Created in God’s Image

March 6, 2019 Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Isn’t it amazing the extremes that some people will go to get noticed?

I am sure that within the last twenty years the desire to get noticed and make a name for oneself has probably increased. Due to the growth of the internet and social media outlets, anyone can put themselves out there with the hopes of being seen or followed by others. You can flaunt your life all over Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and many others too numerous to name. You can put your profile out there in the hopes of finding a date! You can post videos of almost anything to YouTube with the hope that it becomes viral.

Viral is a good word, because viruses infect and can cause damage to something that is healthy. An unmonitored use of social media can lead to a false misrepresentation of self and misguided actions. It is easy to get caught up in an alternate reality and forget that we can be seen by others! The impression we give others reflects our priorities. Most importantly, God sees us no matter the impression we are giving people. Are we acting with ourselves in mind, or are we living out the call of Jesus Christ?

This passage we hear from our gospel lesson this evening may make you squirm in your seat a little. Especially given the fact that we will soon get up and be marked with the sign of a cross on our foreheads. So much, for not letting our piety be seen by anyone else! You better be careful when you are fasting to not look dismal either. That could be hard too, if you decided to give up coffee or chocolate for Lent!

This teaching from Jesus on Ash Wednesday is part of the Sermon on the Mount where he has a prolonged oration on how to conduct yourself as a believer of God. I think that the tension that he creates is intentional so that people will start truly thinking about their actions and will begin to contemplate on his Word. We do not get to hear of the crowd’s reactions to his preaching, but I am sure that there are some slack-jawed faces out in that crowd finding it hard to believe what he is saying. Perhaps some of them even decided to get up and walk back home.  

Those same words strike us hard today! It is easy to be easily distracted from what matters the most when we have so many other voices begging for our attention. We in turn get pulled in and start begging for attention from others by trying to get the most friends, likes, or views through our various online accounts. For those that do not post, video record, or tweet, there are other ways to get noticed as well. I am sure that you know people that have a comment for anything and everything. All they must do, is walk into a gathering of people and be loud. Unfortunately, that is multiplied when they are online.

While we may go way beyond what is necessary to get noticed, we must remember that we are already noticed! Three times in our gospel lesson Jesus reminds the disciples, “The Father sees. . .” We do not have to go out of our way to get noticed for our piety. Yet, living a pious life can draw us closer to God. Alas, that is the only reason that we should be doing so. We should not be going about and showing off how righteous and pious we are to others through our prayers, fasting, or even receiving ashes.

We do these things because we know that they draw us closer to the mercy of God. A God that created us in God’s very own image! A God that desires for us to repent and turn our lives back to the one whose image we are created.

We do not have to worry about the image that we project to the world, either in real life or on social media, because God truly knows who we are. For some, that may be a scary realization. For others, it may be a relief. This time of Lent is meant to be an intentional time to draw closer to God and it begins this evening as we remember that we were created from dust and to dust we shall return. No image is greater than the love that is seen in Christ that we can then carry out into our community.

Let us pray. God of mercy, we return to you this evening and ask for forgiveness for those times we have projected false or incorrect images that do not reflect your Son, Jesus Christ. We welcome in these next forty days as a time of possibilities to be drawn closer to you. Amen.

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Create in Me a Clean Heart

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February 14, 2018 Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. These words from Psalm 51 this evening should sound familiar. It is one of the songs we quite often use for our offering. We’ll have the opportunity to sing it in just a little while.

Lent is a time for us to return to God. A time for us to repent of our sins and to pray that God creates in us a clean heart. Ash Wednesday is our entrance into this sacred season of the church year. It is a chance for us to re-center our lives and hopefully create new habits that we will carry into the season of Easter. However, we are human, and often we fall short. It is a good thing that Lent comes around every year to keep reminding us of the love that comes to us from our grace-filled God.

The gospel text from Matthew is one that has been used quite regularly on Ash Wednesday since the Medieval Ages. It points towards the disciplines that we are called to during these next forty days. First, we are called to Almsgiving. How are we being charitable in our lives and giving to those that are not as fortunate as we are? One way that we have chosen to do so as a community this Lent is to give to the Backpack Blessings program that assists families with meals for the weekend. Our Wednesday offerings will go to support ELCA World Hunger.

Prayer is the next discipline that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount. Living a life that is centered in prayer is one that will strengthen our relationship with God. It is here that Jesus teaches us how to pray, what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. There is no right way or wrong way to pray. God’s heart is already open to us, Jesus would like us to open our heart to God.

Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days right after he was baptized. Fasting is the third discipline. We too can fast. Lent has been known to be a time that many choose to give something up. A time to give up chocolate, sugar, pop, beer, or you fill in the blank. What if we were willing to go much deeper than that. Pope Francis made these suggestions this year for fasting:

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

These disciplines that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount are ones that have the possibility to bring us into a much closer relationship with God.

It is through our faith that we encounter Jesus Christ and the saving grace that is bestowed freely. By almsgiving, prayer, and fasting we are given a way to relate to Jesus. It is here that we repent to God and ask that God create in us clean hearts. Hearts that reveal where our treasures lie. A treasure that is filled with love and compassion for God and our sisters and brothers in humanity.

Let us pray. Loving God, we repent this evening. We seek out clean hearts so that we may be your sign of love and compassion in this world. Be with us in these next forty days as we walk towards your cross and the promise of a resurrected life. Amen.

