Ash Wednesday message:

I have not posted yet this year because I am pondering the upgrade of my blog. I won’t comment any further than this, but for now, I will post the message I gave on Ash Wednesday and maybe later the one I gave last Sunday. In the meantime, no pictures…

Ash Wednesday message. Scriptures used were: Joel 2:1-2, 12-14 & 17, II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. The title was, “We are loved anyway!!”

Before we get too deeply into our message tonight, I just want to acknowledge that tonight is the fifth time that we have joined together in an Ash Wednesday worship service. Amazing how time flies, no wonder Diane was able to stay here for 20 years, it just goes by so fast. If I wouldn’t have the computer files and the bulletins to prove it, I wouldn’t believe that we have been doing this together for this long. I actually looked it up because I was trying to determine what we have studied during Lent in the past. I could remember most of them off the top of my head, but not all. We looked at: People around Jesus, Places Jesus went, Things Jesus did, and the Things we do. This year we will take a close look at the parable of the Good Samaritan and hopefully what it means to us and in essence how do we see ourselves in terms of that parable. I don’t want to talk about any of that tonight; I just wanted to give you an idea of what we will do so that you know if it is worth putting on your coat and leaving your easy chair to come to Wednesday night services. Of course if the lunch and fellowship afterwards is anything like the past years, it might be worth enduring the service just to get to that part of the evening. Just saying.

This evening I want to talk about a couple of things and hopefully we will hit on the scripture lessons as part of the discussion. Seriously though, during the past four years we have taken the Ash Wednesday scriptures apart in more ways than one. We have also discussed at length our spiritual practices during this season. We won’t be going into any of that either. We have done those talks today is time for something different.

What I want to begin with is a little bit on this idea of 40 days of Lent. The number 40 is pretty significant in scriptures. For starters, the business of Lent has to do with Jesus in the wilderness enduring the temptation of the devil for 40 days, Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years (in an area that should have taken them what—a few weeks to pass through) before God finally let them cross into the Promised Land, then there is the business of Noah and the flood that lasted for 40 days. Understandably there is something about 40. Maybe it is something we could build on.

Think of what we could do in 40 days, or with 40 things, or by doing something during this time other than just showing up in the basement one night for the next 5 weeks to see what is for lunch. I started to think of what I could find time for. The easy thing might be to collect $1 from myself each day and at the end of the time, I would have $40 to share with someone in need. Or if I felt needy myself, maybe I would reduce that to a quarter or a dime or a nickel…

What if I tried to adopt a new habit? If I worked on this everyday for the next 40 days, I should be able to make it a permanent part of my routine…what if that is exercise, maybe not. What if I decided I should read to improve myself, I could plan to read a chapter a day. I might even finish more than one book at that rate. Maybe I could learn to play a new song on the piano. It would probably help if I could play the piano, but that is a different story. Of course there is always the clean out our life sort of project. Maybe I could chose to sort just one drawer or a shelf or a box each day. By the end of Lent, I could have a pretty good handle on the cleaning that needs doing around my place. Well actually it will take at least 5 more times of Lent to get that finished.

What if I took the time to pray for someone each day? By the end of Lent I could have spent time praying for 40 people. Or, if I choose to do something in service for others, something each day—maybe that random acts of kindness thing: open a door, help someone carry something that seems too heavy for them, call someone just to see how they are doing, share my box of chocolates, bake a friend a cake for their birthday, pay the coffee for everyone at the table… you get the idea. If we did that could we change the world, probably not, but we would change a little part of it. So do we do this now, today, this season of Lent? But we didn’t have time to plan, can’t we wait till next year?

