To Seek the Truth: Ash Wednesday 2012

February 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

United and St Paul Lutheran Churches

Ash Wednesday (texts from Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

February 22, 2012

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

For many years I have heard this familiar refrain

from well-meaning ministers and Christian people:

‘This year I’m not ‘giving up’ something for Lent,

I’m ‘taking on’ something for Lent.”

I must confess that I find it rather cheeky

that suddenly in these enlightened times

our generation has suddenly found the secret

to improving the ancient Christian practice of Lent.

Granted, during Lent we always are called upon to refocus our priorities,

to give money to the poor we might not think to do at other times,

to give extra attention to the Word,

to devote more time to prayer.

All of these are well and good.

There is always a sense in which we are doing something more.

So why am I uneasy?

Maybe there’s a good reason well-meaning people

suggest taking something on for Lent rather than giving something up.

Maybe it’s that the practice we all grew up with,

giving up a favorite comfort food or a leisure activity,

is quite frankly so little of a sacrifice for many people

that it hardly qualifies as a sign of repentance.

You give up chocolate? Dunkin’s got lots of stuff without chocolate.

You give up a game on the computer? There’s something else to distract you.

Maybe I have not understood for many years

that the impulse behind a taking on of an extra something

is motivated by the unspoken sense that for many of us,

our Lenten discipline is not really such.

Certainly it is not the response to the urgent calls of Amos for public repentance,

to the fervent pleas of St Paul to be reconciled to God.

But I still am concerned,

because Lent is not to be about what we can accomplish for God’s sake,

but about humbling ourselves before God.

The essence of Lent is not throwing ourselves into a frantic race

to live the faith we should live every day.

The essence of Lent is to seek the truth, for the first time or the hundredth;

and that means emptying our lives

of all that is superficial and needless

so that we might devote ourselves to seeking that truth.

The essence of Lent is to seek the truth.

The truth about God, and the truth about ourselves.

The truth is we were made for relationship with God,

but we want to control that relationship.

The truth is that we want God, but we want him on our terms,

living mostly for ourselves and squeezing God in when it is convenient,

filling our lives with things we can see and touch and taste and manipulate,

and daring to praise ourselves and to seek praise from others

for our piety, for our little faith, for our religious behavior.

The truth is we are created,

dependent upon God for everything.

God gave us our parents, who fed and sheltered us,

God gave us our community, who nurtured and educated us,

God gave us the Church, to tell us that we were sinners

but that God himself had found us in Jesus Christ.

Having learned from the Word,

we humble ourselves in the silence of our hearts,

emptying ourselves of the pretension

that we might be able to accomplish something for God,

something that would make God and others sit up and take notice.

We do not seek the praise of others

nor even for God to praise us,

but only for the grace to live in God’s presence.

It is then that God gives us himself,

so that he might accomplish what he desires through us,

no matter how great or little it might seem to us.

The ashes on our forehead today

can remind us of at least three truths.

When we are lifted high, puffed up and proud,

they are there to knock us down,

challenging us to remember that our lives are not our own,

that we are not made of eternal stuff,

and that the one who made us from the dust of the earth

will return us to the dust.

But they are also a reminder that it is from the earth

that God causes fruit to spring forth.

To be a creation of God

is to be imbued with God’s potential,

for he may implant in the ground seeds that can bear fruit for his glory.

We need do nothing but be empty, waiting for God to accomplish his will in us.

And finally, the ashes in the shape of a cross are testament

that in Jesus Christ, God himself came down to the dust,

Jesus shared in our guilt and bore its consequences,

Jesus was the fertile soil from which the Church sprung forth.

And Jesus is the one who makes both dust and cross

not merely symbols of death

but promises of the new life

which is given to us to seek truth:

the truth about us, that we are sinners always in need of grace;

the truth about God, that he is grace who comes for sinners,

and makes us sons and daughters.

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Entry filed under: Lent, Sermons. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Ash Wednesday: The Church Confesses… (Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Guilt, Justification, and Renewal) Living in the Covenant – Sermon 1 Lent 2012

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