Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday Homiletical Reflections

Bearing in mind the truth that sermons are spoken events, a holy interaction between preacher and congregation that is mitigated by Holy Spirit, I post the text that I used for the Ash Wednesday homily at the congregation I serve. 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, and from our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen

Remember, you are dust
these are the words we’ll hear in a little bit
when ashes are traced on our forehead

these ashes are a reminder for us who are healthy that life doesn’t last forever
a reminder to the old and the ill that death may be approaching very soon
a reminder for the youngest in our midst
that though there are many years to look forward to,
the vitality of life now is not guaranteed forever

so we trace ashes on our forehead
a reminder of our mortality
a reminder that life is fragile, tenuous
to be blown away, scattered as in the wind, as dry and dusty ashes from a campfire

remember, you are dust
my friend* has pointed out that dust is everywhere
that it does a fine job of settling on stationary things,
collecting in rarely ventured places
making its presence known only when a film develops
but, he points out,
did you ever notice how when the light streams through the window just the right way
endless particles of dust are made visible?
Always we are walking, breathing, living in the dust.
he concludes with a reminder that God does some pretty cool stuff with dust

Remember, you are dust
and when the light shines in the right way,
when the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it
there is beauty even in dust

In the beginning, God fashioned and shaped the dust
breathed into the dust’s lungs
and created life,
life, in which God continues to take delight

God takes delight in life
which, as we are reminded today, will end
but which, as we are reminded in the waters of our baptism
is made new every day by our God, the author and giver of all life

this ash that we receive on our foreheads in just a moment
it’s not simply ash
there is oil mixed in it
(though I must issue the disclaimer that some pastors don’t mix oil in the ash they use)
I do, though … and this oil, mixed in the ash
will be traced onto the same place as the oil used in baptism …
traced in the same place where the cross was traced, perhaps in oil,
when we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

The oil helps the ash to stick better to our faces
a more long-lasting reminder that we are dust, and we will return to dust
and at the same time, a reminder that underlying the truth of our mortality
is the bigger truth that in God we are given life,
and only by God’s grace and mercy
we have received the gift of new life

Remember, you are dust
mortal, fragile, temporary
remember, you are dust,
and to dust you shall return

remember, we are dust
filled with breath, spirit, life
by our God, who from lifeless dust
creates beauty, and eternally creates new life
remember, we are dust,
and to Christ we shall return.

* the person I refer to is the Rev. Christian Nisonger, whose Facebook posting I used as a template for the thought and language of this section of the sermon text. 


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