In II Corinthians we learn that it is up to us to do it now. At the end of verse 2 Paul writes: “See now is the acceptable time, see now is the day of salvation.” Paul wrote this to the Corinthian Church for them to read in their time, but each time we gather and read this, we hear it new again. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. This is part of what we need to understand in the next 40 days. It isn’t about all that other stuff that I mentioned earlier. Oh yes, it would be great if we could go out and find 40 people to help in some way or other. It would be great if we made a donation of X-times 40 to help out some group or person or facility in need. But the fact is that Paul is telling us whatever you do, do it now. Today is the day. Now is the time. We don’t know when Christ plans to return; we don’t know our day or hour, what we do know is that the words Jesus left for the disciples in Matthew 9:37 and Luke 10:2 are still true today, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

In the beginning of what we read from this same passage, Paul is explaining to the Corinthian church that Jesus was sent to earth to take on the sins of the world. Jesus was the One who knew no sin/Jesus had no sin of his own, nothing. Jesus was sinless, blameless and had no reason at all to be offered up in sacrifice for the world, but because of that totally indescribable intertwining love of God the Father/God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Christ came to earth and died so that we can receive forgiveness and salvation.

And is it because we deserve it? Actually it is quite the opposite.

We are given this opportunity because God loves us. God created us out of love and God redeems us out of love, and it is up to us to accept that love and share it with anyone and everyone that we are able to. This morning when I sat down and opened up my copy of The Upper Room I was struck by just how much God loves us and just how silly it is for us to think that we need to be worthy of that love. We can’t be worthy of God’s love, but the truth is that God gives it to us anyway. The Upper Room today referenced the human lineage of Jesus, and in the lineage we see that Boaz the man who married Ruth and was the great-grandfather of King David was also the son of Rahab the prostitute.

The issue is that God accepts us as we are and gives us a place in the kingdom if we are willing to do what we are asked to do. God accepts us and loves us and forgives us when we turn back from our sinful nature. The words of Joel that we read tonight confirm that forgiveness is ours if we ask, vs. 13 “rend your hearts and not your clothing, Return to the Lord, your God for he is gracious and merciful.” God loves us even in our unworthiness. Seriously there is no way we can ever be worthy unless we accept Christ.

I want to share the jest of something I found in some of my digging in boxes a few weeks ago. I had torn the page out of the back of a Woman’s Day magazine. It was a one page article by Salley Shannon. She writes: “Little Things that Matter Big.” It begins with a story about how she had been given a large bottle of Chanel No. 5, a perfume that she really liked, but she did not use it much because she wanted to save it for “good.” Sometime after she received it, her mother passed away, and she had to stay at her mother’s home during the time of the funeral, and she ended up staying in her mother’s room. While she was there, she found that her mother had been using an old night gown that was falling apart while the new ones that the children had given her for Christmas and birthdays over the years were all in the drawers still in the gift boxes. She also found that the towel she used in the bathroom was falling apart while the new fluffy ones were in the closet untouched. It made her believe that her mother felt unworthy of the pretty and nice new things that her children had given her. Later in the article the woman wrote that when she got home, she realized that her bottle of perfume had dried up from lack of use, apparently because she wasn’t worthy of wearing it. At the end of the article she writes that she has changed and now eats her everyday snacks on her fine china.

I share this story with us tonight so that we can think about the concept of worthy. No one is worthy of God’s love, but we have the opportunity to experience it anyway, that is how much God loves us. Matthew chapter 6 lets us know that God is not looking to reward or to call the righteous in fact at the end of verse 2 it says, “they have received their reward.” Matthew is telling us what Jesus says about those who practice piety, those he calls the hypocrites who ring bells so others see their donation in the offering plate or see their grand demonstrations of prayers. We are not called to make grand gestures. We are called to humble ourselves before God and to store up our treasures in heaven.

The bottom line is that starting today, for the next 40 days, we are called as a congregation to consider the fact that Christ came to earth to endure temptations, betrayal, beatings and even death on the cross not for status or power or wealth or personal gain. Jesus came so that we, us, the people who might be like the women in that story who never quite feel good enough. Jesus did it all for us not because we are worthy, but because we are loved. The question is how will we return that love, or maybe the modern term is how can we pay it forward… because we know there is no way to pay it back. Amen!

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