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Ash wednesday sermon 2016

The text is II Cor. The colour has darkened from white to violet. The music is more sombre, the flowers are gone from our churches. And by one tradition or another the change of seasons has been marked also in our homes. So the symbolism of yeast as persistent sin to clear out of our lives is lost. After Christmas itself, Lent is the most programmed season of the church year, encrusted with customs to mark the time. Not such a bad sentiment. On the first day they exchanged their clothes for sackcloth and painted their faces with ashes to make their sorrow obvious. Forty days of repentance, and then restoration through absolution on Holy Thursday and Communion with Christ and His church on Easter Sunday. This was the yearly rhythm of Lent, an instrument for restoring the lost.
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The day we stand before one another and feel the dry, ashy cross smeared upon our foreheads. The day we stand before one another and confess our sin, our most grievous sin. Ash Wednesday, the day we cannot tell a lie. We are mortal, broken, flawed, sinful. Our scripture readings for tonight show us mortal, broken, flawed, sinful people who thought that they could tell a lie about who they were. The people of God to whom Isaiah prophesied, they thought that, if they fasted and prayed and made appropriate sacrifices, that would be sufficient to be followers of the Most High, that they could stand before God with clean consciences. They were religious, devout even; they looked tremendously pious. But the truth was that they failed to do justice, that they neglected the most vulnerable people in their society, that they exploited their workers. The hypocrites of whom Jesus spoke in his sermon on the mount thought they too could tell a lie about who they were. These hypocrites did all the right things: prayed and fasted and gave.

Jesus warns us to practice our piety in secret. We are not to give alms, to pray, or to fast in a way that plays to an audience of other people. Instead, we are to do these things in secret. And in each case a blessing is attached to this secret practice. Hearing these words now, on this opening day of Lent, means that whatever we do by way of Lenten practices is not done for a human audience, whether others or ourselves. The significance of these practices appears at a different level, that place where we encounter God. This is a hidden place, concealed certainly from others, and in a real sense, a secret even from ourselves. God meets us in our depths, in places that remain beyond our conscious sight. Yet still it is easy for us to look on our Lenten practices as an area where we can earn rewards, the frequent flyer miles of the spiritual life. If we do well at keeping our Lenten practices then God is pleased with us that much more.

The day we stand before one another and feel the dry, ashy cross smeared upon our foreheads. The day we stand before one another and confess our sin, our most grievous sin. Ash Wednesday, the day we cannot tell a lie. We are mortal, broken, flawed, sinful. Our scripture readings for tonight show us mortal, broken, flawed, sinful people who thought that they could tell a lie about who they were.

The people of God to whom Isaiah prophesied, they thought that, if they fasted and prayed and made appropriate sacrifices, that would be sufficient to be followers of the Most High, that they could stand before God with clean consciences. They were religious, devout even; they looked tremendously pious.

But the truth was that they failed to do justice, that they neglected the most vulnerable people in their society, that they exploited their workers. The hypocrites of whom Jesus spoke in his sermon on the mount thought they too could tell a lie about who they were. These hypocrites did all the right things: prayed and fasted and gave. And they did all the right things in the sight of all the right people and made sure that all the right people knew they did all the right things.

But the truth was that their faith, their piety, their love for others and for God was very thin. The truth was that their piety was only skin-deep; it did not penetrate to their hearts. We are so like the people of God to whom Isaiah prophesied.

We are so like the hypocrites of whom Jesus spoke. We like to look perfect, righteous, pure, even immortal. But no matter how hard we try, the truth is that we are mortal, broken, flawed, and sinful. We gossip and tell lies. We take pleasure in the misfortune of people we dislike. We fail to question the systems that produce injustice, and we easily overlook our own prejudices.

We ignore those who are most vulnerable in our society and pretend that all is well in the world even when violence and exploitation abound. We even convince ourselves that Jesus was exaggerating when he said such unreasonable things as: Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. And sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. We are not eager to embrace the difficulties of a life of faith. The truth about who we are is laid bare upon our foreheads, upon each of our foreheads.

In a few moments, the cross of ash will be smeared upon your forehead, and the truth will be visible for all to see: you are dust and to dust you shall return. You are mortal, broken, flawed, and sinful, just like your neighbor. We are a whole room, indeed, a whole world, of mortal, broken, flawed, and sinful human beings. But there is no shame in this truth because there is another truth. Just as we are mortal, broken, flawed, and sinful, so too are we loved.

And the truth of our belovedness is as evident on this day as is our mortality, our brokenness, our flaws, and our sins. The cross that declares us mortal and broken is the same cross that reveals us beloved. That same cross reveals where our belovedness comes from: God. There it is, right on our foreheads. On this day, Ash Wednesday, we cannot tell a lie.

We are mortal and broken, yes, and we are also loved. And it is because we are loved that we can stand before one another and confess our sin, our most grievous sin, with courage and raw honesty. It is because we are loved that we can stand before one another with that dry, ashy cross on our foreheads, our mortality and brokenness there for all to see. It is because we are loved that we can stand before one another and hear of our mortality and our limitations without fear: remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday is the start of the Lenten season, a day period of time when we reflect on our lives and our walk with God, a time when we repent of our sin and brokenness, a time when we are honest about our flaws and limitations. They told God and their community and themselves lies about who they were. We are mortal, broken, flawed, and sinful, yes, and we are loved. There is no need to tell lies about who we are. God sees who we are and loves us in our brokenness.

The two truths of Ash Wednesday. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Remember that you are loved and that this love will never end. About Grace. Ministries at Grace. Heat Respite. Faith Formation. Ministry Partners. Worship and Music. February 10, Sermon. Ash Wednesday C Matthew , , Isaiah Pastor Sarah Stadler Ash Wednesday, the day we stand before one another and hear startling words: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Thanks be to God! Older Post Photo: Ashes to Go!

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