Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Good Friday, 2020 April 10, 2020 Meditation on the Cross, Good Friday, 2020 John 18:1-19:42
Palm Sunday, Year A April 5, 2020 Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday Matthew 26:18
Lent 5, Year A March 29, 2020 Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A 2020 John 11:1-45
Lent 4, Year A March 22, 2020 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C Psalm 23
Lent 3, Year A at the Cathedral March 15, 2020 Third Sunday in Lent, Year A John 4:5-42
Lent 2, Year A – March 8, 2020 – the Rev. Deacon Carey Connors March 8, 2020 Lent 2, Year A John 3:1-17
Lent 1, Year A March 1, 2020 First Sunday in Lent, Year A Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Matthew 4:1-11
Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020 February 25, 2020 Ash Wednesday, Year A Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A February 23, 2020 Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Matthew 17:1-9
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A February 16, 2020 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A Sirach 15:15-20; I Corinthians 3:1-9, I Corinthians 13: 11-12; Matthew 5:21-37; Psalm 119:1-8
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A February 9, 2020 Epiphany 5, Year A Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12];Matthew 5:13-20
The Presentation February 2, 2020 Presentation of Jesus in the Temple Luke 2:22-40
Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 26, 2020 Third Sunday after the Epiphany Matthew 4: 12-23, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Congregational Meeting January 19, 2020 Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, Congregational Meeting Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42
First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A January 12, 2020 First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A Matthew 3:13-17

 

Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Sermon Date:February 25, 2020

Scripture: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Liturgy Calendar: Ash Wednesday, Year A


Good grief! 

Charles Schultz drew the Peanuts comic strip for fifty years, from 1950 to 2000.   Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, and Woodstock, along with their friends, are known and loved around the world. 

Charlie Brown, an awkward little kid, spends a lot of time being bummed out at how things in his life are going.

“Good grief” is the phrase that he often uses to sum up this feeling. 

Who wants to be an awkward kid like Charlie Brown who can’t ever get things quite right, who is often uncomfortable with himself?

Grief is an uncomfortable emotion, one that we’d rather avoid, or bypass altogether.  Grief can be awkward.   

I’ll give you a personal example.  My mother can cry at the drop of a hat.  I probably don’t hide the fact very well that I get annoyed with her tears.  Come on, Mom, that’s just life.  Get over it.  Don’t wallow in your grief—that won’t solve anything. Why are you grieving over something that happened so many years ago, or grieving over something you can’t change, and the list goes on. 

Sometimes I get impatient with her grief. Her tears can make me feel uncomfortable and awkward. 

And when I read the words of Joel appointed for today’s service, I feel that same impatience, discomfort and awkwardness.   

Joel tells the priests to order the people to a solemn assembly because of the catastrophes that have happened in Judea —a plague of locusts that has eaten everything in sight, fires and then drought. 

The priests blow the trumpet so that everyone will know to come together in the temple ‘to wail, to pray and to repent of their sins before God.”   Usually these fasts lasted a day.”

Elizabeth Achtemeier, in her commentary on Joel, describes this day of repentance.  “The ceremony was characterized by loud wailing and weeping, rending of clothes and striking oneself, falling to the ground, sprinkling oneself with dust and ashes, pouring out water to symbolize tears, and stretching out one’s hands to heaven in prayer and supplication to God to forgive and to turn aside the calamity.”

These people are definitely bummed out and they’ve gotten together to offer up their grief to God, hoping that God will spare them more calamities. 

Good grief! 

We Epicopalians would feel awkward dealing with the calamities in the world and in our own lives by coming together with all that drama. 

Well, maybe once a year we can manage ashes on our foreheads which we then can go home and wash off right after our solemn assembly. 

But natural calamities do happen that are worthy of solemn assemblies.   

In the recent Australian bush fires, 27 million acres of that country burned, an area greater than the size of Portugal.  1.25 billion animals died. The long term effect of these fires on fragile ecosystems remains to be seen. 

And now the locusts are swarming in East Africa. 

A swarm of locusts the size of Manhattan can eat, in one day, the amount of food that all of the people in New York and California combined would eat in a day. 

According to NPR, swarms of desert locusts three times the size of New York City, an estimated 192 billion insects, have been spotted over northeast Kenya.  These locusts are devouring the food in areas of Africa that are already vulnerable to food shortages.  Scientists warn that a looming catastrophe may be at hand. 

