Ash Wednesday, 2.26.2020

Blessings on all of you as we gather today. We are wearing a grey smudge of a cross, a sign of our discipleship and a sign of our mortality. We wear it as a reminder our time is short, so make the most of what we have left. To remember to WHOM we belong. That our identity is found IN Christ.

We read in the gospel today that the Judeans are so angry at Jesus, they pick up stones to stone him. We may wonder what did he do to provoke them so much that they wanted to kill him?

Just before this passage, he has been declaring who has the fake and who has the authentic relationship with God, and SURPRISE! it’s not the religious leaders who have the authentic relationship! Jesus has just got through saying his sheep hear his voice. In v 30, Jesus declares the nature of his relationship with God the Father and Creator. He says, “The Father and I are one.” This declaration provokes a murderous hatred. He’s proclaiming to WHOM he belongs, and they want to kill him for that.

Jesus’ VOICE resonates with his sheep, and NOT with others. He says, “I am God’s Son.” This statement is Jesus’ good news – his relationship with the Father.

Should we be surprised by this hatred? From the beginning of his life, someone has been trying to destroy Jesus. It began with King Herod who sent out his assassins to kill babies. Now, Jesus’ mission provokes their hatred.

Why does Jesus take such risks? Why doesn’t he play it SAFE?

Why doesn’t he keep quiet?

He could have a nice life if he just kept quiet.

We know he doesn’t.

He MUST declare his identity as God’s Son. He takes these risks, so that WE in turn can declare ourselves a child of God. Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem which means death for OUR benefit. So WE can be released from the bondage of sin.

            Jesus offers to us again and again, over and over, a relationship with him, rooted in his relationship with the Father and the Spirit. This Trinity continually invites us into a relationship of LOVE and community, in which WE are transformed more and more into a child of God.

And we know that our world continues to be hostile to the gospel. This is the tragedy of human existence. On one hand we say that we want love and peace, yet when Christ comes and offers love and peace to us, we often say no. No, that’s not the love we want. The Lord of LIFE and LOVE offers himself and CONTINUES to offer himself to us in the Word, and in the elements of bread and wine. Where his love and his spirit CONTINUE to BE with us, RENEWING us, RESTORING us.

            I like to say that when God found me as a young adult, I found myself. It was pure astonishment that God found me, and pure amazement to discover myself in Christ’ LIGHT. Christ’s light SHONE on me in ways that were harsh and revealing, humbling and exhilarating, eye-opening and built me up in ways impossible to do on my own. There was also plenty of repentance as I grieved over misusing the precious life I had been given. With grace in my heart and soul, FAITH lighting my way, I had new eyes to see a new road unfurling at my feet, one of LIFE, rooted in Christ, in this NEW IDENTITY that was mine, beginning in baptism. Being a new-found child of God was a time of discovery. Like a new Lazarus, Christ had unbound me and let me go free.


This is why Jesus came to us and continues to COME to us, to give us FREEDOM. Not freedom to do whatever we want, but the FREEDOM to do God’s WILL, and in our small ways RECREATE the world. We see Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf in today’s gospel where he faces off with enemies, who are dedicated to destroying him. The power of evil LOOMS over this text; this gospel story is MORE than just human weakness objecting to Jesus; the destructive powers of evil are lining up for a battle they think they’re going to win.

Yet, we’ve read ahead, we know the ending to this story. So though we know where it leads: to the cross and death, yet we praise God, for Christ’s resurrection, which is OUR resurrection. Because of his sacrifice, WE get to rise from sin and death. Because of his sacrifice, Jesus give us HIS priceless resurrection.

            We can say with St. Paul in 1Cor. 15: 55-56, “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

We have begun the season of Lent, a time of renewal in Christ, to take stock of where we are.

It’s a season in which we journey closer with Christ, and focus on the great gift of our life and identity in HIM. Lent is a time of RENEWAL. Not that the walk with Christ is easy. Ask Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or martyrs like Oscar Romero, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The world, as we see in today’s gospel is hostile to Jesus, and to his disciples. People can’t bear the LIGHT of truth.

Lent is a time for us to scrutinize ourselves, our actions and our motives. We are to turn away from sin, so that we can share in the eternal life which begins NOW! Eternal life begins NOW! Our identity is in Christ! Our identity is found in being the lights in this WORLD here! Right now!

The problem often is that the good people like ourselves, think we’re already good enough. When my pastor told me it was time to forgive family members, one of my arguments was  – I was already a good person – why should I forgive? The answer is that there is MORE life that Jesus wants to give us. Because Christ SEES us in ways that we can’t see ourselves. We can be untied and set free, again. Christ seeks to claim MORE of us with our brokenness HEALED. Our lives RESTORED in ways we don’t suspect is possible.

But we give Jesus an argument – we’re already so good! We’re the ones who turn off the lights, make sure there are enough paper towels, keep the temperature steady. Show up to committee meetings, sign up for more committees, volunteer more, sing in the choir. We’re so good!

While sins like a judging spirit, selfishness, and a lack of forgiveness may dominate, and be the UN-lifegiving waters that percolate through us, coursing through our spiritual veins.

We are made in God’s image and likeness, Christ doesn’t want us to poison ourselves with our lack of forgiveness, a judging spirit, and selfishness. We are made in God’s image and likeness, so we can use the season of Lent to be reminded he forgave his killers on the cross. We are made in his image and likeness, so let’s not stunt our own growth by a lack of forgiveness.

There may be some or many among you who are convinced you are entitled to righteous anger, a favorite among good Christians. With ‘righteous anger’ we think we get to have our cake and eat it too. We get to keep our anger and consider ourselves righteous. The only ONE who gets to have righteous anger is GOD. We don’t get to have righteous anger. Our job is to forgive. So let’s make a Lenten resolution to forgive the people who have wronged us.

Are you looking to give up something for Lent? Don’t make it chocolate. Give up your anger. Give up your fear. Give up your inertia. Make a list of those for whom you hold grudges, and begin.

Let this Lent be the season when we put the transgressor into God’s hands, and let Christ be the one who judges.

This is why we need Ash Wednesday and that cross-shaped gray smudge. It’s a reminder that we are not finished with our walk of discipleship with Christ.

Earlier I asked, why does Jesus take such risks? Why doesn’t he play it SAFE? Why doesn’t he keep quiet? The answer is that he MUST declare his identity as God’s Son.

            How about us? Can we take risks in declaring our identity as a follower of Christ? Can we stop playing it safe? Can we use this time in Lent to reaffirm our identity as a disciple of Christ? Give up your anger and start forgiving and enjoy the renewal and restoration that brings! Christ frees us and THAT is the good news which propels us and liberates our voices, to proclaim that Jesus is Lord.

            I thank you Lord, that you gave your life for us so that we can be CHILDREN of the MOST HIGH. I thank you Lord that you didn’t play it safe, in order that we could be set FREE. Help us to speak your truth this Lenten season. Help us to reaffirm our identity as your brothers and sisters. Help us to let go of our angers and be set free. We pray this in the name of your son, Jesus Our Lord.