are the spiritual treasures that belong to us through faith in Jesus. Which according to the Gospel lesson is what Jesus encourages us to store up. Thus the only truly lasting things we really leave behind is the good or bad we have done in this world.
And to me that is what Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about. It is not so much thinking about our death but about our life.
In the Book of Common Worship, the invitation to Lent given on Ash Wednesday is to the paschal mystery or the mystery of Easter and our living in the knowledge of that joy. So what Ash Wednesday and Lent do is they allows us an opportunity for a renewal of our discipleship. We are asked to examine what a life as a follower of Christ is all about.
Rev. Jennifer Lord, a professor of homiletics and liturgical studies at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary says, “Lent can be a time of exploring the meaning of baptism. Baptism always has that sense of turning — of turning from sin, of turning to the abundant way of life given to us by God through Jesus Christ, life in the spirit.”
She continues discussing Lent by saying that Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season that follows allow us to ask the question of…
“What it mean that we have been initiated into the body of Christ, into the life of the triune God and what does it mean to grow in the likeness and image of Christ?
And the answer is that we as faithful disciples are to live as ones who know how the story ends. Lent “is not a time for us to act as though we don’t know the outcome”— that we haven’t already heard the Easter story. We know that Christ overcomes all evil and even the power of death. And because of that we are free to live a life where we can serve others. It is no longer up to us to live a life of self service but it is about living a life that leaves this world a little bit closer to the kingdom of God being a reality. It is about building a legacy. Now the word legacy when I studied it goes back to the giving of a gift or an offering to future generations and was for some considered part of ones offering of faith to God. And a sacrificial offering has always been a key part of worship. It’s the response we have to Gods love when out of thanksgiving we give something of value to God.
Of course, the greatest thing we have been given and the greatest thing we can give is our very life. But we often forget just how valuable that is until we are at the end of it. Or we witness its end. OR attend a funeral for one whose days are complete.
It was at a funeral recently that I was reminded of this through a poignant poem by Linda Ellis simply entitled The Dash. I’d like to share it with you.
I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.
To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?
Friends we only have one Dash and these ashes which we will receive shortly reminds of this reality. This Lenten season reminds us to really examine our life and calls us to renewal. But this call comes to us as not as those who live with no hope but as those who know that because of our Lord and Savior nothing in life or death will separate us from God. So why we recall that we are made from ashes and that our bodies like our earthly treasures will one day return to that condition, we know that who we are – that which is found in that little dash is destined for eternity in the arms of our loving God. So, may we live our dash in light of that hope and joy.