Year B Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Video from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Boiling Off the Excess”
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
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
"At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you."
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. 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.
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."
The other day in this bleak midwinter I made a crockpot of chili. It had been cooking for a few hours. After a good stirring, I left the lid off. One of the kids came through and thought they were helping me out, and that dad had “just forgot” and left the lid off. They put it back on. I said, “Whoa, I was letting was letting it boil down, letting it cook some of the water off.”
As we come to Lent, maybe we can think on that. We enter into a time of life where we boil off some of the excess off. We simmer down to what is essential. We concentrate till we are consecrated.
It feels like we have been in Lent a year. It has been a year of doing without, a year of fasting from. We were in week 2 of Lent when we stopped gathering due to the pandemic. That seems like a decade ago. And the thought of deprivation is hard, even for your priest. Instead of letting go, or giving up for Lent, maybe we can focus, simmer down, concentrate.
In his book, Eager to Love, Father Richard Rohr describes the heavenward call this way:
What you seek is what you are. The search for God and the search for the True Self (capital T capital S) is the same search. [p.8]
Our searching for the divine always ends in the interior. Father Rohr said, “What you seek is what you are.” Jesus said the same thing, just phrased it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
St. Francis, in what was called his “all night” prayer, prayed thus:
Who are you, O God, and who am I? [p. 8]
Friends, I will keep it simple, as I believe we are called to be in this season. If you give alms, just give them. No fanfare. If you pray, do it so only God knows. If you fast, same thing. Store up your treasures in heaven not in gaining attention down here.
I always found it a bit of a paradox that before we mark ourselves outwardly for all the world to see our piety on this day, that we read a passage on keeping our piety to ourselves.
But I mark myself with ashes this day, for me. For me to mark this season. For me to be intentional. For me to remember that when all is said and done, “I am put on earth but a little space to learn to bear the beams of love.” We are all terminal cases. Not a one of us make it out of here alive. We know this, and this knowledge can be a curse or an inspiration.
As the poet Mary Oliver penned in her poem The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Forty days, plus Sundays, is an eighth of a year. An eighth of our year to boil off some of the excess off. An eighth of our year to simmer down to what is essential. An eighth of our year to dedicate and concentrate so that we can be consecrated.
Blessings this year, this year of all years, and may we truly receive God’s attention as we devote ourselves to becoming and being our Truest Selves. To God’s honor and glory, and it the name of Christ. Amen