Ash Wednesday Worship

Audio Recording

 MARK 10 :17-27

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before Jesus, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 

He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who trust in wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

Welcome to Lent! 

Not only are we dust and ashes and soon enough to return to our beginnings, but the inability to let go of our accumulated trappings will be our demise. Thanks be to God.

Actually, this seems about right. This has been a particularly difficult week to be a human. Putin’s forces attacking Ukraine brings the superpowers and Europe to edge of our seats. A new climate report places the natural world further along the timeline than was expected. Cascading effects of war, economics and climate put all of our lifestyles, our expected comforts, and our notions of freedom and future under a transfiguring light. What will it take to survive? What must we let go of if we are to survive? What will be the collective will for the sake of the world?

I believe Jesus speaks here knowing the truth – describing the truth – not prescribing a plan of action. 

He tells the young man what he has been telling the Pharisees. You must go beyond strict observance of the Law. You must connect to the values beneath the law that undergird the law. You must get to compassion and open-heartedness, truly seeing yourself, your fate, your future, your own value in the face of that other one, that other face that we do not recognize or know.  The value of your life is no greater than that of the homeless, hungry outside your door. If our perspective extends only to what is personally satisfying and fulfilling, and does not encompass the needs and rights of others outside our gates, then we are not living within the kingdom of God.

This is a hard word, and yet we know it to be true – maybe more so now than at any other time in recent history.

Paul wrote in his letter to the early church in Rome, “We do not live to ourselves, and and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” These were words of comfort, bracing words, for people facing persecution for their faith in Christ, for proclaiming a kingdom other than Caesar’s, for throwing their allegiance to a reign of equality where the hierarchy of male and female, free or slave no longer holds, but where we willingly serve one another out of respect and recognition.

Tonight’s word’s, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” seem to me to be saying the same thing to us. We belong to God AND we are of this earth. The life we have, we live here on this earth where Jesus was born and lived and died, inaugurating a new age in the ongoing kingdom of God. The Spirit of God has come to stay – in the way that the wind stays – that is to say, here and there, always somewhere specific and always moving on.

This spirit is what inspires our faith, fills ordinary lives with courage and hope and the drive to care deeply, passionately about improving life in unique and individual and collective ways. We might not feel it in our own selves, but can see that ecstatic spirit living out of others and be inspired by them, like ripples in a pond.  

Dust to dust reminds us who we are – earthlings animated by the breath of God.

Dust and ashes also come as a reminder of the ways that humans across history have destroyed one another, of how we have, with unholy finesse, reduced one another’s homes, cities, histories, habitats and bodies to ash.

This day grounds us, makes us mindful, again, of the humus, humility, the earthiness of which we are made and of the God who brings life from ashes, “who works wonders amid destruction, who cries out and grieves in the presence of devastation and terror, and who breathes God’s own spirit into the rubble. It is this God who breathes into us, calling our awful and glorious ash-strewn selves to speak words of life and freedom and healing amid violence and pain.” *

“On this day of ashes, we do well to remember that we are capable of inflicting pain and destruction. Yet this day reminds us, too, that God knows what to do with dust and ashes, knows what can come from them. As we cross into the season of Lent, how will we give our ashy selves to the God who longs to breathe new life into us and into the world? Where is God calling us to be a presence of healing amid devastation? How is God challenging us to stand against the forces that deny freedom, that seek the silence and captivity of others?” *  And in the enormity of the challenges that face us, how can we find a hopeful way forward?                            * Upon the Ashes, from the Painted Prayerbook, by Jan Richardson

The theme for the weeks of Lent is ‘Good is Enough, embracing a life of imperfection.’  This might sound like giving up. Like it’s all too hard and too big, so let’s settle for Good Enough. That’s not what it’s about.

Good is Enough is realistic. Good is Enough is acknowledging our starting point every day and realizing that change is possible and potential – and we’re not there yet. Good is Enough is admitting that a gap exists between where we are and what’s needed, but it is not conceding the struggle it will take to get there. God looked at all she had made and said, “It is good. Indeed, it is very good,” and God rested. We do not need to be superlative, exceptional, noteworthy, our best selves unto the fray – at least not every day. We need to be engaged. We need to recognize our abilities and gifts – and our disabilities and flaws. Good is Enough when perfection keeps us from trying and when failure isn’t an option. 

Each week will have a theme, a scripture reading, a devotion or two from Kate Bowler’s book, Good Enough, 40ish devotionals for a life of imperfection …… and room for reflections from you.        

Blessing the Dust – A Blessing for Ash Wednesday ~by poet, Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace

All those days you felt like dust, like dirt, as if all you had to do was turn your face toward the wind and be scattered to the four corners —  or swept away by the smallest breath as insubstantial – did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?

This is the day we freely say we are scorched. This is the hour we are marked  by what has made it through the burning. This is the moment we ask for the blessing that lives within the ancient ashes, that makes its home inside the soil of this sacred earth.

So let us be marked not for sorrow. And let us be marked not for shame. Let us be marked
not for false humility or for thinking we are less than we are…

but for claiming what God can do within the dust, within the dirt, within the stuff of which the world is made and the stars that blaze in our bones and the galaxies that spiral inside the smudge we bear.