Thursday, February 15, 2024

Ash Valentine's Wednesday

Happy Birthday to me! The last time Ash Wednesday coincidied with Valentine's Day was on my 50th birthday.

And that same day...a 17 year-old entered Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida with an AR-15, and killed a bunch of students and teachers. 

And on this day...there was another shooting at the Super Bowl celebration in Kansas City. 

No. I didn't mention it in my sermon. At this point, I am feeling as though anything I say on that topic of gun violence directly is met with rolled eyes and furrowed brows. 

And I have other fish to fry at the moment. Starting with getting people to stop looking only at their flaws and failures...and the trouble with "other people" and begin to see that they are truly loved by God.

Text: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21


There’s something awkward about having Ash Wednesday land on the same day as Valentine’s Day.

As the rest of the culture is exchanging cards, flowers, and chocolates…as they’re going out for an outrageously overpriced dinner for two at a restaurant…we’re here.

In the church sanctuary.

Getting marked with an ashen cross on our foreheads…

being reminded of our mortality.

Wow! Such romance, right?

But…y’know…this isn’t the only time we’re asked to stand at a 90 or even 180-degree angle from popular culture.

Stores put up Christmas ornaments…setting up those huge light-up reindeers at the end of the store aisles…while still hawking smiling jack o’lanterns and black and orange Halloween decorations….and paper turkeys for Thanksgiving.

While HalloThanksMas is happening around us in every marketplace…we come into our churches on Sunday and remember our loved ones on All Saints’ Day…then wait patiently through Advent to celebrate the inbreaking of God through Jesus at Christmas.

So…in other words…being out of step with the culture is kind of old hat for Christianity.

It’s easy to fall into thinking that such a solemn day as Ash Wednesday is a time for us to be sober…and sad.

One of my priest friends pointed out how we…the church leaders…pile it on when we pray an opening collect that talks about “acknowledging our wretchedness” as if we need to make THAT the focus for Lent.

For some of us…we spend so much time in our everyday lives seeing our “wretchedness” or hearing about how awful we are…that we fail to hear that first part of the same collect.

God “hates nothing” that God has made and forgives the sins…whatever they may be…of those who have turned to God.

Honestly…if you’re here today…those of you in person and any of you watching online…then take THAT in:

God doesn’t hate you or me.

God forgives you and me of any of shortcomings.

Because God is Love…and wants to Love you and me.

That’s the Valentine from God to us…that we are and always will be God’s beloved children.

Our biblical ancestor…the prophet Joel…has the line about “rending our hearts and not our clothing.”

The rending of clothing in biblical times was about a person expressing intense sorrow and grief.

But rather than ripping our clothes…Joel tells us…and the psalmist confirms for us….that what God seeks is for us to open our hearts…pour out whatever grievances we have…and allow God to do the work of loving us.

Through our grief.

Through our feelings of inadequacy.

Through our embarrassments.

And through whatever wounds we carry that keep us from being able to give and receive love.

This is the God who is “full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.” (Ps.103:8)

God says, “Come to me you who are weary and I will give you rest. Please let me love you.”

That’s what Ash Wednesday should be about.

A time for us to recognize that God showed us God’s love by meeting us on the ground… in our own circumstances… through the life and ministry and mission of Jesus…who we call Christ.

And what we hear from Jesus’s words in our Gospel is to take this time to get right within ourselves…as opposed to making a show of how righteous we are to others.

Think about some of what he says in our Gospel…particularly about prayer.

He talks about not making a public display of prayer…but rather going into your room and shut the door to pray.

This is again an invitation to go into our hearts…our own rooms…and make that prayer to God….

Your kingdom come

Your will be done

 On earth as it is in heaven.

It was once the custom of the church that those who were catechumens…people who were preparing to be baptized…would spend the time from Ash Wednesday to the Easter Vigil…separated from their church community to study…fast…and pray.

They were…in a sense…forced to live in the wilderness for forty days.

But what God is looking for from us is not so extreme…or adding one more thing to do to our plates.

What God is seeking is our heart….our open hearts….to allow God’s love to meet us in that place….so that God can help us to be the best versions of ourselves for a world that blithely ignores those seeking to know that they matter.

As you hear the prayer of an invitation to a Holy Lent…remember: God hates nothing…

God forgives our shortcomings…

and in the tracing of that cross on our foreheads…we are reminded that we are God’s dust…

God’s children…

God’s beloved.

In the name of God…F/S/HS


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