Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"Why Bother?" -- A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

"We follow Jesus not in HOPE that he’s our ticket into heaven but in RESPONSE to the promise he incarnates that nothing – even death – can separate us from the love of God."

March 9, 2011

It is Ash Wednesday once more – the entry point for yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter. And today we hear again the words as familiar as their outward-and-visible signs etched on our foreheads: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On this Ash Wednesday, as the liturgical season shifts from Epiphany to Lent, we are called to make a shift, too. Our focus shifts, as it does every year at this time, from stories about the outward manifestations of God's presence among us to a more interior place as we journey with Jesus on the road we know leads to Golgotha – to the cross – and ultimately, to the resurrection.

And so, on this Ash Wednesday, here is my annual advice for the journey ahead: Do not give up epiphanies for Lent!

It’s another commercial for “the Land of And” … Let us not become so inwardly focused that we forget to notice – to give thanks for – to respond to – those encounters we can and will have with the holy in the next 40 days. Let us not become so focused on our own “journey with Jesus” that we forget that as long as there are still strangers at the gate, walking humbly with our God is not enough: let us not forget that we are also called to do justice.

Called to do justice. During Lent? Really???? Yes. Really. And it’s not something Ed Bacon came up during a glory attack or an idea that’s exclusive to All Saints Church. It’s a call that was issued by Isaiah and incarnated by Jesus. It’s as old as the prophets and as urgent as this morning’s news … it’s a call to fast for justice:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly
The fast Isaiah calls us to isn’t about giving up Twitter or Starbucks or Girl Scout cookies for Lent … it’s about getting ANYTHING out of the way that gets in the way of our being aligned with God’s love, justice and compassion ... as we journey into these 40 days of Lent and beyond. It’s why we bother – not just with this service and these ashes this season of Lent. It’s why we bother to follow Jesus.

Let’s face it … you could all be doing something else with this hour at noontime … Eating lunch. Picking up dry cleaning. Going to the gym. Playing Farmville on Facebook. But you’re here. In this church. In this moment. Remembering that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Why bother?

It’s a bit like a question I got on my blog this week in response to Sunday’s sermon:

So if we're all going to heaven anyway, what's the point of going to Mass or even bothering to have a relationship with Christ and following any commandments at all? Why bother?

It’s a classic question and one I’ve had on my heart getting ready for today. What is the answer we give to those who wonder why we’re here … who wonder why we bother. Lots of people don’t. Bother. With Lent. There’ll be a lot more people here on Easter Sunday than there are today. And there are even more who have dismissed the “whole Christian thing” because it was reduced for them to “follow these rules and you’ll get into heaven” – and condemns to “the Lake of Fire” anybody who doesn’t. Follow the rules. The way you do.

Why bother? Here’s my short answer:

We bother because we gather here today not to try to earn God’s love by following rules but to give thanks for God’s love that transcends all boundaries. We bother because we follow Jesus not in HOPE that he’s our ticket into heaven but in RESPONSE to the promise he incarnates that nothing – even death – can separate us from the love of God. And freed from that fear of death we are free to live life abundantly … and to risk journeying into the wildernesses that cry out for the love, justice and compassion that God calls us to live out in the world.

We bother because there are many “wildernesses” into which we are called this Lent 201l: If we are to be a people who have bread to share with the hungry we must challenge those who would balance our budgets on the backs of the least of these.

We bother because we serve the God whose fast is “to let the oppressed go free” – and so we continue to speak out about protecting family values that value ALL families.

We bother because in order to choose the fast Isaiah offers us this Lent we must continue to undo the thongs of the yokes of racism AND sexism that continue to keep this country and this church from being all that God would have them be.

We bother because living up to our baptismal covenant calls us to advocate for just immigration policies that will truly respect the dignity of every human being.

We bother because today we choose again to follow the one who calls us to journey with Him into those wildernesses -- bearing the Good News of a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.

It is Ash Wednesday once more – the entry point for yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter. And now IS the acceptable time. May we be given the grace to choose the fast our God calls us to choose … trusting that the One who calls us into this wilderness will be with us and bless us on the journey.


Nicole Porter said...

Thanks for proving my point.


You're welcome. (See either Matthew 11:15 or Mark 4:9 -- Let those with ears to hear, listen!)

danielj said...

dear Martin danielj here I figure i would post a last response to you here, as this thread is likely the one you will visit today.

I do care for you, very much... I pray for you daily(and in a good, humble way). But i am serious when i say i am done with discourse with you on this public forum.

You are just way too much id, for it to be healthy for me to continue in the way we have been.

But if you ever decide that all this external projection/inward deflection/defensive denial stuff is no longer working for you...let me know and we can talk via private emails.

If you want to take a look inward and do some healing, i would be a very good christian friend to have. But in the current situation, I am no good for you, and you are no good for me.

the Lord be with you

Nicole Porter said...

Daniel, I'm not in denial and I'm not the one needing to be healed. Just know that even though I strongly disagree with you, I have no ill will against you. Do what you must.


Anonymous said...

You answer the question by begging the question of whether or not there's a god to begin with. For those of us without "Baptismal Covenants" (made for most when they were small babies-hard to see how a court would hold you to that!)this makes no sense. I don't believe in god. I have no idea how you can decry the Fundiegelicals' politics and then give out your own take which you claim are valid based on the same, tired assertion "Do this or god will be angry".
I am disgusted with religion-all religion-because it's a waste of time. It's a waste of money. Its adherents are self-obsessed, self-important, middle-class, middle-aged and middle-brow. I don't see why you run twice as fast to get to the same place. Unless you really like dressing up on Sundays in weird clothes-and getting someone to pay you to do so, this is a waste of time.
When danielj and Martin T. become friends again over the psychbabble.....

rob said...

Yes Martin this does answer the question. In THIS gospel the salvation message of Jesus is example and universal love. Though technically, The actual content of the baptismal vows being conveniently glossed over to only mean social justice. "salvation" apparently does not in fact mean the gift of eternal life through faith for those who believe. Rather it is eternal love for all no matter what one believes or hopes.