Ash Wednesday Sermon Preached at St. Alban’s El Cajon 2016
In ancient Israel the symbolism of ashes was understood to be a forceful reminder of the pervasiveness of human sin and of the inevitability of human death. What is the message from the early church? I think it is instructions for everyday living. The message is about personal piety, charitable donations, and private prayer. This is about the religious practices of everyday life of Judaism. Isaiah calls us to sincere deeds of unselfish personal sacrifice, not false humility disguised by fasting. Isaiah, Paul, and Matthew are asking us to examine our personal piety.
- As many of you know I hang out with the homeless. One of my friends there came to the camp all chopped up, face, hands, and head. We asked what happen? He said that he got drunk and fell onto the channel rocks. He tried not too but just could not stop and went over the edge. After a long silence I said why didn’t you not just sit down? He had no answer, but said that he will try that the next time he was in that situation. Weeks later he was healed and looked good. Then two days later he was all beat up again. The first thing he said to me was, “I forgot to sit down.”
So like my friend that forgot to sit down, I ask you to remember to sit down and go to that special private place in your heart. Remind yourselves that in that secret room of your heart there is reward and rest. What a loving God we have. (Verse 14 of the psalm 103 suggests that a father’s compassion is related to his understanding of the child’s frailty.)
Paul calls on the Corinthians, “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:20b) You know that Christ thought with a human mind, worked with human hands, and loved with a human heart. Yet was without sin. We have this good news. We have this great high priest that understands us. We know that we can turn to him and find forgiveness and love.
I bid you a holy lent of praying, fasting, and loving completely. Especially loving completely, and remember to sit down and go to that secret place in your heart, where your treasure is, and be with God. Amen
During the time that I have been ill, I have had time to think about the mission of a deacon and my mission. Leander S. Harding wrote a book called ” To Persevere in Love: meditations on the ministerial priesthood” in his book he talks about the guidance of the Holy Spirit and Bishops. He points out that the bishop is a successors of the apostles. The bishop delegate some aspect of their ministry to deacons and priest. Deacons are given a special responsibility for the poor, the sick, and the lonely and assist the bishop and priests in the preaching of the word of God and the administration of the sacraments.
I got to thinking again about my mission. I feel a call to preach and serve the church. I also have a strong call to serve the whole church. I understand that my ordination means that I am to be an icon of Jesus Christ who came to serve and not be served. I would hope that my calling may be so that many may be called. Whenever I read the gospel in the Eucharist my hope is I remember that the symbolism of my reading is that of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth opening the scroll of Isaiah and saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has called me to preach the good news to the poor.”
Soon we will be washing feet in holy week and again I hope I remember that I am an icon of Christ as he washed the feet of the disciples on the night that he was betrayed. I would hope that in this season of lent that I will keep the image of Christ the servant. I so want to be in the midst of his people and hopefully stirring them up to servanthood. Always remembering Christ death and resurrection and never forgetting Jesus Christ concern for the poor,feeding and healing. His cross that makes no sense to the world. Even in this enlighten and highly sophisticated intellectual world. The words of Paul are still true, “the cross of Jesus Christ is foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews but to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God”(1 Cor 1:18)
If I understand my ordination as carrying the charism of the order as a witness to the charitable deeds of Christ but also of his saving death and mighty resurrection. I ask the question, “Do I really feel that I have died and that my life is hidden with God in Christ?” if the answer to this question is yes then my task is laid out before me. I am to fed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and preach the good new to them. If the poor are not reconciled to the Father in one body through the cross, if not then I leave them hungry and naked still in their sin. I want to show that what I preach is what I live. That I have died with Chris and been born anew from above, and hopefully evident as much by who I am as what I say.
Pray for me my brothers and sisters.
This morning I was reflecting on the Lenten messages of the past. How so many times the message was give up something until it hurts, but this year I am thinking about giving away things like good thoughts, smiles food and clothing.
During my sickness and recovery I have been studying Paul. I read many books and journals. Books on perching Paul and the historical Paul. It is in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that he ask’s the church in Corinth to give of themselves and goods to the church in Jerusalem.
Christ showed the way. It is God’s grace that he shared a love that does not hesitate of offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing in all things with everyone. Love breaks down walls and eliminates distances between people. Just think about the mystery of Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary, truly human in very way except sin. Jesus worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted by his human choice and loved with his human heart.
Jesus made himself poor, not because he was seeking for himself, but because as Saint Paul say’s”that by his poverty you might become rich”. Play on words? I don’t think so. I think this Gods logic. The logic of love in the incarnation and cross. Paul states that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Paul is very aware of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8) “he is the heir of all things” (Heb 1:2) In that Christ chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery.
So what is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us? First it is his way of loving us, he’s way of being our neighbor. If I follow Christ this lent in this kind of poverty I will be rich in Christ. Some where (I can’t remember where) I read that the real poverty is not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.
The next question that came to my mind was, “How do I take this message to my community ?” It is not easy to talk about human resources and distributive justices in this corporate society. During this election year it is even more difficult. I know that the Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution and I am called on to proclaim the liberation news that forgiveness for sins is possible, God is greater than our sins, and that he freely loves us no matter what, and that we are all made for communion and eternal life. This should be good news to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness of soul, hunger, and homelessness. But it is only good news if we feed, house and provided Christian community to all. Bottom line for me is to imitate Christ as best I can. This lent can be for all of us a time of self-denial becoming more responsible for the destitution around us and remember that social justice is our calling.