 

Repent and Return

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March 1, 2017 Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

At one time or another in our lives, we will manage to screw up. We will make mistakes because we are human! We forget to love our neighbors as ourselves because we are human. We sin because we are human. While the gospel lesson is full of great nuggets, I am going to turn to the Psalm. In the Psalm, we encounter the mercy and grace of God.

If you didn’t know, the Psalms are prayers and songs lifted up to God through the various psalmists that they are contributed. In Psalm 51, rather than the author speaking from a point of righteousness, he speaks from a point of repentance. Many of you are familiar with the story of King David and Bathsheba. While we lift up King David as a great example of leadership, he commits adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband Uriah killed. There is at least a couple of commandments that King David has managed to break at this point. It is in this that Psalm 51 is attributed to David in the midst of his sinning.

We enter this season of Lent with much going on in our lives and in the world. We sin daily and the world around us is not any different. We are left wondering how we are to react to those that differ in opinion from us. We are left wondering if we should look beyond ourselves and care for our neighbors because our consumer culture gives us the message that we should focus on our own personal needs. We are still reeling from a contentious election cycle that does not seem to be getting better anytime soon. In the midst, we are left to wonder where God is in everything that is happening.

In the Psalm we pray for Gods presence with us. God is present to witness our sins, as well as the sins of the world. God is present when we fail to reach out to our neighbors with love and compassion. God is present in the midst of turmoil, death, and doubt. The thing is, we cannot fix any of it on our own. We cannot wave a magic wand and making everything better. We cannot say just the right thing to get everyone to be sociable to one another. In this knowledge, we turn to Psalm 51 and pray. It may even sound familiar, as we often sing it when our offerings for God come forward.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

These next forty days are not going to be much different than the last forty days. We will continue to sin. Death and destruction will continue to happen around the world. In the words of Psalm 51, we have a prayer asking for a fresh start. A prayer asking to be made new. A prayer seeking to be washed clean of all our sins. A prayer to remind us of the greatness of God and the glory of Christ to bring salvation to the world.

In the ashes, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. They represent our finiteness in this world. In the meal we share, we are reminded of the grace and love of God that comes to us, as sinners, seeking forgiveness and grace freely given.

While the world around us might not change much in the next forty days, may we be changed in the Word of God and the meal we share together. May we repent and return to the Lord, our God.

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love. Amen

 

 

We Are Marked

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Ash Wednesday Homily, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 

We are a marked people! From our baptisms when we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, to our deaths where we are returned, earth to earth, ashes to ashes.

We are marked in our daily walk and in our actions. We are marked by our professions, whether it be pastor, teacher, engineer, retail worker, manager, construction worker, sales person, and many other titles. Some of us may be full-time students, while others never give up learning. We are marked as parents, grandparents, sons, daughters, nieces or nephews. We are marked by our faith traditions, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, or Catholic. We are marked by race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ability or disability, wealth or lack there of.

These are labels. Labels that are easily understood and ones that allow humanity to be sorted into groups which we think we may be able to understand, yet at times are often misunderstood. Most of the time labels cause a division which is neither good for the individual nor for the community.

This evening we gather together so that regardless of any markings or labels that may be placed upon us we are reminded that we are one in Christ. One community breathing in unison to the ebbs and flows of life as we know it with each other. We are called to be together in the community as we listen to God through the prophet Joel:

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Joel 2:15-16

This evening is Ash Wednesday. This evening we are encouraged to come before God and repent of our sins known and unknown. We do not come before God, receiving ashes, for our own sake, but to give our thanks and praise to all of creation. Knowing that God is in all and as we receive the ashes, the God in us becomes one with the dust that we will become in the future. The ashes remind us of our finiteness in this Earthly existence and also the weight of our own sins.

While Ash Wednesday tends to be a solemn service, it is also one in which we are reminded of Christ’s never-ending love for all of humanity. While we came from dust, and to dust we shall return, we know that in the promise of resurrection that the dust itself bears Christ.

We are called to repent of our sins at all times, yet on this Ash Wednesday we are reminded even more so of the call to turn back to God and find life in God’s grace and forgiveness. Ash Wednesday is the doorway to Lent and as we walk through it you are invited and encouraged to participate. To participate in self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love.

In this season of Lent may we learn what it means to say “no” to those things that lead us away from God. During this season of Lent may we also learn what it means to say “yes” to those things that give us renewed life in God. May we remain strong in fasting from the “no’s” and be fed from feasting on the “yes’s.”

May we:

•Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them
•Fast from emphasis on our differences; feast on our oneness
•Fast from the darkness around us; feast on the light of Christ
•Fast on ill thoughts; feast on the healing power of God
•Fast on words that pollute; feast on words that purify
•Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude
•Fast from withholding anger; feast on sharing our feelings
•Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism
•Fast from worry; feast on trust
•Fast from guilt; feast on freedom
•Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation
•Fast from stress; feast on self-care
•Fast from hostility; feast on letting go
•Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness
•Fast from selfishness; feast on compassion for others
•Fast from discouragement; feast on seeing the good
•Fast from apathy; feast on enthusiasm
•Fast from suspicion; feat on seeing the good
•Fast from idle gossip; feast on spreading good news
•Fast from being so busy; feast on quiet silence
•Fast from problems; feast on prayerful trust
•Fast from talking; feast on listening
•Fast from trying to be in control; fast on letting go.

Loving God, let us fast from anything that leads us away from you. Teach us to feast on all that brings us closer to you. Amen. (From the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, MN)