Ash Wed sermon, mar 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday represents two things to many people.

First, for those who are practical and like to follow chronological steps along the way, such as the church calendar…. 
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent.
Yesterday was what some call ‘Fat Tuesday’ and many know about the annual celebration in New Orleans called ‘Mardi Gras’.
Whether its eating those sweet German doughnuts or having a pancake supper at church or partying in the Big Easy,…..
for some, Lent is a time when the fun ceases.
Ash Wednesday and Lent is kind of like when the parent comes in the room and tells the kids to stop their misbehaving.

The second thing we think of when it comes to Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday, is this emphasis on admitting our own mortality and having greater repentance towards the God who must save us.
Towards that, are long held practices, common throughout Christian history, of giving up something for Lent such as sweets.
Other, more serious disciplines like fasting, bible reading and devotions, or other religious activities are often encouraged.
I have done all of those things and still today don’t drink coffee with sugar after giving it up during Lent one year (I like it better now).

I don’t want to discourage and would never disparage any of those common Lenten disciplines that people practice.
They are good spiritual helps to move us towards repentance and a greater love of God’s grace that we receive through Jesus Christ.
If you have never done any of them, I suggest you try them as spiritual self-disciplines and exercises in sacrifice and self-denial.
They can help remind us of Jesus’ self-denial and sacrifice for us.

But, as much as Ash Wednesday is about once again remembering our own mortality (thus, the imposition of ashes),….
and about remembering our sins and sinfulness and repenting and seeking the promise of grace we have been given,…..
As Lutheran once said; ‘Who can recount (remember) all their sins?!” 
His point was that, if we sit and try to name all of them in order to gain forgiveness, then it’d be impossible for us to do so.
I know I when we have confession at church we find it hard to think of specifics and our minds can wander before we even get started.

So let me try to just sum up in a simple way, all of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and the whole idea of sins or sinfulness.
The greatest sin we have, and what often contributes to all of them, is that too often…..WE FORGET ABOUT GOD.
I think we forget about God MUCH OF THE TIME in daily life.
We might go to God on Sunday mornings here at church,….and maybe some of us say ‘grace’ before the suppertime meal,…and maybe we even say a prayer now and then.
But in relation to everything else we do, I would venture to guess that most of us forget about God….way too much of the time.

More than God would like,…anyway.
We forget to give thanks for all that we have and when things go good.
We forget to seek his help when things go bad,…. trying instead to foster solutions on our own.
And, most of all, we just forget to keep God part of our everyday lives.
Someone whom we talk to,….confide in,….share things with.

I know its true for you,….because its also true for me.
And if you don’t want to agree with me, then all you have to do is listen again to several of the bible readings assigned for today.
From the Old Testament Book of Joel, God says to his usYet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart”.
Return to me”.
What does that word ‘Return” mean to you?
Doesn’t that sound like we’ve been away from,… or have been giving short shrift to,…or just plain ignoring God? 
The next verse reiterates that when it says “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”.
And from 2nd Corinthians, the bible implores us to “on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”.
To need to be “reconciled” means that there is some sort of separation going on in the relationship to begin with.
If you think these ancient bible words are only for people 2000, or 3000 years ago,…..or for others,….think again.
They are for you and for me.
So here is a pretty simple Lenten discipline to take up, starting today for the next six weeks (40 days of Lent) and maybe beyond -
Start remembering God.
Simple, eh?
Not really, or God would not have to tell us to come back to him.
We don’t have to do any painfully penitent things like give up ice cream, or not eat meat on Fridays, or any other righteous works.
We just have to make a conscious effort to include God in our life.
To talk to him in prayer,….not just at meals or bedtime.
But driving in the car,…at the store,….walking down the street.
Thanking him for the good things and seeking help in the bad.
Talk to God like an adult would talk to a real person and treat God as you would any friend and confidant that can help you.
Shout and complain when you need to,….. ask for answers when you’re confused,….. and beg for help or forgiveness if warranted.
Buy a devotional and begin to use it everyday, or just dig out your bible and read a Psalm each day, or pick a particular book to read.
Don’t tackle too much;…. just several verses each time.
But,….whatever you do,…..”return to the Lord”, as he says.

Return to the Lord who was there at your baptism and confirmation, but also with you when your children were born or a loved one died.
Return to him,….not with sacrifices and offerings and works that make us look good, feel bad, or try to fix the world.
But return to God the thing he wants the most;….that he longs for and asks for throughout all of scripture.
Return to him ‘ourselves’ in a relationship lived out in everyday life.
If that becomes a truly Lenten discipline for each of us,….it could just start to be a more regular thing all the time.

Jesus’ promise to us and his sacrifice on the cross assures us that when we die, we will return to the Lord,….
but God also wants us to return to him now - as the scriptures also say “Now is the appointed time,…today is the day!”