Ash Wednesday Sermon – February 14, 2018

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday B

Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jamie Osborne

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

When we face death, we experience a radical clarification of our values. The confrontation with the end of our lives, brings a crystal clarity with it. We become aware of our limits and reprioritize our time and energy. We often find that what we spend so much time and energy on is actually trivial. And the things we value most, have sometimes fallen to the bottom of our priorities. Death wakes us from the dream-like fantasy that we can do whatever we like for how long we like. Death hits us like cold water, and the next thing we know we are bolt upright and wide awake.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of repentance known as Lent. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia which means to wake up, to think differently. That is the heart of the season of Lent. It is a season devoted to help us wake up.

Today we acknowledge our limits. We are going to die. We have limited time and energy. And this precious, wonderful gift we call life will end. We also acknowledge our limits by making plain our need for God’s grace and forgiveness and healing. We are limited as God’s creatures.

We acknowledge that as mortal beings we find our beginning in God as the source of our lives.  And our hope is that at the end of our lives God will carry us forward into God’s good future. But today is about the space in between. It’s about our everyday lives between the beginning and the end. What do we value most? What do we devote our time and energy to?

In this season of repentance, Jesus calls us to wake up and let the love of our Father be the ultimate priority in our lives above what anyone else might think of us and over anything else we might be able to attain in this life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus continually calls us to live in the knowledge of the love the Father has for us rather than the opinions of others or earthly treasures that don’t last. There is nothing wrong with giving alms, praying, or fasting. Jesus’ critique is not against those things in and of themselves; rather, he is critiquing the way that people do these things “so that they may be seen by others.” The issue is when we are more concerned with the opinions of others than our heavenly Father’s love for us.

God our Father sees us in secret and loves us unconditionally and without limit, but the problem is that we run away from this love. A little later on in this service we will confess a whole litany of sins. And I believe that at the heart of most of these sins is a refusal to trust in the Father’s love for us.

When we don’t trust in that love, we are unsure and unstable. The world becomes smaller and colder. We feel that we are on our own. We turn in on ourselves. Other people become threats. We can’t trust that we will have enough. And we can no longer extend love towards others because we are not connected to the Father’s unconditional love for us.

We are lulled to sleep and begin living in an illusory dream world that tells us if we could just accomplish enough, impress the right people, or attain enough earthly treasure, we would finally know that we are loved and worthy of belonging. But Jesus does what he always does, he points us to the Father and asks us to trust that we are loved in ways that we cannot understand.

The Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Toni Morrison, was asked why she had become a great writer. The interviewer wanted to know what books she had read and what methods she had used to become a great writer. “Oh, no,” Toni responded. That is not why I am a great writer. I am a great writer because when I was a little girl walked into a room where my father was sitting, his eyes would light up. That is why I am a great writer.”

Beyond all the accolades, the Nobel prize, the Pulitzer prize, and many others, what made her great was the way her father’s eyes would light up when she walked into the room, the love of her father that existed in the secret places of her life, so much deeper and truer than the fickle opinions of others and the fleeting nature of accolades and earthly riches.

Lent is a season to wake up, yet again, to the truth of the love we have as the children of the God whose eyes light up when we walk into the room.

Today, we are invited into a season of self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting and self-denial, to reading and meditating on God’s holy Word so that we might awaken to the expansive and freeing love of God.

What do we value most? What do we devote our time and energy to? Jesus’ call is to repent and wake up and seek first the love of the Father that exists in the secret places of our life, deeper than the fickle opinions of others and the fleeting nature of accolades and earthly riches. A love that will carry us through the beginning, middle, and the end of our lives.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”