Ash Wednesday and Lent

Sermon for 2/10/16

Responsive prayer:

Jesus, remember us when you come into your kingdom. Hear our prayers.

For your church around the world, we ask new life.

For all who carry out ministries in your church, we ask grace and wisdom.

For people who have accepted spiritual disciplines, we ask inspired discipleship.

For Christians of every land, we ask new unity in your name.

For Jews and Muslims and people of other faiths, we ask your divine blessing.

For those who cannot believe, we ask your faithful love.

For governors and rulers in every land, we ask your guidance.

For people who suffer and sorrow, we ask your healing peace.

Holy God, your Word, Jesus Christ, spoke peace  to a sinful world and brought humanity the gift of reconciliation by the suffering and death he endured.  Teach those who bear his name to follow the example he gave us.   May our faith, hope, and charity turn hatred to love, conflict to peace, and death to eternal life; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Call, the Cry, the Answer
Isaiah 58:1-12

Ash Wednesday is our day.   Lent is our time.

I wonder if other seasons of the church really belong to the church anymore!  Christmas got away from us a long time ago.  Easter has gotten away from us as well — we are just as familiar with the Easter bunny as we are with the empty tomb.

Christians are more and more claiming Lent as our time, for our faith.  In the past several years I have noticed a lot more people paying attention to the season of Lent.  It’s on social media.  Creative types have come up with all kinds of artwork to use in churches or at home, and hands-on activities for children during Lent.  Our Director of Christian Education made a bulletin board with a road leading to a cross, and on the road are written words such as Pray, Remember, Love — in total there are 40 letters in the words she wrote, symbolizing the 40 days of Lent.  Christians are making the season their own.

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I hope no one ever makes a commercial enterprise out of Lent.  So far the only thing I’ve seen is the grocery store advertising fish, for those who are staying away from meat during Lent, but that’s it.  This is our time, our time of prayer and preparation.

Why do we have our time?  Because what we do is not all about ourselves.  We are God’s people.  We need this time to remind ourselves who we are, and whose we are.

So, I’m going to take back what I said at the beginning of the sermon. Sort of.   Ash Wednesday is not really our day, it’s God’s day.  Lent is not really our time, it’s God’s time.  We belong to God, we are saved through Christ, we are called by the Holy Spirit, and this is our time—the time—God’s time … to claim who we are, and whose we are.

Today we are called to be Christ’s people not for ourselves.  We are called to be Christ’s people for the benefit of the entire world.

This prayer we just used is from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Common Worship.  In this book, there are several prayers included for goodwill and blessing for people of other faiths, or of no faith.  Those prayers are in there for a reason.  Our faith is not a private possession, something we use for our own good feelings.  Our faith is present for the benefit of God’s entire creation. We are to be a people of blessing for the world:  people who do God’s work of sharing bread with the hungry, loosening the bonds of injustice, breaking the yokes of abuse and addiction and poverty and discrimination.

Today, if you choose to accept ashes on your head, accept them for the world.  Accept spiritual discipline, such as prayer, and reading Scripture, for the world.  The world needs people like you and me who say we are faithful to be faithful.  The world needs people who say they believe in love to be loving.  The world needs people who profess a belief in new life, eternal life, to offer … life.

The world cries out and calls to God, using different names and different forms of religious expression.  Using our own form of expression, let us present a fast acceptable to God.  Let us engage in ministries of mercy, justice, compassion, and help.

Isaiah calls the people away from fasting and worship that is focused on the self.  Sort of a feeling good about yourself because you are so good at fasting and self-denial.  Isaiah calls the people to be like God, who says, “Here I am” when God’s people call.  May we use those words ourselves — here I am — when we see the world around us.

Let us make good use of God’s time, and our time.  God has chosen an acceptable fast.  May our ashes, our prayers, our spiritual disciplines, all point the way to God’s call.  May our ashes, our prayers, our spiritual disciplines, all point toward those who cry out.  May our ashes, our prayers, our spiritual disciplines, remind us to call on God for help — and God will say, Here I am.

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