Brokenness and Reconciliation, February 26, Ash Wednesday

Brokenness and Reconciliation

Rev. Cathy Schuyler; Ash Wednesday

Quarryville United Methodist Church for the CPQ charge; February 26, 2020

 

Appreciating Ash Wednesday and Lent doesn’t come easy for me.  I don’t like to be told I’m wrong.  Perhaps some of you know that all too well; if so, I apologize. Because I am wrong.  Not all the time, but sometimes, probably even more than sometimes.  And I’m not the only one who is wrong sometimes.  We all are.   Ash Wednesday challenges us to own that truth.  We don’t always get it right. 

 

Father Billy Critchley-Menor was a kid when we were in Duluth.  He’s now a Jesuit priest, writing a blog as part of his ministry.  He reflects on Ash Wednesday’s good news that we aren’t alone in our sin.

 

There is something I find at Mass on Ash Wednesday that I don’t find elsewhere. Nowhere besides here do I step in line with old ladies in purple sweaters, fellow students, elderly widows, the nuns, the homeless, the workers on lunch hour, the priests, and the University president to face our shame, imperfections, and our transgressions, together.

In Lent, I am reminded that Church is a safe space for sinners. I come here willingly to be reminded of my failure and need for repentance. But I also come here, surrounded by so many others, to be told that failure and the need for repentance is normal. Far from self-improvement or self-empowerment, here I am reminded that “self” is needy and dependent.

That truth sets me free. Because it is hard to examine my life and look at the ways I have hurt people. It’s uncomfortable to confront my selfishness, or my complacency in a culture of sexism, racism, and consumerism. It is inconvenient to feel shame for my waste and my greed and my pride. It is inconvenient to give things up. And if it wasn’t for Church, I probably wouldn’t do those things.

So in Lent, I do give something up. I happily give up the dreadful task of relying on myself.

Ash Wednesday and Lent are the times we set aside in the church to remember that, to remember our sin and God’s mercy. Because we forget. Our tendency as humans, regular humans, is to focus our attention on ourselves.  To remember the times we get things right; to focus on the control we exert over our own lives and the wise and clever things we do.  Most of us are willing to overlook and explain away those things we do that are not of love or that are unjust.  Lent, then, is a tool, a tool that generations of Christians have found useful, to refocus the life of a Jesus-follower on God.  Some people fast, because it’s a helpful way to remember the truth that we are very physical creatures, and that hunger is a way to remind ourselves that our neighbors hunger frequently, that God who created us all asks that we not forget those neighbors, but care for them.  A fast is not put before you as a requirement, that you are to undertake unwillingly or as a burden.  It is a discipline.  Maybe a deliberate fast, or some other kind of a discipline might help you refocus your heart on God’s ways.  A voluntary discipline might renew a regular connection with God in your life. 

 

The word from Isaiah makes it clear that God is not demanding, not even asking, that you fast from chocolate or strawberries and continue to treat people poorly.  That’s precisely the opposite of what God’s intention is for any of us.  If you can devote your life and your time to feeding the poor and housing the homeless, and you can also focus some time on delving into the life of Jesus to find peace in your heart and work for peace in the world, go for it.  Leave the discipline of Lent behind and live God’s gracious love in all that you do. 

 

If, like most of us, you don’t quite live up to all you hope you might, consider the tool of a Lenten discipline – abstaining from food of some sort on a particular schedule, or adding a purchase of $5 of food for the hungry each time you shop in between now and Easter, or reading a Psalm and a portion of the gospel of Luke or Mark each day, or spending five minutes on your daily walk to stop at a peaceful place and pray for your friends, and your enemies.  Your dog will be curious, but will probably wait for your. Choose a practice, a discipline, that makes sense for you and your life.  Just do it.  Not because I said so, or because there is pressure from your friends, but because you choose to deepen your connection to God. 

 

Ash Wednesday?  Simply a day to begin.  Just a reminder that we all come at this as the broken humans that we are.  And that this is the day – not because of a special day on the calendar, but because we are limited.  As human creatures, we are limited by time.  We have but a few years on this earth; we are dust and to dust we shall return.  What do you want to leave when you die?  Yes, you could put that decision off until tomorrow, but the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us that we don’t have all the tomorrows ahead.  We are mortal, limited beings and capable of sin as we are capable of great love.  God’s mercy is forever, and it encompasses us all – in our glory and in our brokenness.  These aren’t all conversations we enjoy having.  We prefer to talk about hope and grace and an intention to love.  On Ash Wednesday we come face to face with the reality that we haven’t always lived in love, we have been agents of discord as well as ambassadors of reconciliation, and we have but a limited amount of time to live as we are called to live.  So we recommit ourselves to God, calling out again – create in me a clean heart, O God.  Forgive my sin, cleanse my soul, and renew a right spirit, a giving spirit, a gracious and forgiving spirit within me.  We are broken, yet precious in God’s sight.  We live each day in that paradoxical space, sinful and beloved both.  Today we remember that we are dust, and we look to reclaim the life we have left before us to God’s love.  Amen.

 

Isaiah 58:1-12

58Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

 

 

Psalm 51:1-17 (UMH 781)

1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For 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! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

 

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6“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. 2“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. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5“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. 6But 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. …

 

 

16“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. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so 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.

19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

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