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.

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.