Sermon for Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector

Ash Wednesday Homily 2019

As the new Interim Rector I did something different this Ash Wednesday at All Saints. I posted a video made by the Episcopal Church on our Facebook page. If you are on Facebook, please take a look, and join our FB community.

The video begins, “two thousand years ago the Son of God issued an invitation to Repent and believe the Good News. This Ash Wednesday, The Episcopal Church invites you to join with millions of Christians around the world, as we respond to Jesus’ invitation.

So here we are, with millions of Christians around the world, marking the beginning of Lent with ashes on our foreheads.  Welcome.  I am glad you are here.

The video says, “Repentance doesn’t mean beating ourselves up, making ourselves miserable, or being overwhelmed by shame.”

That is very important.  In the solemn readings that we just heard, we encounter language like “acknowledge our wretchedness.”

I think that many of us do too much focusing on our wretchedness on a regular basis, and for many difficult reasons, shame can be a constant menace in our lives.

The church does not need to pile on more shame. So many people have left the church because their experience of church, and faith, became entangled with shame, and guilt.

That is not the intention of this liturgy, this church, or of the season of Lent. The 40 Days of Lent are instead a time of spiritual growth.

In our reading from Matthew today, Jesus has some blunt words for people who pray conspicuously to show off how pious they are.  He says, “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.” 

What does Jesus recommend we do instead?  He seems to say that being in relationship with God should become part of who we are. he says:

“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.” This sort of spiritual relationship with God takes a lifetime of turning towards God, and slowly shedding what no longer serves us in our spiritual life, and offering ourselves to God. Over time, this process helps us grow in spiritual depth.   Over time, this returning to God creates spiritual treasure in our hearts.

This sort of relationship with God takes a lifetime of turning towards God, slowly shedding what no longer serves us in our spiritual life, and offering ourselves to God. Over time, this returning to God creates spiritual treasure in our hearts.

Ash Wednesday provides a powerful gateway into the Lenten season when we can shed whatever separates us from God this year.  It will probably be different from what separated you from God last year or the year before. It’s not a one-time event, this growing closer to God.  It’s a process.

The traditional word for this kind of letting go of what no longer serves us is “repentance.” Repentance is a translation of the Greek word, “Metanoia,” which means to turn around, and reorient ourselves towards God.

One of the things that commonly separates us from God is denying our own mortality.   Because when we deny our own mortality, we are putting ourselves at the same level as God, and we are not.  We are mortals.

Our human lives are finite, and precious.  Ash Wednesday has a poignancy for me this year.  My mother passed away last Thursday. She was 87, and had been in very good health most of her life. In her last year she slowly had to face her own mortality, and so did I, as her daughter.

Understanding that reality helped us to be together in the present, and to express our love for each other. I think acknowledging our mortality helps us embrace ourselves as we are, to accept and love ourselves as the person God made us to be.

So Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and a sign of our own mortality with the Imposition of Ashes on our foreheads.

As we accept these ashes let us remember that we are beautifully created and loved by God, and the ashes are a symbol of our creation as well as our death. We are part of God’s creation, we are all made of the very dust of stars of the Big Bang at the beginning of Creation.  These ashes are a symbol of our oneness with the Earth.

When we receive the ashes, we hear the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” They symbolize our birth and death, the cycle of life.

The interesting thing is, ashes have life-giving properties. The ashes left behind after a forest fire are a natural fertilizer. When new seedlings pop up through the ashes, the nutrients of the ashes nourishes the new growth of the forest.

There’s also a poignancy to this Ash Wednesday at All Saints’ because the parish

has gone through a tough year with the illness, absence, and retirement of your

long-time Rector.  These ashes may represent a time of mourning and the planting

of seeds of renewal as we begin Lent again, as a parish.

In a few minutes, we will also receive the bread of new life in the Eucharist. It will nourish us with grace; it is the food for spiritual growth, through our sacred journey through Lent.

Wherever you are on your journey of faith, Jesus invites you to participate today. Repent of what pulls you towards death. Turn towards Jesus and walk towards newness of life. 

We are dust, and to dust we will return.  These are powerful words. Here are some other powerful words. We hear them at Baptism. We say, “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” and trace the sign of the cross in holy oil on the forehead of the newly baptized, right where we trace the cross of ashes.

May each one of you remember that “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” may these ashes be a mark of our mortality, and our new growth in Christ.  May you be blessed by a holy and sacred  Lenten journey.  Amen.

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