|➤Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013||February 13, 2013||Ash Wedneday||Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 10, 2013||Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||Luke 9:28-36, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 3, 2013||Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 27, 2013||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||Nehemiah 8:1-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21|
|Second Sunday after Epiphany||January 20, 2013||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||1 Corinthians 12:1-11|
|First Sunday after Epiphany||January 13, 2013||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||Luke 3:15-17, 21-22|
|The Feast of the Epiphany||January 6, 2013||Epiphany, Year C||Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012||December 24, 2012||Christmas, Year C||Luke 2:1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year C||December 16, 2012||Third Sunday in Advent, Year C||Luke 3:7-18, Philippians 4:4-7|
|Sermon, VTS, December 13, 2012||December 13, 2012||Daily Office, December 13, 2012||Psalm 145|
|Second Sunday in Advent, Year C||December 9, 2012||Second Sunday of Advent, Year C||Canticle 16, Song of Zechariah|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year C||December 2, 2012||First Sunday of Advent, Year C||Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36|
|Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B||November 25, 2012||Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year B||Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37|
|Proper 28, Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost||November 18, 2012||Sermon, Proper 28, Year B||Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25, Psalm 16|
|Proper 27, Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost||November 11, 2012||Proper 27, Year B||I Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44|
Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013
Sermon Date:February 13, 2013
Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Liturgy Calendar: Ash Wedneday
The scripture readings for Ash Wednesday are full of renewal and promise, joy, and blessing. Like embers hidden in what seems to be a dying fire, these words of promise wait, ready to burst into flame, to bring the light and warmth of God’s love into our lives.
Isaiah says, “The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your needs in parched places,
And make your bones strong;
And you shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring of water,
Whose waters never fail.
And the Psalmist tells us that God satisfies us with good things, and our youth is renewed like an eagles’.
And yet our day to day lives, with the various stresses we face from all quarters, tend to exhaust us and wear us down. We definitely feel our mortality, know in the depths of our beings that truly we are embers, we are but dust, and that our days are like the grass, that when the wind blows over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more. Some days we can literally feel our lives burning out and slipping away.
So we need this season of Lent, this season of becoming, this season of returning to the womb, a season of being in the world, yet hidden from the world, as we grow all over again into the love that our compassionate and merciful God so deeply desires to give us, so that we can become the people that God longs for us to be.
And the people that God longs for us to be are people burning with love for God, living reconciled to God, and to one another.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about the disciplines that the people already had in place to get right with God. They gave alms, they prayed, and they fasted.
The problem, however, was that the people did these things publicly and in so doing, gained the attention and admiration of others, which meant that eventually they forgot that the reason for almsgiving, praying and fasting was to be reconciled to God.
So Jesus reminds them—“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”
In other words, “Be hidden like an ember as you practice these disciplines, open yourselves to God’s blessings, so that you can be filled once more with the fiery light and warmth of God’s compassionate love and mercy for you.”
The prayer book reminds us that during Lent we are called to self-examination and repentance, to prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.
All of these practices, if we are hidden in God, will help us draw closer to God—Christians have been doing these things for centuries, and I commend them to you.
The season of Lent probably won’t find us packing our bags and heading out to the wilderness for uninterrupted time with God. How then, do we make time for God, become hidden in God, prepare ourselves for God’s blessings, God’s fiery love, in this season?
As I’ve been preparing for Lent, which is one of the busiest times of the year for me, with lots of extra things to do, I’ve been mulling this question over. How am I even going to find time to be hidden in God, to open space in my life for renewal, to have my youth, at least my spiritual youth, renewed like an eagles’? I don’t want to feel like a pile of ashes at the end of Lent because I’ve burned myself out.
The answer for me this year lies in Psalm 103. The psalmist provides us with the foundation for everything else we choose to do during Lent to draw closer to God.
And that foundation is laid right in the first verse of the psalm.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”
What do we do when we bless the Lord?
We remind ourselves that God is glorious and holy, the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, and this high and lofty God is the same God who crowns us with mercy and loving-kindness, and satisfies us with good things. And this God came to live among us, to suffer and to die as one of us, to absorb our sins, so that we might be free.
This is such an obvious foundation that it’s easy to miss—to begin every day, to spend every moment blessing the Lord—this is the way our celebration of holy Eucharist begins each week—right after we collect ourselves together in prayer, we bless the Lord when we sing the Gloria.
Blessing the Lord comes first and lays the foundation for everything else that follows in our worship service each week. And that can be true in our lives as well.
If we start each day with the first verse of this psalm,
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name,” then we’ve set our focus for the day—and we can remind ourselves to return to God throughout the day when we get distracted by all of the other things that inevitably will distract us, so that God can burn away all that would keep us from God.
By beginning the day by blessing God, and returning to God throughout the day, we remember the most important relationship in our lives—and that is our relationship with God.
This psalm is also invaluable because it spells out the nature of God. God forgives our sins, heals our infirmities, and redeems our lives from the graves that we are constantly digging for ourselves.
This merciful, compassionate and loving God is the God who longs for us to come away and rest awhile, to be hidden, to let us rest like embers, who longs for us to desire, to know, and to claim God’s merciful love for each one of us.
Now the other helpful thing about this Psalm is that it reminds us who we are—mere mortals. We are but dust.
This fact makes God’s love for us even more astounding—that God would care about beings as impermanent as we are is a miracle—and God cares not only for us, but for the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field. God is madly in love with and cares passionately about every last tiny little bit of creation.
So this is going to be my Lenten discipline, and I hope you’ll join me. First, I plan to bless the Lord each and every morning, and to remember God’s extravagant love for me and to bless the Lord throughout the day, whenever I get distracted— (God is going to be blessed greatly by me during this season of Lent!)
Second, I’m going to spend time in prayer dwelling on the nature of God, to be hidden in God’s merciful love during prayer, and to stay in that hidden place even as I’m busy out in the world.
Third, I’m going to recall that truly, I am dust, but that God loves me so deeply that even as I age and approach the grave physically, as I feel my life slipping away, I can rest assured that God is making my bones strong, and renewing my spiritual youth.
With this foundation in place, the rest of what I choose to do during this Lenten season will be of great benefit not only to me, but to those around me as well.
With God as our foundation, we will find that those things that have become burned out ruins in our lives will be rebuilt, that we will become those who repair, those who bring healing and restoration to their own lives, to their families, to their communities and even to the world.
In a moment, we will come forward to have ashes imposed on our foreheads, the same place in which we were marked as Christ’s own forever in the waters of baptism.
When you receive these ashes, remember, not only are you dust, and to dust you shall return, but hide yourself in God’s passionate and fiery love for you, love that will burn away everything that keeps you from God.
Without God, we are nothing but embers, but when we are hidden in the fire of God’s love, God catches our hearts on fire to glow and burn with God’s love, to be the light that shines in the darkness, the fire that darkness cannot overcome, so that God can be glorified in us, not only in this season of Lent, but for ever and ever.