Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Year A Ash Wednesday 2020 Embracing Life

Year A Ash Wednesday, 26 February 2020
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Embracing Life”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 (closing verses mentioned)

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

We have two hands. We can only grasp, at most, two things at a time. We have one brain, and though some may attempt to convince us that multi-tasking is doable, we can only focus on one thing at time. Well, anyway. Lent is a time of stripping down to the reality, that to embrace that which we hold most dear, we must let get of the things that are not that. We do not hate them, or reject them. To choose the Best, we often have to let go of things, even some things that are Good. The job is Discernment is not choosing between the Good and the Bad. That is called Common Sense. Discernment is the Gift of Choice between where we are and where we hear God calling us to be. Lent is the gift to focus. 

This season of Lent started as a period of profound preparation, extreme fasting, and deep prayer for those who would be baptized at the Easter celebrations, usually at dawn on Easter Sunday. These 40 days, a number of completion, are still a time of focused discipleship and prayer, an intentional period to set our time at a different pace. Psychologically, this period is enough to start a new habit, a good one or a bad one, so let us pray it is good. Maybe this Lent can be a lasting change. Maybe this Lent can help us unbury a treasure.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus says.  

We set this time aside to embrace our treasure. I had someone come over to my house. They walked in our den. The words that came out were, “Wow. You really like movies.” Guilty. I do. I have far too many. They have a prominent place, well-organized, and structured so that within seconds I have access to all my movies. Catalogued, alphabetized, and cross-referenced. You do not have to question that I treasure my movies. It comes out in what I do, what I talk about, what I seek out.

I would give up my movies tomorrow, though, for my true treasure. One is a hobby. One is my love. 

And that is why I love Lent. I truly do. I love it because it changes our days, our times, our self-understanding. We take the time to do a reboot. We sacrifice to EMBRACE LIFE, not to renounce it. We do it to run to what we hold most dear.

And that is a seeming contradiction, renouncing or letting things go to embrace our life. And that is not new. Paul said it in our reading today: 
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known;
as dying, and see-- we are alive;
as punished, and yet not killed;
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
as poor, yet making many rich;
as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
The way we are treated is not the reality. Who we are is not who we appear to be.

It is a repeated motif in Scripture and in stories of all kinds. You probably have had someone even say to you at some point, “OH! So you are…” and then they go on to tell you that you were more than they thought. You were more than you seemed. We all are. We are made in the image of God, with all the implications of that. And yet, we treat ourselves and each other with things that are less than that far too often.

Think of how this season might change you if you wrote on your mirror “You are Beloved of God.” As you shake hands, say in your mind, “They are the Beloved of God.” What a blessed season this would be.

As I started today, we have two hands and can only grasp, at most two things. We have one mind, we can only grasp one thing at a time. Lent is a recognition of our limits. Lent is a recognition that every so often we need to pause, reset, reboot ourselves so we can run our best lives, be our best selves.

We are reminded that “we are put on earth but a little space.” Our days are numbered. In a moment we will go through a rite, where we are reminded of that mortality. But this is not morbidity.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminds us, though, that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. From the beginning of A Psalm for Life:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
   Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
   And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
   And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
   Was not spoken of the soul.
Lent is our time of honing our minds, our hearts, our bodies, for the expanding of our soul. It is embracing our first love. It is a gift from God so we can focus on God. It is a season because that is the way we are wired. Change takes time. Take the time. Be blessed. Amen

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Blessings, Rock