Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2 Corinthians 5:2-b  – 6:10

Well, we’re about to confess that bracing list of sins that always catches us up short on Ash Wednesday—Soon we’ll be confessing everything from unfaithfulness, pride, envy, hypocrisy and apathy to self-indulgent appetites, deafness to God’s call, silence in the face of injustice and suffering, prejudice towards and contempt of those who differ from us and lack of concern for others who will come after us.  At least for me, there will be nothing in there that I don’t see when I look in the mirror.

There’s plenty of talk these days that tries to pull the wool over our eyes by promising boundless individual growth and happiness.  The trouble is all that the talk glosses over the guilt & pain & death that go along with being a human being and sidesteps our responsibility to others and to the world and does a great job of overlooking our capacity for extraordinary evil.[1]

The species we belong to is, after all, capable of Auschwitz and Hiroshima capable of September the 11, capable of Sandy Hook, capable of being enthralled with drones and assault weapons, capable of creating a world where most are poor and hungry, capable of depleting the earth’s resources.

I remember one time holding my first grandchild after his bath.  He was wrapped in a towel, and he had this sweet smell of coconut oil and was all shiny and clean and warm.

And I wondered how someone so sweet smelling and beautiful and cuddly could one day end up confessing along with the rest of us . . .  doubt that he’s made in God’s image, unfaithfulness, pride, apathy and contempt, deafness to God’s call, silence in the face of injustice and suffering and all the rest.

As someone says, “Each of us is a saint and a scoundrel waiting to happen.  A complicated interplay of influences, decisions and graces.”[2]  And that brings us to Ash Wednesday which won’t allow us to pull the wool over our eyes and gloss over the guilt and pain and death that go with being human.  Won’t allow us to gloss over our personal responsibility to the rest of humanity.

We are capable of extraordinary evil . . . and also extraordinary good.

For us who belong to Jesus, a promise pierces through the complicated interplay of all the influences and decisions that are part of our lives.  For our sake, Jesus made himself to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  So that…in him…we might become…the righteousness of God.  That’s the promise—in him we become the righteousness of God.

“Us?” we might say.  The righteousness of God?  We’re not babies after all; the words we’ll confess are a pretty good fit.  And precisely because they’re such a good fit,  Jesus becomes one of us, and we become the proof of God’s love.

Out of great love for humanity, Jesus experiences our life of sin and suffering.  And in Jesus, the love of God pierces through our whole litany of offenses.  We can plead guilty knowing that no aspect of our human lives is beyond the reach of God.

One day over at the court house I overheard a conversation between a newspaper reporter & somebody from the legal profession.  The reporter was asking, “Anything important going on here today?”  (Trying to get a lead on a bad news story.)  And the response was:  “Just the usual . . . minor pleas to minor offenses.”

I doubt anybody in court that day was thinking, “Oh, just here today to make a minor plea to a minor offence.”  More likely hearts were beating faster and sweat glands working overtime.  We learn the stress of guilt not long after we leave the sweet-smelling baby stage.  And guilt is a lead on a bad news story.

Lent, on the other hand, is a lead on a GOOD news story.  In God’s way of doing things, whether our pleas are major or minor, in Christ, the power of God is piercing through every corner of our human story.  Every corner of our lives is a place where God is at home.

This GOOD news story doesn’t start with our own major or minor pleas.  The good news story starts w/ the major plea Jesus makes for us on the cross.  Because of God’s extreme generosity to us in Jesus, the verdict has already been spoken.  We are children of God, made in God’s image.  Forgiven, redeemed, and made whole.

Lent is a lead on a GOOD news story…the story of Christ crucified & risen.  With extravagant generosity, Christ gave his whole life for us on the cross.  Therefore, we have become the righteous of God:  peacemakers and enemy lovers, justice seekers and doers of radical acts of kindness, people who walk humbly with our God.

We are free to live inside the GOOD news story of the One who penetrates and precedes us into the bad news stories around us and within us. This is our hope, and this is our promise.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

[1] Haddon Klingbert, Jr, When Life Calls Out to Us, 2001.

[2] Ibid.

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