The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
14 February 2018
Ash Wednesday, B
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Jesus has a lot to say today,
don’t do this.
Act like this,
not like that.
Don’t be like those people,
be like me.
Pray this way,
give that way,
fast that way.
Give it all away.
Our text from Matthew’s gospel,
really sets the tone for Lent in a number of ways.
It may even seem contradictory
to why we’ve gathered tonight for ashes.
But it’s not.
This season of Lent that we’re starting
is about living the way of Jesus.
It’s not 40 days of focusing on repentance
and all the wrongs we’ve done
to one another
to the earth.
It’s not 40 days of focusing on the Passion,
an extended meditation on Jesus’ beatings
or the cross.
It’s 40 days of living like Jesus.
It’s 40 days of walking with those preparing to be baptized
to show them how to live like Jesus.
Lent proper starts today,
and today is the day we focus on confession.
The rest of the season,
we focus on
Those are living the life of Jesus.
Jesus warns us,
“do not look dismal,
like the hypocrites,
for they disfigure their faces
so as to show others that they are fasting,”
and we’re about to put ashes on our heads.
We don’t, however, put ash on our heads
to let people know that we’re fasting.
We put ashes on our foreheads
to remind ourselves and one another
that we are dust, and to dust we will return.
We are dust, and to dust we will return,
but we are redeemed dust,
dust chosen by God
and marked as Jesus’ own in our baptisms.
We are dust that will know the reality of death
death which has been defeated in Jesus’s resurrection.
We start our Lenten pilgrimages
with dust and our own deaths,
and we’ll end them with Jesus’ death on Palm Sunday.
We come together today
acknowledging that we will die
and trusting that we will be saved from death.
We rely not on ourselves for that salvation
but Jesus the Christ
who we will try especially hard to live like
in the coming weeks.
Often when I talk with peers
not affiliated with the Church
they ask what they need to repent of
and what they might need to be saved from.
On their faces these are reactionary questions.
Having heard so much
about the need to get saved
without seeing the world be any better
by the supposed saved
these friends are jaded about and annoyed by religion
if they pay it any heed at all.
But because I’m a priest
who believes strongly
in the power of confession and reconciliation
I have a ready answer.
“Have you ever lied to someone?
Have you ever hurt someone else?
Have you ever acted in a way that isn’t good
for you or those around you?”
My questions may not answer
questions about the fullness of salvation,
but they answer why
anyone needs to confess anything.
We’re all broken.
We’re all hurt.
We all hurt others,
actively and by being parts of hurtful systems
from the environment with our cars
to the global hungry
with our domestic economic policy
related to food production.
We will die,
and we participate in others’ deaths
no matter how hard we try not to.
We keep trying,
and we live like Jesus
but we can’t do it on our own.
We can’t do it on our own,
so we gather together
and acknowledge that we are broken
that we are hurt
and that we do hurt others.
We see each other face to face
telling the same truths
living the same reality
and asking God and one another for forgiveness.
I like the way the Avett Brothers
put it in a song
on their most recent album,
“But I still wake up, shaken by dreams
And I hate to say it, but the way it seems
Is that no one is fine
Take the time, to peel a few layers
And you will find
Lent isn’t a time
where wallow in our own sadness,
but it is a time
where we pray more
and let go
in secret, like Jesus directs.
We have all of Passion Week
to think about Jesus’ death
but these 40 Days
are about living like Jesus.
We’ll focus on living like Jesus
over the next 40 days
and today we engage our true sadness.
We peel back the layers,
we acknowledge that we aren’t fine
no matter how hard we try to seem fine.
We’re reminded we’re dust.
Then we’re forgiven
and promised that even though we die
death has been defeated. Amen.