Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Telling the Truth

Ash Wednesday 2015
Psalm 51
Matthew 6:1-2, 16-21

I am so curious as to why you are here.  Why, tonight, have you come out into the harsh, artic winds to this place? Are you here because you knew that tonight we would be marking you? Did you know that you would file into a line that would lead to an ashen cross on your brow? Did you know that we would spend time speaking out loud our sin?  Did you know that we would be lamenting the violence we cannot stop and the hatred we cannot contain? Are you here tonight to sit amidst other people knowing that the prognosis of the human-condition would be spoken, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return”? I wish I could sit with every one of you and hear why it is you came to this place on this night. 

I wonder if the pull to this ancient worship ritual is the pull toward truth.  Tonight, perhaps more than any other time, we tell the truth about who we are.  We began this worship in confession, pleading for mercy – because we need to tell the truth of who we are, and we are a people in need of mercy. 

Is that why you are here tonight?

 We are trying, throughout these next weeks, to continue to tell the truth about who we are and the very real struggles of this life.  We are asking where God is in our loneliness, in our addiction…where is God in our battles with mental illness and our financial struggles? We are even asking where God might be as we hastily move through this life. 

We ask these questions, we confess our life experiences and for what? For some communal shaming?  To be brought into humility or some depressive state? Are we hear tonight because once a year it’s a good idea to gather together to feel really badly about ourselves? A Spiritual-low-self-esteem night?

This holy night and the 40 days that follow are not about wallowing in disparity.  This holy night and the 40 days that follow are about confessing the truth of who we are – and in order to do that, we need to claim the truth about who God is in our lives.

No amount of proper fasting or shaming, negative self talk or constant comparisons, not even perfect confirmation attendance will save us. No amount of generous giving or endless hours serving, no diligent perfecting or improving will purify us. 
I think we are here tonight because we’ve all tried that.  We have become our own gods in the attempt to get right with the world.  We try at school, we try at home, we try at work, we strive in our relationships, with our loved ones, we strive with the culture to be someone who belongs.  Yes?  We even try….so very hard, right here at church.  And we need to be set free from ourselves – from this life of controlling and living like our own god. 

Remember, that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  It is the entire arch of life, we come from God’s earth and we will return one day to God’s earth.  Ashes, – shapeless, lifeless earth.  Is this our beginning? Is this our end?
We prayed the words of Psalm 51, that God would create in us clean hearts and renew a right spirit.  This is the truth of who God is.  In our formless, wandering, stumbling days we pray to a God who is creating and renewing us again and again and again…
This is who God is, the one who created the earth, the one who create you and me.  If God is God, the giver of all life…then we can stop trying to save ourselves.  Tonight and the season of Lent is about continually being knocked off our own pedestals and confessing that if God is God…than I am not.  If God is God…than you are not.  This is not a dismal word, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is liberation! 

Two different times tonight we are told to remember.  Remember that you are dust, and in a moment we will be told to remember Jesus in our taking of the bread and wine.  Tonight we remember who we are – ashes to ashes.  And God, through the mercy of Jesus, brings us to the table to remember who God is – from death to life.  Jesus brings us salvation, Jesus brings life to our death.  Who don’t have to save yourself.

This life of faith is a nebulous, vague, wilderness wandering type of experience, isn’t it? To navigate it we must continue to tell the truth of who we are and who God is and we must continue to ask hard questions and be together as the people of God.  Alone we have no shape, no form, no practices for this life of faith.  But together….together, we are something different.  Because what Jesus does for us is give the suffering, fallen powers of the world a new shape.  The shape of the outstretched cross now stands before us and upon our brows.  The shape of the cross is our hope – hope even in the face of the universal truth of death.  Our beginning is with God, and our end will be in God.  We are not dead, ashen people, for God is creating and renewing even us, even our certain death.

This is the truth of the night. 
Are you here to be set free?
Are you here to be forgiven?
Are you here to surrender?
Are you here to be together with God and with one another?

Regardless of how your feet shuffled in the door, you are marked with an ashen cross.  The cross of Christ, the Savior who sets us free.  The cross of Christ that will return – every day that we live, and on that day when we die, the cross will return us to God.