Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Do I have ashes on my face? some thoughts for ash Wednesday

Hi all.  Below is the message I shared last night at our service of the imposition of ashes (I know, we do it a day early, but it comes after our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper and it works for us!)  Hope you can find meaning in these words.

Lent is a time of Preparation
It is all about getting ourselves ready to celebrate and receive the gift of love, grace and salvation that is offered to us in and through Jesus Christ, fully embodied by his sacrifice on the cross
This year as we journey together through Lent, we will be focusing on submitting different parts of our lives to God. 
It isn’t just coincidence that we begin this time of preparation with the marking of ourselves with ashes
It is a unique action in our life of faith together, in that it isn’t an action that is for God.
We usually spend a lot of time and make a point of ensuring that worship isn’t about us, but about God.  But the imposition of ashes is really for us.
We put ashes on ourselves to remind us of the proper perspective we must have of ourselves and the proper understanding we need of our relationship with God.
Despite all of our efforts to the contrary.  Despite what we would like to believe and what we try to project to the world
We are in fact dirty, stained and marked by the sin we have allowed to take root in our lives.
The ashes we wear are a symbol of that stain.
We will spend all of Lent focused on Submitting to God, but before we can submit to God we must first look at ourselves and honestly admit that we need help, that we have fallen short, that we have and continue to sin. 
We begin the submission of our lives to God by first admitting and confessing our sins – not to dwell on them or so that we might feel guilt.  But so that we might have a measure of understanding as to the depth and breadth of God’s grace, mercy and love for us. 
Once we have admitted and confessed our sins to ourselves and to God, then we can submit them to God, giving them to God and letting go of the hold they have over our lives
We begin Lent with ashes and confession, not to inflict guilt or a somber mood, but so that we gain perspective as to just how profound what Jesus did for us through his birth, life and death on the cross is. 
Hard as it is to accept our failures, it may be even harder to confess them - even privately in prayer to God. However, that is what God asks us to do:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
We will take the next several minutes in silence to do this in a tangible way.
(Sadly, you can’t participate in the prayer stations with us) But here is what we did: Around the room were ‘stations’ that consisted of a grocery bag full of sand with a cup in it.  Everybody had their own brown paper bag as well.  At each station was also a piece of paper that described a kind of sin, had a Scripture verse and asked questions about to get us thinking about if we had committed that type of sin.  If you had you were instructed to fill your bag with a cup of sand.  
Immediately below, I have listed the wording from each of the seven stations:

"From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for
gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. (Jeremiah 6:13 )
 Take a moment and think about this last week.
Were you selfish?
Did you take more of something than you needed?
Were you greedy with your money? Time?
Do you wish you had more money, things, or toys?
Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.  (Ecclesiastes 10:18)
This week, did you choose to play on the computer, watch TV, or lay around the house, instead of working, doing schoolwork or chores around the house?
Did you oversleep last weekend?
Did you watch TV or a movie instead of doing something you know needs doing? 
Losing your Temper/ Hate/Prejudice
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
(Ephesians 4:31)
Did you lose your temper with your kids this week? Or with your parents? Or your brother/sister? Or friend?
Is there someone you treated badly lately?
Do you find yourself hating your enemies (personal and national)?
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? (1Corinthians 3:3)
Do you wish you had something your friend has?
Are you jealous of their car, iPod, girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife, house or family?
Do you wish you looked like someone else? 
Pride goes before destruction, 
   a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
Do you spend over 10 minutes looking in the mirror every day?
Is there anyone you think you are smarter than, better than, prettier than?
Did you refuse to apologize even though you knew you were wrong?
Have you tried to make someone feel stupid?
Have you called someone an idiot, moron or any other negative term? 
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:19)
Do you have a bad habit that you just can’t quit?
Have you overeaten lately?
Have you bought things you didn’t need?
Have you shopped for clothes even though you have a full closet?
Is there something you can’t quit even though its harmful to you or those around you? 
No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence. (Psalm 101:7)
Is there someone you have been dishonest to recently?
Have you lied to your parents?
Have you cheated on a test?
Have you hidden the truth?
Have you been dishonest with your spouse?
Have you taken credit for something that’s not yours?
We have now spent time first remembering and admitting our sins,
When we submit our sins to God the cease to be the source of guilt and become the first signs of the healing presence of the Holy Spirit.
Because it is not until we have accepted the fact that we are broken and stained and that we are powerless to fix ourselves that the grace of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit can wash us clean and restore us to who God created us to be.
So we come tonight to accept these ashes because these ashes, while a sign of our brokenness and death in sin are a mark inviting the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit into our lives.
At this point we read responsively a prayer of penitence and then came forward to receive the imposition of ashes.  After receiving the ashes, we then put our bags of sand (which we had been holding the whole time) at the foot of the cross).

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