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A Sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, for Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020.

On Ash Wednesday we step over a threshold into Lent, the season of self-examination, reflection, and preparation for Easter, the great Christian Mystery.  Every year we encounter God’s generous love story with humanity in which Jesus lives, dies and is raised for us. If we take the opportunity to enter into this reflective season, our hearts can be opened more fully to God’s love.

As we make our way through the Ash Wednesday liturgy we will encounter language that focuses on our sinfulness. Since I firmly believe many of us are already overly critical of ourselves I always say that Ash Wednesday is not a day to pile on the guilt. However, sin is not something to be swept under the rug.  On Ash Wednesday we acknowledge our individual human sinfulness and our corporate participation in the systemic sins of our society.  And the later seems very real to me this particular Ash Wednesday.

Lent is a time when we can de-clutter our spiritual house, shift our daily habits, maybe let go of something that doesn’t work for us anymore. Lent is a time to exfoliate our souls, to let fall some of the armor that we’ve constructed around ourselves.  Lent is also a time we can grow closer with others in our faith community. In this Interim period, it’s a time we can consider who we are now as a community of faith. Lent is a time when we can intentionally spend more time with God.

Years ago I was introduced to the idea of “horizontal” vs. “vertical” time.  Horizontal time is what we are all compulsively aware of, what clocks and calendars are for.  In horizontal time our lives unfold day by day on a continuum.  The past is behind us, and we’re looking ahead to the future. And our perspective of horizontal time changes as we move through life. The point is, we’re riding along on the river of time.

In Vertical Time we momentarily step out of the river of time. We can experience Vertical time through prayer and meditation in all its forms.  In Vertical Time we live INTO this moment and accept the NOW as a gift from God. There’s another term for vertical time called “Kairos”, which means God’s time.

Pausing to step into Vertical Time or Kairos opens space within our selves. It displaces our constant time-keeping, so that we can simply BE with God.   

I think that Jesus invites us into Kairos time in the Gospel we heard today when he denounces the practices of the conspicuously religious elite, and dismisses a spirituality ruled by the ego.

Instead, Jesus models through his teaching and his life an intimate way of BEING with God that becomes second nature, an on-going dialogue, something that becomes an integral part of who you are; it beats in your heart. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

As we sit together in this beautiful space, let us take a moment of Vertical time and consider, “where is our treasure?  Where is our heart?” 

What can we leave behind this Lent that is cluttering up our inner space?  What needs to go so there’s more room for God?  Resentments, wounds, expectations, grudges, habits of being, what gets in our way of being our true selves?  What troublesome aspect of our lives can we ask Jesus to surround with love and dissolve, to heal?

The intersection of the horizontal and the vertical creates the shape of the Cross.  In Franciscan theology, the Cross is seen as the intersection of the human and the divine, the instrument through which we are reconciled to God.  This is part of the mystery that we contemplate in the Season of Lent.

In a few minutes we will come forward and receive the imposition of ashes as the sign of the cross on our foreheads with the words, “You are dust, and to dust you will return.”  At our baptism we are sealed as Christ’s own forever and anointed on our forehead with the sign of the cross.  Today these ashes will trace that same cross. 

Ashes are a powerful reminder of both the horizontal and vertical relationship we have with time. They remind us of our death, and they remind us of our eternal life.

These ashes are made of the very dust of creation, the soil of the sacred earth. God brought us to life out of the dust.  As part of our Lenten discipline, please imagine what God can do with the dust of our lives this Lent?  Imagine. 

May each one of you be blessed by a holy Lenten journey.  Amen.