Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Bearing in mind that a sermon is an oral event (not what is written on the preacher's paper), and that we preachers trust Holy Spirit to act as a divine filter between our mouths and the congregation's ears, here is the manuscript for the sermon I preached this evening.

grace, mercy, and peace to you from God
who is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Amen.

we begin this season of Lent marked with the sign of the cross
ash smudging our forehead, falling sometimes down our face
ash on our forehead which, if you stop by the grocery store
or go out for dinner after worship
will cause many people to look twice

we begin this season with ash on our forehead,
in a society that holds on to youth at tremendous expense
even seemingly at the expense of our soul
ash on our forehead is a ridiculously counter-cultural reminder
that we most certainly will die
this fate, this end, we will not escape

you will die

there's a desire permeating our society to deny the truth of our mortality
to pretend that somehow we are immune to the reality of life
we botox and liposuction, diet and airbrush ourselves
into the perpetual appearance of youthfulness
in order to feel as far from death as possible
but today we are reminded that we are mortal
we remember that we are dust, and that we will return to dust

so you who are dust
do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth
do not rely on things of this world
things that are temporal
things that we create ourselves
things that increase our societal value
do not rely on these things
because they will surely disappoint
everything you've ever relied on will turn to nothing
everything except for God
our God, who has embraced us in our baptism
sealing us with the Holy Spirit
and marking us with the cross of Christ forever
the cross which is traced over in ash today

all these things will disappoint,
all these things, also will be reduced to ash
even as we ourselves are in death
death, of which we remind ourselves today
and, people of God, not only will we die
but between now and then, we will suffer

so many of our Christian brothers and sisters seem to believe
that if only you receive the Lord into your heart
or if only we read scripture enough
or if only we pray in the right way
the all the cares of the world will be removed
and we'll receive blessing upon blessing

we certainly will receive blessing upon blessing
but it doesn't look like we want it to
blessing, from God, is much less that perfect parking spot
or a winning lottery ticket
and much more like the cross
the cross upon which our savior bears the sin of the world
the cross where God enters fully into the entirety of our existence

but still, we put our trust in things of the world
and these things give us a false sense of security
these things in which we put our trust
even the practice of giving something up for Lent
can bring us false security
as if our action brings us any closer to God
or God any closer to us

the discipline of Lent is one of stripping away the externals
externals which we use to insulate and isolate ourselves
from the reality of life
externals, which we use to insulate and isolate ourselves
from the truth of our mortality
the truth is that we sin and fall short of the glory of God
that we cannot work our way any closer to the divine
but the more essential truth is that
in the incarnation, God has come near to us
and cannot come any nearer
and on the cross, where we see suffering and death
destruction and ash
on the cross, God has entered completely
into the fullness of our humanity

we will receive blessing from God
but blessing is not the promise that there will be no suffering
rather, it is that God is with us in the midst of real life

we are marked today, in recognition of our mortality
a reminder that we cannot escape death
but that death does not have the final word
today, God touches your baptism and your mortality
tracing the shape of a cross on your forehead
the shape which was marked at your baptism, when you are claimed
and named beloved child of God
and assured that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

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