February 14, 2018
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Canon Sue Wallace using Joel 2:12-17 at Solemn Eucharist on Wednesday 14th February 23018, Ash Wednesday.
Nadia Bolz Weber the American Lutheran pastor once said that Ash Wednesday is her “favourite day of the church year”, which is, I must admit quite an unusual thing to say. Her reason? Well she says that “Our culture has quite ruined Christmas and Easter with Santa and the Easter bunny and all the grotesque consumerism and made for TV specials behind all of it.”
But, oddly enough, the celebrities are not queueing up to take part in the Ash Wednesday “You are going to die” Come Dancing Special. There are no big garish displays of models dressed in sackcloth and ashes in department store windows. We have Ash Wednesday entirely to ourselves.
On the whole, our culture has no idea what to do with a day that celebrates the fact that we are all sinful and every one of us will end up in the grave. It is utterly utterly counter-cultural, and yet utterly utterly lovely, because it sharply and abruptly forces us to confront the reality of our own failures, making us contemplate what is really important in life. Then it lovingly urges us to throw ourselves totally and beautifully upon the mercy of God, the one who longs to bring us the kiss of wholeness healing and spiritual resuscitation. So on this very special day of two merging feasts. Let us put the Lent into Valentine’s day.
For in a culture of greater and greater pressure, where human beings can feel that they are stuck like cogs in a machine whizzing ever and ever faster it is important to note that we are finite and fragile, made of dust and ashes which the miraculous Breath of God has animated. The fact that we are mortal actually gives us a chance to live, really live, rather than passively marking time on automatic pilot.
So what is really important to you and what would be your regrets if by this time tomorrow we were singing your requiem?
It is interesting that a number of studies have flagged up the fact that when people are dying they do not regret missing out on that management position at work, or the fact that they could have earned more money, or been famous. They regret very little of the things that our society is constantly striving after as being important.
No, they regret the fact that they didn’t spend enough time with their families, or cuddling their pets. They regret not valuing people as much as things. They regret working too hard,ignoring their friends, not expressing their feelings. They regret not being true to themselves.
Not being true to yourself and who God has called you to be. Perhaps this could be one definition of what sin is. For, as I mentioned on Sunday at Matins, God made us for glory. Even that dust of which we were made and to which we shall return, even that dust is made of stars. For, if cosmologists are to be believed, when the universe was made there were only helium and hydrogen elements. The other elements we take for granted, the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, had to be cooked up in those giant furnaces that we know as stars over 4.5 billion years ago. As Moby once sang. “We are all made of stars.” Yet we forsook this glory for idols. idols of our own making: but subtly different for each and every one of us. Money, power, influence, the latest car, the latest gadget. There was a saying going around the internet a few years ago which went:
People were created to be loved
Things were created to be used
The reason why the world is in chaos
I because things are being loved
And people are being used.
Yet knowing that there is a problem, that we are broken and in need of repair, that we are ill and in need of a doctor, is the first step in putting things right. For it is then that we are willing to stretch out our hands and beg for help from the One who will pull us up out of our misery.
There is actually great hope in admitting our mortality and brokenness because then we can finally lay aside our personal self-improvement programs (which almost never work because we find it hard to stick to them) and allow God to be God and rescue us. Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it.
And thus, may your journey through Lent be a beautiful journey of reality, rescue and hope when you rediscover your stardust and how utterly loved you really are.