And the coronavirus, having escaped China, is quickly sweeping around the world and could possibly become a pandemic. 

We resist talking about these alarming events as anything other than just the natural turning of the world—like climate change—understanding that the climate goes through cycles, and that we are in a cycle of change, so why feel grief or even worry about what is happening and what is being lost?  This natural change has nothing to do with us.  Fires and animal species and swarms of locusts and diseases come and go and climate change is ongoing. 

Grief? 

Unnecessary.    

How easy it is to fall into this same lack of grief regarding sin and repentance!  Sin is just an expected part of being human.  When we sin, we simply repent and return to the Lord.  And then we go on with our lives.  What good would it do to grieve over “water over the dam,” old mistakes, the ways we’ve hurt one another when the relationship has been repaired, or when the relationship is beyond repair? 

We good people may find that our need for repentance is satisfied with the Sunday prayer of confession, and that the Day of the Lord that Joel talks about hasn’t gotten here yet, so why worry about it, and that since God is a God of love who accepts us as we are, and we’ve already been saved by grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have no need to concern ourselves with God judging us at the Final Judgment, if there is even such a thing.

And we certainly don’t need to grieve. 

Grief is just too awkward and uncomfortable.   

But when we are honest with ourselves, grief is an entirely appropriate emotion over our own sinful states and the state of the world.  The loss of 1.25 billion animals to fire grieves me.  The divisions in our nation grieve me.  Families divided at the border grieve me.  You have your own set of things that grieve you as well. 

And God understands our sorrows.  God understands our grief.  After all, Jesus is described as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”  Throughout scripture, God grieves over the state of creation brought on by our sinful ways, and God keeps on calling us back out of those ways, both for our own good, for the good of the natural world, and for God’s own joy. 

The season of Lent gives us the opportunity to return to God with all our hearts, specifically with fasting, with weeping and with mourning; to rend our hearts and not our clothing. 

Lent is the season of Good Grief. 

Good Grief is the result of our honest self-examination and at the very least, trying to fathom the effects of our sins on the world around us. 

Lent gives us the time to truly examine our lives, to be honest with ourselves about the ways we’ve turned away from God or gotten away from God without even realizing that the turning away has taken place. 

Lent is the time to take an annual examination—like going to the doctor for an annual physical, and to take care of the things that have gotten out of whack before they get worse—to nip those little sins in the bud before they metastasize, by identifying them and then repenting of them by getting rid of them, even though the getting rid of that sin may be a source of grief at first.

Prayer helps.  Jesus reminds all of us that time alone with God is essential.   In that time alone with God, we may find ourselves sorrowing over our own frailties while rejoicing over God’s love for us as we are and giving thanks for the fact that God is constantly calling us to grow more and more into God’s own likeness, no matter how far we have to go.   

Fasting and self-denial help. 

We are all blessed with many, many treasures on this earth. Setting aside these treasures through fasting and self-denial for a time then allows us to come back to those treasures and put them into perspective—as gifts from God that we no longer take for granted, but with gratitude for God’s generosity to us. 

And reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word helps us to see beyond our own comfortable perspectives.   For instance, I’d rather think about God’s mercy than God’s judgment.   

But I appreciate God’s mercy so much more deeply when I grieve over my own shortcomings and admit to my need for ongoing repentance. 

As Charlie Brown says, sitting up in his bed in the middle of the night, his hands to his checks,

“Sometimes I lie awake at night and I ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’”

Good grief, Charlie Brown, you’re right! 

You and the prophet Joel! 

Repent and return to the Lord with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. More than one night, or one day! 

For those who aren’t into grief, start by opening yourself to the grief of those around you and letting them have their grief.  Remember that God grieves too, and that part of growing more and more into the likeness of God is to open ourselves to sorrow.

When we let God into our lives, God can teach us to tend to the soil of our sorrows so that compassion and mercy, a slowness to anger, and great kindness can grow. 

Compassion, mercy, and kindness grow out of the soil of good grief.   

So I invite you to the observance of a holy Lent.

Good Grief! 

Resources:  https://www.npr.org/2020/02/21/807483297/why-are-swarms-of-locusts-wreaking-havoc-in-east-africa

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/1/8/21055228/australia-fires-map-animals-koalas-wildlife-smoke-donate

Achtemeier, Elizabeth. “The Book of Joel:  Introduction, Commentary and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible:  A Commentary in Twelve Volumes.  Volume VII.  Abingdon Press, 1996.